October 27, 2020

Give Radical Candor a Try

Feedback is essential to growth, and giving feedback is core to the management function. So why do so many managers struggle to give feedback effectively? Probably because giving feedback feels unnatural and uncomfortable for many. Fortunately, giving effective feedback is a skill that can be developed.

One of my favorite frameworks for thinking about feedback is Radical Candor, created by consultant and executive coach Kim Scott. If you’re not familiar with it, check it out. The premise of Radical Candor is that giving effective feedback (and therefore, being an effective manager) requires two things – Directness and Empathy. A manager that lacks either or both in their approach will limit the growth and potential of their teammates.

Challenge Directly: Effective managers cannot ignore problems. They must be able to identify issues that are holding people back and address those issues directly. Many people are unaware that they’re underperforming in aspects of their job – somebody needs to tell them. Failing to do so can create a disconnect between a person’s own perception of her performance and her actual performance, setting up a disastrous performance review or prolonged career stagnation. Every manager has an obligation to ensure her teammates know where they stand – Strengths, so they can continue to execute on them; and Weaknesses, so they know where to focus on improving.

One important and often overlooked aspect of Directness is, in our view, Timeliness. Most firms provide an annual performance review, which is important but woefully inadequate as the only mechanism for feedback. There are many benefits to structured and formalized feedback processes, but if feedback is delivered once a year the opportunities for an individual to course-correct are extremely curtailed. That thing you started doing 9 months ago? Stop doing that now. Remember that one time 6 months ago that you did something wrong? Let’s talk about it now. Dated feedback is borderline useless, not to mention all those months that person could have been working on improving his performance.

Good managers will deliver feedback in near real time, while also carving out time for bigger picture discussions about how a person is doing, on what they need to work, and what their goals should be. They link specific situational feedback, which is given frequently, to bigger picture goals so their people really understand what needs to change and how to change it.

Care Personally: Fundamentally, giving feedback effectively requires that you care about the people you’re coaching and developing. For people to be open enough to accept and internalize feedback given to them, they need to believe it comes from a place of genuine caring. Managers who fail to display empathy when delivering direct feedback, triggering feelings of defensiveness and a natural tendency to resist, rather than embrace, the feedback they’re given.

Here’s the thing: Empathy can’t really be faked – to be a great manager, you actually have to care. You have to want your people to succeed, and take failures at least somewhat personally. You need to feel joy and pride in your team’s accomplishments and growth. You also need to be secure enough about your own performance that you don’t feel threatened by others’ success.

Great bosses develop a sense of trust and mutual respect with their team, so that when they need to deliver constructive feedback that feedback is accepted and acted upon. When issues arise, they listen and respond with empathy but without lowering the bar in terms of expectations. Great bosses hold you to a high standard because they believe you can achieve it and want to help you get there.

Managing with Radical Candor is about walking a line between honesty and caring. It’s not always easy, but doing so successfully will inspire transformational growth in your team. When you challenge people directly and personally invest in their success, they will rise to that challenge in ways that you might never have expected.

Related team members

Craig Belanger
Senior Partner & Co-Founder Boston
Richard Crumb
Managing Partner & Co-Founder Menlo Park
Rachel Eschle
Partner & Co-Founder Boston
  • Menlo Park, CA
  • Boston, MA 100 High St,
    Boston, MA 02110
  • Yarmouth, ME 121 Main St,
    Yarmouth, ME 04096
  • London, UK 30 Crown Place,
    London, UK

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