Balancing Radical Candor and Constructive Feedback
By Sharlyn Lauby
Organizations are well aware of the perils that lie in groupthink and the echo chamber. To encourage creativity and innovation, organizations must be able to respectfully challenge the status quo. The key word here being respectfully.
The same goes for employee performance. Yes, it’s important to give employees accolades. It’s equally important to provide comments intent on correcting or improving behavior. But let’s face it, no one wants to hear that they aren’t doing a good job. Managers don’t like telling employees they’re not performing as expected.
The good news is that businesses are turning to the concept of “radical candor” as a way to guide conversations. Radical candor is a tool created by Kim Scott, former director at Google and author of “Radical Candor: The Surprising Secret to Being a Good Boss.” The key to radical candor is to balance caring for the person with the challenge of the feedback being delivered.
According to Scott, radical candor is different from constructive feedback. She points out that even though the term constructive feedback can be both positive and negative, over the years, we’ve associated it with negative. “The problem with the word ‘feedback’ is that it tends to mean just criticism. Don’t forget to ‘focus on the good stuff’.” The goal with radical candor is to provide compassion without diluting the clarity of the message, even if that means the message stings a little.
Whether your organization provides constructive feedback or radical candor, the key is to provide valuable information in a caring setting. That’s where radical candor and constructive feedback can overlap – in practice. Organizations have several opportunities to use these tools in their workplaces.
Employee engagement – Many organizations use “skip level” interviews to gather information. These meetings are between an employee and their supervisor’s boss (hence the term skipping a level.) But under the right circumstances, employees can provide feedback and candor to help the organization improve.
Peer-to-peer dialogue – Constructive feedback and radical candor can be used at every level of the organization. They do not have to be an exclusive tool for management.
Conflict resolution – Tools like radical candor, if used properly, can help organizations during times of personal conflict. Instead of having someone get sucked into the drama as an intermediary, radical candor can be used to tell the individuals involved, “Go work it out yourselves.”
Real-time development – Radical candor and constructive feedback aren’t formal performance conversations. They are designed to be timely so the conversation remains relevant and valuable.
Stay interviews – Another opportunity for managers and employees to gain organizational insights is through the concept of a stay interview. This can be done in conjunction with annual performance reviews, during regular one-on-one meetings, or during employee opinion surveys.
Exit interviews – Organizations have a huge opportunity to receive unfiltered information designed to help improve the workplace. Exit interviews must be conducted by the right person and the information received must be handled with respect.
Feedback and candor work in organizations where trust and respect are core values that are demonstrated at every level. Any opportunity for an exchange of information is an opportunity for feedback and candor. Organizations need to create environments where employees are encouraged and comfortable having the conversation. They also need to understand the goal of all conversations is the same – improvement and caring.