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Guide Your Team With Impromptu Feedback — And “Radical Candor”

May 30, 2017

Impromptu feedback

If you have a few minutes of slack time between meetings, you have time to deliver meaningful feedback to employees. Through impromptu conversations, managers can solicit and provide timely feedback, instead of saving it for one-on-ones or performance reviews, says Kim Scott, CEO and co-founder of Candor, Inc., and the author of Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity (St. Martin’s Press, 2017).

In a podcast interview with AMA, Scott said that feedback—giving it, soliciting it, and encouraging it—is one of three primary responsibilities of a leader. (The other two are to build a great team and achieve results collectively without telling people what to do.)

“I think part of the reason there’s such a movement against performance reviews right now is that we’ve substituted them for these impromptu conversations…. If the feedback is not happening, the performance review is kind of like a cap on a rotten tooth. It’s just going to rot faster,” said Scott, a former CEO coach at Dropbox, Twitter, and other companies and a former executive at Google.

Delivering feedback with “radical candor”

Scott recommends an approach to employee guidance that she calls radical candor—which is the ability to care personally for employees and challenge them directly at the same time. At the center of this approach is the relationship that a manager must form with each team member.

“The core aspects to make that relationship work—the two things you’ve got to keep in mind—are care personally and challenge directly,” Scott said.

In the podcast, Scott describes four quadrants of the radical candor approach. Understanding this framework can help managers in the “hard moments of management” when they are providing feedback. The quadrants are:

  • Radical candor. You care personally and challenge directly.
  • Obnoxious aggression. You challenge directly but fail to show that you care personally.
  • Ruinous empathy. You care personally but fail to challenge directly.
  • Manipulative insincerity. You do not care personally and do not challenge directly.

Scott believes it is the moral obligation of a leader to provide guidance with radical candor and to solicit feedback as well. But, she cautioned, remember that feedback is about change. “Make sure that you’re humble, that you’re being helpful, that you’re offering both praise and criticism—that you praise in public, criticize in private—and that you don’t offer feedback about someone’s personality,” she said.

Scott counsels women leaders to stay the course of radical candor, even though they are more likely to be wrongly accused of obnoxious aggression when they are radically candid than a man is. Provided you also care personally, you must challenge directly to succeed.

“No matter how painful it is to be unjustly accused of obnoxious aggression or whatever, don’t back off your challenge,” she said. “If you’ve failed to challenge directly because people don’t like it when you do, you’re going to wind up in either ruinous empathy or manipulative insincerity. And as bad as obnoxious aggression is, the other two quadrants are worse.”

To learn more, listen to the full podcast with Kim Scott.

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American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.

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