“I would argue that criticizing your employees when they screw up is not just your job, it’s actually your moral obligation.” Kim Scott
After being a highly successful manager at Google, Kim Scott switched to Apple, where she developed a class on optimal management. Based on her experiences she developed a vital new approach to effective management: her Radical Candor method and turned it into a a New York Times bestseller. Her method as well as her entire career, are built around a simple goal: “Creating bullshit-free zones where people love their work and working together.” Her book is a plea for more honesty and respect in professional dealings with each other. Illustrated on personal experiences.
QUESTIONS TO DAAN:
1. How did “Radical Candor” end up on your reading list?
A former colleague talked to me about it over a year ago. He was very enthusiastic about it. When I moved into the CTO role, I wanted to improve on my communication, so it seemed like a logical book to read. And I have to say: Off all the books I read in the past year, I would rate this one the highest.
I already recommended it to a few colleagues and borrowed my copy of the book to them. I’m trying to get people in the company to read it, because the more people know about Scotts method, the easier it will be to implement it into our company. In order to be innovative as a team, it is important to create a culture where it’s normal and expected to give open feedback. In an ideal world it should be possible for a junior team member to tell the CEO that his idea is wrong, and explain why he thinks that is, and discuss it. The group is always smarter and more innovative than the individual. If ideas only flow top down, it will make you poorer as a company. Plus if everyone can contribute, you will have happier employees that will see the company as part of themselves, instead of just being worker bees.
2. What did you take from the book and implement it in your position as CTO?
The most important aspects for me where in in regards to communication, responsibilities in a leading position and feedback.
Let’s start with COMMUNICATION: Communication is extremely important when you are in a management position as well as for a company as a whole. Scott maps communication on 2 axis: to challenge directly by having honest direct communication and to care personally. Based on that she groups communication into 4 quadrants: The Radical Candor quadrant,
You want to act in the upper right part of the quadrant: To be able to give brutally honest feedback to someone, but in a way that shows that you do this because you care about them. Doing it this way will give you as well as the receiver of the feedback the most result. Let me give you an example: You shouldn’t say: “You are bad at your job”. But rather: “This particular report you wrote is bad, for this and that reason”.
In regards to responsibilities in a leading position, Scott points out, that the job of a manager is to make sure that your team is happy and that they can come to you with their problems. It shouldn’t be a bother to you, but the biggest part of your job. If you want your team to perform and hit their goals, it’s your job to enable them to do this:
- To help them grow, by giving constructive feedback.
- To help them to be happy, by removing obstacles and help them evolve in their career.
This is a big difference from being an engineer. As an engineer you are expected to provide solutions. As a manager, you are expected to create the conditions that the team can provide the solutions. Having that insight helped me transition from an engineering role to a management role. But it is also something I need to actively work on.
When it comes to giving feedback, it should be done regularly and immediately. Don’t wait to give feedback until a fixed/formal moment. If it becomes normal to give each other constant feedback, it’s easier to accept and to improve on it. It also makes it easier to be concrete. E.g. instead of saying during a yearly performance review: “Your coding skills are not good enough”, rather give feedback, in which you immediately name the concrete default: “this particular piece of code is not good enough. You can improve it by doing this and that.”
If someone is underperforming, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are incompetent. It just means they are not good at the job/role they are doing at that particular moment. It might mean they need to have some extra training or coaching. It is in the responsibility of a leader to give as much effort as possible to help that person become better inside the company. That might sometimes not be enough though and in the worst case they just aren’t a fit for your company, and it would be better to fire them. And even though this might suck in the short term, this can be a good thing for both the company and that person, they might find a job somewhere else where they do sth. they are good at and they will be much happier.
It is very important that when you hire someone you make sure they fit both the job description and the company culture. This will hopefully avoid that you come into situations where you need to let someone go.
3. Kim Scott talks about “Rockstars” and “Superstars”. Can you explain that to us?
The idea that exists in a lot of companies and in a lot of minds, is that everyone should constantly be moving upward. But not everyone wants to or is capable of moving into management. You can be very good as a programmer, but be a very bad boss. This is why she makes the distinction between ‘superstars’, which are people who are on the career path towards management, and ‘rockstars’, which are people who are good at their job, and can grow in it. People can switch from being a rockstar to being a superstar and the other way around at every point of their career.
It’s your job as a manager to figure out on what track people are and how you can help them. If people are on the superstar track, you might have to give them more leadership responsibilities. If they are on the rockstar track, you might want to let them take some courses to get deeper knowledge about what they are working on.
If you want to learn more about Kim Scott and her Radical Candor method, watch the video below and learn about the conversation that inspired Kim Scott to bottle the magic of Radical Candor:
Every Friday our CMO Noémie Benoit and our CTO Daan Depaepe take turns here presenting their weekly reading and telling us what fascinated them about the book and what they took out of it for the company and their personal career.