Introduction

Anecdote 1 (Juice Software)

Failure to provide feedback at Juice Software. As a manager and founder, Kim Scott failed to provide critical feedback to an underperfoming employee (Bob), which led to other team members having to carry his weight. Months later Bob was fired and expressed frustration with the lack of clear feedback from Kim and his team.

Anecdote 2 (Google: Free at Work)

In a meeting with Larry Page, Matt Cutts pushed back hard on an idea. The conversation wasn’t nice, mean, rude, or polite, it was productive and collaborative.

Anecdote 3 (Apple: We hire the people who tell us what to do, not the other way around)

From the “Managing at Apple” course at Apple U: teams need growth as well as stability. Some people (rockstars) deliver great results while being comfortable where they’re at. Other people (superstars) are after growth and would be uncomfortable doing the same job in a year.

Part 1: A New Management Philosophy

Chapter 1: Build Radically Candid Relationships

Bosses (managers/leaders) have three responsibilities: guidance, team-building, and results.

By developing relationships and building trust they can “1) create a culture of guidance (praise and criticism), 2) understand what motivates each person on your team to avoid burnout or boredom and keep the team cohesive, and 3) drive results collaboratively.” (pg 8)

Radical Candor: Care Personally + Challenge Directly.

“Caring personally is the antidote to both robotic professionalism and managerial arrogance… it’s not enough to care about the person’s work or the person’s career. Only when you actually care about the whole person with your whole self can you build a relationship… it is about acknowledging that we are all people with lives and aspirations that extend beyond those related to our shared work.” (p. 13)

“Challenging others and encouraging them to challenge you helps build trusting relationships because it shows 1) you care enough to point out both the things that aren’t going well and those that are and that 2) you are willing to admit when you’re wrong and that you are committed to fixing mistakes that you or others have made. But because challenging often involves disagreeing or saying no, this approach embraces conflict rather than avoiding it.” (p. 14)

Radical Candor - Matrix

Chapter 2: Get, Give, and Encourage Guidance

TL;DR: “Focus on your relationship… Ask for criticism before giving it, and offer more praise than criticism. Be humble, helpful, offer guidance in person and immediately, praise in public, criticize in private, and don’t personalize."

Good feedback is direct, addressing a specific problem and containing genuine praise (as opposed to bogus positives “sandwiching” the genuine negatives).

  • Obnoxious aggression (criticism = frontstabbing; praise = belittling compliments): challenges directly but does not care personally. You’ll be taken to be a jerk, but it’s the next best thing after radical candor. “Competent assholes” often get away with it since you can achieve short-term results at the expense of others around you. In a toxic culture, obnoxiously aggressive criticism will be used as a weapon in conflicts between employees or employees and bosses.

  • Manipulative insincerity: being more focused on i) being liked, ii) pushing their own agenda, or iii) being too tired/not caring enough to argue.

  • Ruinous empathy: “just trying to be nice”, i.e., being averse to conflict or discomfort to the point that one would prefer to avoid difficult criticism or give superficial praise that might not be justified just to say something nice or make others feel good.

Moving towards radical candor:

  • Start by asking for criticism, not by giving it: show that you’re aware you make mistakes, learn from others' criticism, and experience first-hand how it feels to receive criticism.
  • Balance praise and criticism: there’s no right ratio of praise and criticism. Encourage people to do more of what’s working and keep improving.
  • Understand the fine line between Obnoxious Aggression and Radical Candor: “your work is shit” is probably not ok. Criticism should be focused on the work and not the person (or their ability to do their job well). Make sure it’s crystal clear (no room for interpretation), explain why, and find ways to help them address the issues being raised.

A Simple Example: “your fly is down”

  • Radical Candor: pull the person aside and say “hey, your fly is down. I hate when that happens to me; I know it can be embarrassing. I hope you don’t mind that I mentioned it”.
  • Obnoxious Aggression: shout in public “His fly is down!” to be funny or humiliate the person.
  • Ruinous Empathy: don’t say anything to avoid embarrassing the person in front of others.
  • Manipulative Insincerity: stay silent to avoid being disliked by the person because of the embarrassment.

