PureWow founder and CEO Ryan Harwood faced a dilemma: let one of his publishing and digital media firm's top salespeople continue with her hard-nosed "always be closing" approach to customers, or tell her that a more human touch would be better to build long-term relationships and maintain trust. As a follower of the management approach called Radical Candor, Harwood chose the latter. "A lot of leaders would have turned a blind eye, because she was crushing it," says Harwood. "But she will never become a better salesperson if she doesn't get that feedback."
Believing that painful truths create faster growth, Harwood and many others are pushing back against the instinct to avoid conflict and are instead facing it head on. Interest in this approach is high. A speech on the topic by Kim Scott in October 2015 at First Round Capital's CEO summit (below) has garnered 100,000 views and 83,000 social media shares. That traction spurred Scott to launch her own company, Candor, and an app that helps track the tone of feedback. And even before Scott put the idea in a neat package, plenty of companies were exploring it. One of the best known--and most radical--adopters is hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, which reportedly videotapes almost every meeting and runs an internal Yelp-like rating system for employees.
You don't have to go that far--for most companies, the main thrust is simply to call out performance issues as they arise. "When you don't get the unpleasant stuff out of the way, you waste a ton of time," says Colin Darretta, founder and CEO of customized supplements maker WellPath. He gives feedback he considers radically candid about three or four times a week. Did someone respond to a customer inappropriately? Interrupt too much in a meeting? If that someone works for a company that embraces Radical Candor, chances are he or she will hear about it immediately, with a suggestion about how to change. "It seems kind of uncomfortable at first, but not telling people the truth is wrong," agrees Qualtrics co-founder and CEO Ryan Smith, a proponent of candor at his 1,200-employee firm (Scott is his CEO coach).
No one knows exactly how many companies have signed on, but Scott, a former Google and Apple executive, says she is in conversations with dozens of companies about using Candor's tools and consulting services. Scott first started thinking about the concept more than 15 years ago, she says, but it came to life in 2004 when she worked for Sheryl Sandberg at Google. As Scott tells it, Sandberg mentioned to her after an ostensibly successful meeting that Scott said um a lot. Scott brushed off the observation until Sandberg said: "When you say um, it makes you sound stupid." While it was a stinging rebuke, she realized that it was incredibly valuable--and incredibly rare. "Eighty-five percent of mistakes get made because a manager is afraid of being a jerk," Scott says.
Practitioners are quick to point out that Radical Candor is not an invitation to be rude, and that caring has to come first. These three tips will help you strike a balance between truth and kindness.
Make it a habit
Being radically candid gets easier with practice. "It's uncomfortable only when it's out of character," says Harwood. Scott says managers should give direct reports one piece of criticism per week and three to five pieces of praise, ideally in two- to three-minute chunks between meetings.
Know the nevers
Never criticize an employee in front of others. Never comment on personal appearance or hygiene, unless it affects performance. Never make it personal. "It's not 'You're not smart.' It's 'That thing you did wasn't very smart,' " says Harwood.
Give actionable advice
"You have to be specific," says Darretta. "I can't do anything with 'You're difficult to work with today.' " Specifics and a suggested change can help quell defensiveness. But if they don't, consider deferring the conversation until the employee is ready to listen.