Thoughts on Radical Candor

I have been really excited about Radical Candor these days. I first came across the concept on International Women’s Day this year, when First Round posted the article,“Thoughts on Gender and Radical Candor.” While Radical Candor is a tool to cultivate better guidance between bosses/managers and team members, to me it boils down to a good communication practice. And with communication being a core value at Elevator Up, it’s something I have been interested in practicing with our team.

Quick Summary

Radical Candor was created from Kim Scott’s (@kimballscott) years of experience in management. It’s goals is to ensure teams get the right kind of guidance in their work. Scott recognized from her own experience as a manager that bosses rarely tell their employees when they are screwing up. She worked to enable bosses to communicate in a way that addresses an issue, but still comes across as encouraging. Radical Candor offers a way to look at providing feedback that challenges an employee directly, yet still shows that you care personally. Scott mapped out a spectrum to gauge it:

The arrow running top to bottom gauges how much you care, or “give a damn” according to Scott. The arrow running left to right gauges your “willingness to piss people off” (since guidance through challenging directly can be difficult for some people to hear.)

“Caring personally makes it much easier to do the next thing you have to do as a good boss, which is being willing to piss people off.” — Kim Scott

Radical Candor lands in the top right quadrant of the graph. What lies in the remaining quadrants?

There is plenty more to read about Radical Candor in the articles here and here. Right now, I’m going to share a few thoughts into why it’s important and how it might help your team.

Why Its Important

For Anyone

I was catching up with a friend recently and naturally, work came up. She was telling me about her unhappiness with her job. She was feeling a lost, not knowing what value she was offering the place. She said that she had been really looking forward to a performance evaluation, hoping that it would give her a boost of motivation, some feedback, or a few goals to work toward. She went in for the meeting and it lasted about three minutes. The supervisor didn’t have any feedback for her. So she prodded — was there anything she could improve upon? Any criticism on her work? Anything she was doing particularly well? Anything?? Nope. My friend left feeling even worse than before, frustrated that there wasn’t any guidance from her supervisor. And now, she’s starting to consider other career opportunities. This is a prime example of why Radical Candor is important. Without good guidance and communication, employees might not feel like their work in meaningful. And when that happens, they are less likely to stay at a company.

In an ideal work environment where Radical Candor is practiced, team members are challenged and empowered to do their best work and improve when it is needed in order to help out the rest of the team. This type of work environment can foster an innovative culture, one in which individuals are not afraid to try new ideas. They know that they might be challenged, but not in a way that shames them or dampens their personal morale.

Another reason Radical Candor is important specifically in the digital product world, is because communicating feedback is a constant in this industry. And not just for when people are screwing up. We’re giving feedback to designers on their drafts, clients on their ideas, developers on their products, and project managers on their processes. Being able to provide feedback in a way that challenges a person, yet also remains encouraging and empowering will motivate people to improve rather than leave them defeated. It could also ensure the success of your team members working together.

For Our Company

We’re a new team after all the hiring we’ve been doing. Learning to communicate candidly and directly with each other will ease any stress about stepping on the toes of someone you just met. We are in a place where we are trying to redistribute roles, removing work from the CEO and giving the team more ownership over their roles and projects. Empowerment is going to be key in making the new team dynamics successful.

As I mentioned earlier, communication is a core value at Elevator Up:

From the EU Handbook: “Be transparent and be visible. It’s about always communicating with all team members about how things are going. Surprises are inevitable, and estimates are often wrong, but managing expectations will keep everyone in the loop and on-board.”

I think Radical Candor relates to our core value because it encourages transparency, openness, and management of expectations within a team. Communication practice will be important while we learn to work together, and while new employees adjust to a new work environment.

Give this a bit more of your time and see what it does for your team. And if you’re geeking out as much as I am, the Radical Candor team has a growing body of resources at including a section where you can ask for advice. The Radical Candor team puts a lot of thought into their responses too, so its worth it!)

Happy reading,

~ Tori, Studio Manager at Elevator Up