Chapter 3: Understand What Motivates Each Person on Your Team

People are motivated by different things, they have different goals and ambitions in their work and life. Instead of assuming how they want to drive their career, get to know them. That will lead towards a better match between their interests and the team’s needs and opportunities, resulting in better overall performance.

Most people are in one of two different “modes” at different points in their career:

  • Superstars: change agent, ambitious at work, want new opportunities (steep growth trajectory).
  • Rock stars: force for stability, ambitious outside of work or simply content in life, happy in the current role (gradual growth trajectory).

On managing superstars and rock stars

  • Excellent performance, gradual growth: recognize, reward, but don’t promote.

  • Excellent performance, steep growth: keep them challenged, figure out who will replace them, and don’t block them.

    • Don’t let Ruinous Empathy get in the way of understanding and helping people whose performance is ok but not great. Help them find out how or on what they can excel. Do not accept mediocrity.
  • Poor performance, negative growth: part ways. Identify and communicate any problems clearly, but do let them go if they don’t improve.

    1. Have you given radically candid guidance over time?
    2. How is this person’s poor performance affecting the rest of the team?
    3. Have you sought out a second opinion, spoken to someone whom you trust and with whom you can talk the problem through?
  • Low performance, steep growth: look yourself in the mirror. Possible reasons:

    1. Wrong role: wrong fit for skills/interests.
    2. New to role - too much, too fast: clarify expectations, consider training.
    3. Personal problems: give them time and support.
    4. Poor fit: culture or personality (e.g., experimentation vs perfection).

Chapter 4: Drive Results Collaboratively

Telling people what to do often doesn’t work. Apple (more orderly) and Google (more chaotic) both achieved great results without a fully autocratic style.

Get Stuff Done Wheel: enable teams to achieve incredible results collaboratively that would never be achieved individually.

Radical Candor - Get Stuff Done Wheel

Listen

  • Quiet listening (Tim Cook): embrace the silence; let others speak their mind instead of saying what they think you want to hear. People often say too much when uncomfortable with long silences.

  • Loud listening (Steve Jobs): put forward strong points of view and let others challenge them. Be clear and bold, but make sure others have the confidence to challenge you. Give the quiet listeners a voice.

Creating a culture of listening:

  1. Enable employees to voice ideas and complaints;
  2. Address at least some of them;
  3. Be clear as to why other ideas/complaints are not being addressed.

See Getting the Best Employee Ideas.

Clarify

  • Get ideas clear in your mind: nurture and refine ideas before debating them. Create time and space for others to clarify their thinking and propose new ideas.
  • Make ideas clear to others: make ideas extremely easy for others to understand. Consider the following:
    1. What they know;
    2. What they don’t know;
    3. What details you should include or exclude.

Debate

Foster a culture of debate. Debating will refine and improve ideas as well as the people involved even though they require emotional energy and some friction. Some principles to help guide healthy debates:

  1. “Keep the conversation focused on ideas not egos”. The goal is to get to the best answers collaboratively. Switching roles might help with people too attached to their ideas/arguments.
  2. “Create an obligation to dissent”. Don’t settle for agreement/consensus before debating.
  3. “Pause for emotion/exhaustion”. There’s such a thing as being too tired or burnt out to engage in healthy, productive debate.
  4. “Use humor and have fun”. Some people find debating uncomfortable/aggressive. Make sure everyone is clear on what’s going on.
  5. “Be clear when the debate will end”. Consider separating debate meetings and decision meetings or have a decision date set beforehand.
  6. “Don’t grab a decision just because the debate has gotten painful”. People often look to the boss when the debate gets too uncomfortable. The boss’s job is to keep the debate productive.

