radical candor

Radical candor is a management technique that focuses on challenging employees directly while also caring for each person on a personal level. Managers implementing radical candor should focus on sincere, clear and specific feedback. The radical candor technique stresses that it is not enough to focus on and care only about an employee's work performance; a healthy workplace relationship can only be created if the manager is taking the time to know their employees as human beings as well as workers. The basis of radical candor is the idea that managers should express what they really think and challenge their employees while also sympathizing with and caring about each person.

The radical candor ideology was defined by Kim Scott, former director of sales and service with Google's AdSense, DoubleClick and YouTube, teacher at Apple University (a training facility designed to instruct and educate Apple employees) and co-founder of Radical Candor, LLC. Scott first tried the management technique within her own software startup, then continued to study the office and leadership environments at Google and Apple. While working with these large tech companies, Scott observed that, while their management paths differed, they both worked toward creating conditions under which employees can produce their best work and enjoy doing it. Scott has shared her ideology in her self-help book Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity and she continues to provide CEO coaching to major companies, such as Twitter and Dropbox.

How to use radical candor

Radical candor starts with managers who build strong relationships with their employees. The best way to build a solid, working relationship with someone is to show that there is a high level of genuine care towards them. Learning small facts about employees' lives that aren't overbearing can communicate a level of interest and care. For example, managers can ask simple questions such as:

  • What is the employee's marital status?
  • Does the employee have kids?
  • Do they face a long commute to and from work?
  • What sorts of hobbies do they have?

Simple questions such as these can be used as conversation starters during weekly check-ins with employees -- another important activity that shows a level of care and concern for how the employee is doing.

Managers can also build relationships by revealing their own vulnerabilities to their employees -- such as mentioning they had a bad day or are having car troubles. This creates a safe space where others can feel free to express similar complaints in an environment where people care about what they have to say.

While caring personally can build strong relationships between employees and managers, it is important to note that employees might not all feel comfortable sharing the same information and some lines should not be crossed. Topics to avoid include:

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Health
  • Politics
  • Religion

If a manager can convey to their employees that they care about them as human beings, and not just as workers, then the employees will be more likely to accept any provided feedback. The radical candor concept of challenging directly refers to providing direct feedback to a worker who is not performing at the desired level, thus helping them learn, grow and achieve high quality work, all the while advancing the company's mission or goal.

According to the radical candor technique, providing positive feedback first, and then easing into a direct critique is the best way to challenge employees directly. It is important to not hold any criticism back, but it is equally important to show the employee that the critique comes from a place of genuine care and investment in their personal success.

Establishing a foundation of mutual respect and trust within the work environment will help employees believe their manager's feedback -- whether positive or negative -- and create feelings of security which can help employees share their own thoughts and critiques with their leaders. The most successful implementation of radical candor will allow employees to form a radically candid relationship not only with their boss, but with their coworkers as well, allowing care and guidance to come from all directions.

When using the radical candor technique, it is also important for managers to understand if their employee is a rock star or superstar. Rock stars have no desire to climb within the company's hierarchy; they are content in the job they are currently doing. Rock stars do not aim to take on leadership roles themselves, but instead advance internally by constantly improving their work, staying on top of new trends and teaching their other coworkers with their own experience. They go to work, get stuff done and perform exceptionally well.

On the other hand, superstars aim to move upward within the company, become leaders and eventually run a department or become an executive. They want to take on more responsibilities and challenges. It is important to recognize which category an employee falls into so their responsibilities can be aligned with their long-term goals within the organization.

Challenges of radical candor

One of the biggest challenges of the radical candor technique is the risk of going too far towards caring personally or challenging directly. Ignoring the balance between these two concepts could lead to detrimental behaviors, such as:

  • Manipulative insincerity - The manager does not provide any care, critiques or challenges. They provide non-specific praise that sounds fake and criticism that is unkind and not constructive.
  • Obnoxious aggression - The manager challenges and critiques, but does not genuinely care for their employees or the outcomes of their actions. Their criticism can be disrespectful and praise may seem insincere.
  • Ruinous empathy - The manager genuinely cares about their employees, but fails to provide challenges and critiques that can help workers improve and advance. The praise given is sincere but vague and criticism is either unclear, sugar-coated or nonexistent.
Radical candor method
A visual depiction of the radical candor method

Understanding how these management styles differ from radical candor can help managers better comprehend what the radical candor technique is and how they can implement the practice in their workplace.

Benefits of radical candor

The primary benefit of radical candor is the creation of a successful work environment where all employees and managers feel cared for personally and directly challenged to improve and advance. This comfortable and strong environment will lead to other benefits, such as a higher quality of work from employees, higher employee retention rates and a friendlier, happier workspace.

Radical candor serves to help managers achieve their responsibilities by creating interpersonal relationships with their workers. The three main responsibilities achieved with radical candor are:

  1. Creation of a culture of guidance -- incorporating both praise and criticism -- that keeps all employees moving towards their specific goals.
  2. An understanding of what inspires each employee so any risk of burnout or boredom can be avoided.
  3. Advancement towards the company's goal in collaboration with other leaders and employees.

Radical candor is also beneficial because it helps managers to provide constructive criticism. Many leaders avoid or ignore performance issues that weaken employee and company results. However, managers who do not provide feedback and criticism to their employees are actually doing a disservice to their workers because the employee is not given the information needed to improve or progress their skills, thus hurting the employee's performance further.

Overall, employees and managers alike benefit from the radical candor mindset that the best people to work with are those who genuinely care about their fellow coworkers and employees, but are not afraid to take the time or energy needed to invest in challenging each employee directly.

Importance of radical candor

Many leaders are not honest with their employees and fail to provide the constructive feedback that could help meet business goals and advance the individual's career. Implementing radical candor is important because many managers avoid or ignore performance problems which weaken both employee and organizational results.

The best managers care deeply and personally for their employees and collaborate with them on a regular basis. However, a good boss also takes the time and energy to be honest with their employees and challenge them directly. As a result, a constructive and positive environment is created where workers are more likely to grow and advance the company's mission.

This was last updated in November 2019

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