Book Recommendations: Radical Candor

written in book, manager, soft-skill

Last week I finished Radical Candor a book by Kim Scott about how to be a good boss without being an asshole. Here’s what I learned.

1. Be honest. Specially when it’s hard

“From the time we learn to speak, we’re told that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. When you become a manager, it’s your job to say it--and your obligation.”

Kim Scott Radical Candor

If somebody’s work is subpar and you let it pass and pretend is good, you’re doing everybody a disservice. You’re hurting the team because either you or somebody else, will have to cover up for the guy and redo the work. And at the same time you’re setting a precedent that it is OK to deliver poor work.

But even more importantly you’re not giving that person the chance to improve by pointing out what he/she needs to work on! So if you care about your team, speak up! Be honest, be direct and be specific.

2. How to be direct without being a dick

Kim’s advise is to care personally™, which to me means: care for the other person, but seriously.

It’s not enough to remember you employees partner’s name, or to ask about his hobbies every now and then. To make radical candor work you have to build and actual relationship with your direct reports. Get to know them. Understand where they come from and what drives them.

So, how to put this in practice? The book has a ton of useful tips on how to criticize without discouraging. For example:

  1. Start by asking for feedback before giving it. Show that you’re open to criticism and make sure you reward people that takes the time and effort to correct you. This is the only way you can build of culture of radical candor.
  2. Don’t make it personal. When pointing out things that can be improved make it clear that it’s not about the person but about the work done. Be specific! And present it as an opportunity for improvement and offering help and guidance to fix the problem.

3. Not everybody is looking for a promotion

This one is about how we value and judge ambition. As the book points out not everybody on your team is eager to jump to a new position or wants to be a manager. You’ll probably have some team members that are content with their current position and, for whatever reason, are not looking for a change. And that’s ok!

The book calls this people ”Rockstars” because they are the rock that brings stability to the team. An uses the term “Superstars” for the more ambitious kind that are looking for new opportunities to shine. I think the names are stupid. But what’s not stupid is the realization that you need both kinds of people in your team.

If your team is only composed of ”Superstars” then if they succeed (and it’s your job to help them succeed!) then you’ll end up without team because everybody has moved to a new thing. On the other hand if your team is all “Rockstars” then you run the risk of stagnation as you’ll lack your main agents of innovation. You’ll need to get the right mix of “Rockstars” and “Superstars” for your team to be successful.

It’s worth pointing out that this “labels” are not permanent. People will move between the two kinds based on their priorities, values and things on their personal life. And it’s your job as manager to figure out what each team member is aiming for, and help them get there.

Remember that promotions are just one way of recognizing people’s work, and it might not be the best reward for everybody.

4. On culture

I found quite interesting the observation that, when left unchecked, the team’s culture tends to reflect it’s leaders strengths and short-comings. Kim explains how every action, big or small, has an impact on the team culture. So for example, if you’re working on improving the product quality and attention to detail you shouldn’t send emails with spelling mistakes. You have to lead by example and inspire people to follow.

The only way of creating a long-lasting culture is by inspiring people and letting them contribute with their own ideas.

I’m just scratching the surface here. The book expands on the mentioned topics with good real-world examples. The second portion of the book focuses on the details on how to put the theory in practice. It covers from things like how to schedule and conduct your one-on-ones to hiring techniques to avoid biases. So go read it! I’m sure you’ll find something useful.