Decide

The boss is often not the decider. Enable people who are closest to the facts – with the best information – to make decisions. As the decider, get facts from the source, not recommendations from proxies. Dive deep into the details of particular decisions when needed.

Persuade

While the most relevant people have been involved in the listen-clarify-debate iterations that led to a decision, others may need to be persuaded before executing.

Aristotle’s elements of persuasion (from Rethoric): pathos (emotion), logos (logic), and ethos (credibility). There’s a fine line between persuasion and manipulation.

  1. Emotion: focus on “the listener’s emotions, not the speaker’s”.
  2. Credibility: “demonstrate expertise and humility”.
  3. Logic: “show your work”.

Execute

Bosses take on the “collaboration tax” (overhead) so that their team can focus on execution.

  • “Don’t waste your team’s time”: avoid unnecessary meetings and prepare for the necessary ones. Shield your team from unnecessary overhead and unblock debates/decisions by delegating effectively.
  • “Keep the dirt under your fingernails”: find time to execute and stay close to the actual work being done; otherwise you’ll be too detached to effectively help others clarify ideas and participate in debates.

Learn

Bosses often stop learning because of the pressure to be consistent or burnout.

Decision makers can be seen as week or inconsistent when they change their mind. The key is communicating clearly and and persuasively why you’ve changed your mind. “When the facts change, I change my mind.” (John Maynard Keynes)

Stay centered and take care of yourself first to be able to guide others.

Radical Candor - Self Centered

Part II: Tools & Techniques

Chapter 5: Relationships

Stay Centered: Work-life integration over work-life balance. Your work is part of who you are and can enrich your life; your life can also make you better at your work. Figure out a “recipe” and stick to it. Establish a routine that enables that sort of work-life integration.

Free at Work: neither anarchy nor tyranny. Build relationships based on trust so that you can give people autonomy. Avoid unilateral authority whenever possible.

Master the Art of Socializing: non-mandatory events can feel mandatory. Use work hours to build relationships.

Respect Boundaries: act in good faith and get to know people by spending time with them. Live your values and be open to different worldviews/values. Learn to understand your own emotions and to acknowledge and react to other people’s emotions.

Chapter 6: Guidance

Solicing guidance

  • Embrace the discomfort. Make it easy for others to criticize you and don’t let them off the hook easily with “everything is fine”.
  • Go-to question: “What could I do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?”
  • Listen for understanding, not to respond. Don’t get defensive; reward criticism.

Giving guidance

  • Situation Behaviour Impact framework: goes for both praise and criticism. Be specific. “In your presentation at this morning’s meeting (situation), the way you talked about our decision to diversify (behaviour) was persuasive because you showed everyone you’d heard the other point of view (impact).”
  • Be humble. Focus on what happened and not on the person’s personality, intelligence, or attributes.
  • Give feedback as soon as possible. Consider whether it’s praise or criticism and whether it should be delivered in person. Delaying feedback will make it harder to provide clear examples and remember the details of the situation.
  • Praise in public, criticize in private: avoid a defensive reaction when critizing and encourages others to do the same when praising. Corrections, disagreements, and debates are not criticism.

Performance Reviews

  • No surprises.
  • Don’t rely on unilateral judgement. Leverage 360-degree feedback and/or gather feedback from peers.
  • Solicit feedback on yourself first.
  • Write it down as a way of articulating and reflecting on what you have to say.
  • Consider how to effectively communicate your feedback. Does the person tend to read into things? Should you send the written review beforehand or go through it in person?
  • Balance reviewing the past and planning for the future. Get the person involved in planning the future.

Prevent backstabbing: open, fair, and fast conflict resolution.

Chapter 7: Team

Career Conversations (care personally): “understand people’s motivations and ambitions to help them take a step in the direction of their dreams”.

  • Conversation 1 – life story: learn what motivates each direct report and why. Get to know them and try and understand what motivations and values were behind some of their life experiences.

