25 - Overheard

Overheard at the Purposeful Enterprise: Radical Candor

In the previous post, I talked about what it might “sound like” at a purposeful enterprise and explored how people there might communicate, particularly in the face of disappointment. But at the end of the post, I left you hanging—how would the discussion between Gary and Susan unfold? What conversation aids would have helped Gary? What can you do so that your own interactions sound more and more like those of a purposeful enterprise? In this post, I’ll share a concept I came across recently that may help with practical application.

By now, you’ll recognize that I often leave things unresolved. That’s intentional. I just don’t think that it is my place to tell you what to do – rather, I have been trying to highlight the questions and allow my readers to form their own answers, to bring you perspective without being prescriptive, so that you can reflect and make more sense of your own context and thus make wiser judgments. I have done this because real life is full of tension and I think there’s far more value and stickiness and, I hope, encouragement, when we each internalize answers to the complexity of life in business by realizing who we are, how we want to be, and what we are about rather than by blindly applying somebody else’s step-by-step formula to fix an immediate problem. Each situation is simply more complicated and demands more nuance than formulated answers, no matter how well they look in screaming headline.

However, after reading the previous “sounds like” post, one reader reached out with the simple question: “I like where the post is going, but is there a part 2? If I’m still struggling with what to say, it sure would be nice to have a bit of guidance, even a starting point to work from.” I know this reader and she is thoughtful, reflective and does not want pat answers. It was a good question, and as I have realized that many of my readers work deep within organizations from which it is often hard to see the whole system, where change happens in increments, and in concrete moments, one conversation at a time. The high-level systems approach that I have taken, while often helpful in solving big problems, does not provide a more concrete idea or way of being that could be imitated and might actually serve as more appropriate than a push toward reflection.

I quickly knew that I needed to pay attention to her request for more guidance and respect her desire for more than I have been giving. So, we went looking…

And now I want to share with you something called, “radical candor.” It’s a simple concept for communication, and it is something you will definitely hear and experience at a purposeful enterprise. I offer this not as a panacea, but as a simple way of thinking that might help you frame the conversations that are needed.

Radical candor is a way to make sure you are giving the right kind of guidance to the people whom you seek to influence (bosses, co-workers, direct reports or others). It is about conveying truth, and doing it well. In other writing, I have used the phrase “challenging to strengthen”; radical candor, as an idea, conveys what I have had in mind much better.

“Radical candor is HHIPP,” suggests Kim Scott, the business coach who is popularizing the idea (book due out in 2016). HHIPP is an acronym: “Radical candor is Humble, it’s Helpful, it’s Immediate, it’s in Person (in private if it’s criticism and in public if it’s praise) and it doesn’t Personalize.” That last P makes a key distinction: “My boss didn’t say, ‘You’re stupid.’ She said, ‘You sounded stupid when you said um.’ There’s a big difference between the two.”

Scott offers even more practical guidance on how to embed better behaviors into the way your team communicates.

  1. Offer impromptu guidance (not feedback, but praise and criticism in the form of radical candor)
  2. Make backstabbing impossible (Don’t let people talk badly about each other to you, and be as fair as possible)
  3. Make it easier to speak truth to power (This isn’t “boss-killing”, rather about fostering clear communications and consistent feedback within teams)
  4. Put your own oxygen mask on first (you can’t give a damn about other people if you don’t give a damn about yourself)

Not surprisingly, people who have been led with and experienced radical candor seem to respond positively, and even to begin living it out themselves, as one fascinating story about radical candor comes from an intern named Stephanie Kong who was supervised by Kim Scott and decided to honor Scott’s commitment to radical candor by practicing it herself, even with her boss who was championing the idea…

Radical candor is something you would overhear at a purposeful enterprise, and is one concrete idea that will help you begin living a better company into existence. Not surprisingly, radical candor is something that Kim Scott observed and experienced herself first – she learned it from Sheryl Sandberg when Sandberg was her boss.

Perhaps there are a few habits or behaviors you’ve observed in a boss or leader you admire that you would experience at the purposeful enterprise? What are they?

For more on radical candor:

A longer article and video profiling the idea and a few others: http://firstround.com/review/radical-candor-the-surprising-secret-to-being-a-good-boss/

Kim Scott’s blog, devoted to the topic: http://www.kimmalonescott.com/

Stephanie Kong’s blog on using the topic with her boss, Kim Scott: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/time-i-used-radical-candor-kim-scott-stephanie-kong?trk=hp-feed-article-title-share

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