How Radical Candor Can Change Your Company’s Leadership Style and Culture

September 10, 2019 | Shannon Shoemaker

I just finished an amazing book by CEO coach, former Google and Apple exec Kim Scott called Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. One of my favorite quotes from the book is, “It’s not mean. It’s clear.” Radical candor isn’t meant to make friends. It isn’t designed to be “mean.” It’s about being open, transparent and trusting that employees and leaders will give each other feedback and opinions that are honest, open and direct.

This is a perfect example of what we talk about when we talk about HR transformation. There are thousands of books and websites with advice on leadership, management, culture, hiring, and so on. There’s a reason why Scott’s book is a New York Times bestseller. As HR leaders, we’re all struggling with how we can support our company executives and hiring managers in order to improve employee engagement and retention.

Scott’s experience in Silicon Valley—and from her point of view working in a hub of innovation—the best employees don’t stick around waiting for a workplace situation to improve. They have lots of choices and don’t have to deal with a power struggle or dictatorial managers because the market for tech sector employees is absolutely candidate-driven. This is why radical candor has become so popular there. Given the tight talent market we’re all facing, I’d say it’s something we need to get on board with sooner rather than later, no matter what industry or region.


The Radical Candor Framework for Managers and Workplace Leaders


To sum up Scott’s Radical Candor framework in its simplest terms, she divides management styles into four categories:

  1. Obnoxious Aggression: A boss who will challenge and criticize but does not genuinely care about the employees or the outcomes. Praise feels insincere and criticism isn’t delivered respectfully or kindly.
  2. Ruinous Empathy: A boss who genuinely cares but does not challenge their employees to improve. This person offers vague but sincere “surface level” praise and either offers no criticism or sugar coated and unclear (read useless) criticism.
  3. Manipulative Insincerity: A boss who neither cares nor challenges. Offers non-specific praise that comes across as fake and offers criticism that is neither constructive nor kind.
  4. Radical Candor: This is the goal! A healthy mix of genuine praise and constructive criticism that is delivered kindly and respectfully.


She goes into much more detail on how to get from 1, 2, or 3 to Radical Candor in the book, but here I’d like to focus on how it can impact you as an HR leader, your company leadership, your company culture and employee engagement and retention.


Why Candor and Transparency is Important for Engagement & Retention

In 2018, the unemployment rate dropped to a nearly 50-year low, making it harder than ever to find, hire and keep good talent. This has carried over into 2019 and shows no signs of changing soon. According to HRIS company Ceridian’s 2018-19 Pulse of Talent report, more than a third of workers are searching actively or casually for a job. Only 27% of workers said they are not interested in a job outside their current company and 36% would consider a position if it presented itself.

When it comes to why (from the same report): 32% of employees said they need to leave their job to move forward in their career and 86% of employees said it is important for employers to provide learning opportunities. About 50% of female workers and 35% of male workers said not earning enough money is the top reason they’re unhappy with their employers and 35% of 18-34 year olds ranked compensation as the top motivating factor to leave their job.

As the U.S. labor market remains tight with unemployment near all-time lows and more job openings than job seekers, companies must focus on retention and development strategies (and might consider a quick salary by region/sector evaluation if it’s been a while). Retention starts with making great hires, which is your job. And that brings me back to Radical Candor.


Creating a Candid Employee and Candidate Experience

Radical Candor isn’t just for the employee/manager relationship. It should start in the hiring and recruitment process. When we take the time to get to know our candidates, they get to know us and our company in return. This reduces the chances of a bad hire for culture fit, but it also sets expectations not just for management interactions, but for the transparency employees can expect from the company.

Understand that Radical Candor doesn’t mean we ignore compliance and employment laws. It means we start being more human, realistic, transparent and stop selling candidates on what our company might be able to do in the future. Instead, we focus on what our company does right now, be up-front and honest about our culture and why it matters, and let your candidate “opt-in” to the job. Just like sending segmented emails, your engagement rate is going to be much higher with candidates that opted in, and you’re more likely to retain them if they’re not disappointed in what they discover during their first months on the job. Insert Radical Candor into your onboarding process, your new employee training and introduce it to your company leaders and managers.

If you’ve been struggling to define exactly what your company culture or employee value proposition (EVP) should be, a shift like this one can be exactly what you need to transform your company from average workplace to one that your employees love and your candidates covet.

Supported By WordPress Database Support Services

Subscribe to the Cisive Newsletter