  • Conversation 2 – dreams: what are their goals? What does their “perfect life” look like? Instead of career goals, have them list 3~5 dreams and the skills needed for each of them.

  • Conversation 3 – eighteen-month plan: ask them to answer the following questions and work with them on a list of actionable items:

    1. What do I need to learn in order to move in the direction of my dreams?
    2. How should I prioritize the things I need to learn?
    3. Whom can I learn from?
    4. How can I change my role to learn it?

Growth Management (challenge directly): “figure out who needs what types of opportunities, and how you’re going to provide them”.

Write a growth plan with 3~5 bullet points for each person.

  1. Identify rock stars and superstars. Set plans so that rock stars stay productive and superstars strech.
  2. Identify those doing good but not exceptional work. How can you push them to do exceptional work? New projects or education opportunities?
  3. Identify underperformers who can improve or have been improving. Are they in the wrong roles? Are expectations clear?
  4. Identify underperformers who are not improving. Consider firing them (performance improvement plan).

Hiring

  • Define clearly what “team fit” means. Describe the culture in 3~5 words. Make sure you’re interviewing with those values in mind.
  • Use the same interview committee (four people) for multiple candidates.
  • Write your thoughts down as soon as possible.
  • If you’re not dying to hire the person, don’t make an offer. “It’s either hell yeah or no”.

Firing: “a necessary evil”.

  • Don’t wait too long so that you can 1) be fair with the person who is failing; 2) be fair with the company; 3) be fair to yourself; and 4) be fair with the other people doing good work.
  • Don’t make the decisions unilaterally.
  • Give a damn. Do it with humility and care for the relationship you have with the person.
  • Follow up a month later if they’re open to it.

Promotions: be fair. Avoid favouritism.

Radical Candor - Get Absentee Management vs Partnership vs Micromanagement

Chapter 8: Results

1:1 Meetings: “employees set the agenda, you listen and help them clarify”. Possible questions:

  • How can I help?
  • What can I do or stop doing that would make this easier?
  • What are you working on that you don’t want to work on?
  • What are you not working on that you do want to work on?
  • How do you feel about the priorities of the teams you’re dependent on?

Staff Meetings: “review metrics, study hall updates, and identify (but do not make) key decisions”. Goals:

  • Learn: review key metrics. What went well/badly? Why?
  • Listen: share updates [in a document]. Have direct reports list 3~5 things they worked on that others need to be aware of.
  • Clarify: identify key decisions/debates. Set separate debate/decision meetings and let people who are interested participate in them. Delegate.

Think Time: “block time to think, and hold that time sacred”.

Big Debate Meetings: “lower the tension by making it clear that you are debating, not deciding”.

  • Enables people to think carefully about significant decisions, do more research, and debate different perspectives.
  • Encourage debate and helps the team become comfortable with disagreeing and committing.
  • No ego. Have people switch sides. The outcome should include a summary of the facts and issues discussed as well as a recommendation on whether to move forward to a decision meeting.

Big Decision Meetings: “push decisions into the facts, pull facts into the decisions, and keep egos at bay”.

All-hands Meetings: “bring others along”. Presentations on 1~3 big initiatives + Q/A to help you get buy in and identify disagreements/concerns when the team is relatively large (100+ people).

Execution time: “fight meeting proliferation”.

Kanban Boards: “make activity and workflows visible”.

Walk Around: “learn about small problems to prevent big ones”.

Getting Started

  1. Start by soliciting guidance and having career conversations.
  2. Perfect your 1:1 meetings.
  3. Having earned some trust, start working on giving guidance.
  4. Assess. Are you better at soliciting and guiving guidance? Do you know your direct reports better? Are your 1:1 meetings productive?
  5. Introduce staff and big decision/debate meetings.
  6. Encourage guidance between your direct reports. Do not allow backstabbing.
  7. Fight meeting proliferation and block time for thinking and executing.
  8. Start growth plans and consider how you’re promoting and rewarding people.