Review: Book Club Brunch - Radical Candor

Written by Kristine Chadwick.

radical candor

Author:  Kim Scott
Reviewer: Kristine Chadwick

To be radically candid and as self-effacing Kiwi’s, many of us found “Radical Candor” by Kim Scott to have rather a lot of name dropping, from Sheryl Sandberg to Steve Jobs, from Google to Twitter and Apple.  However, it also revealed that no matter where you work, management issues are universal. We all also agreed that the book was rather long with a fair amount of repetition. Top tip - skip to the second section of the book where Kim outlines a variety of useful tools for managers. Adapt and personalise these to suit your specific work environment.  

The theme of caring personally, compassionate candor and staying centred so you can bring your best self to work resonated with the book club after three months of COVID-19 imposed social distancing and working from home.

As a manager, we all know it’s our responsibility to get to know our direct reports, to understand their motivations and see them as not just a role but as a person with dreams and aspirations.  The book is a great reminder of why caring personally is a wise investment of our time. Only by caring personally can we create the safe space to have radically candid conversations.
“Caring Personally is inherently about thinking of others, putting their success and needs ahead of your own. At its best, it is not about being loved; it is about loving .”
In the book, Kim regrets being ruinously empathetic and avoiding having a candid conversation when someone in her team underperforms. This underperformance continues and eventually she fires the person.  Their response - “why didn’t you tell me?”. While it may sting, we would all prefer real feedback, or radical candor to ruinous empathy. It’s how we learn and improve. People would even prefer obnoxious aggression (brutal honesty) than ruinous empathy. Being clear is being kind.   
If you’re like me, you’ll do just about anything to avoid difficult conversations. The great thing is, if you invest the time to build trust with your direct reports, they will know where your radical candor is coming from. They will appreciate that you’re taking the time to invest in their personal and professional development.  
Many of us have and dread our annual personal development review. The one time of the year we get feedback and our opportunity to request training. If there’s only one thing you take away from the book, for me, it would be the three step career conversations. This involves managers taking the time to have three separate conversations with each of their direct reports about:
  1. life story
  2. dreams
  3. career action plan
Take the time to really get to know your direct reports, understand the key pivots and transitions in their life (not just career) and learn their dreams. These conversations will give you insight into their growth trajectory within the team and whether they are a rockstar or a superstar. From this insight you can also create an action plan to make their dreams a reality. Given the current volatile financial situation so many businesses face at the moment, the three-step career conversation seems like a low-cost solution to care personally and make sure your direct reports feel valued.  
What was that about rockstar or superstar?  Kim describes them as “Rock stars are solid as a rock, and a force for stability at work (think Rock of Gibraltar, not Bruce Springsteen), while superstars are highly-ambitious change agents, constantly seeking new opportunities .”
No matter where you are in your career, feedback is personal.  If it becomes a part of the workplace culture and there is a relationship of trust between those giving and receiving, there’s no denying radically candid feedback is advantageous for both the individual and organisation.