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Is your business ready for ‘Radical Candor’?

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Robert Lentz

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

A new management approach known as Radical Candor is generating buzz and raising eyebrows. It calls for the kind of direct confrontation and painful truth-telling that’s traditionally considered verboten in the workplace. After all, we can’t get anything done unless we stay completely civil to one another, right?

In the age of political correctness where feelings are intensely protected from offense, there are some who believe that perhaps clinging to the adage “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all” can bring the gears of business progress to a halt.

Kim Scott, a longtime director at Google and a leading proponent of Radical Candor, remembers a time when her boss, Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg, told her bluntly, “When you say ‘um’ every third word, it makes you sound stupid.”

“Now that got my attention!” Scott says.

Rather than giving people a free pass to be rude publicly, the concept is meant to generate private feedback that truly matters. How many colleagues have you known who had personal foibles or professional blind spots that no one seemed willing to mention, and which cost them because of it? From overaggressive sales behavior to CC’ing too many people, from terrible fashion choices to chronic meeting faux pas, how many issues have you tiptoed around, losing time and causing tensions to slowly mount?

Greg Brooks, principal at public affairs firm West Third Group, looks favorably upon a certain level of bluntness, saying, “If companies can’t practice a high degree of candor internally, then they inevitably end up spending a lot of resources buying that candor externally. If no one can say ‘the Emperor has no clothes,’ eventually you’re going to bring in some guy in a suit to say that.”  

Cheryl Pinter-Veal, head of the NextGen leadership development program at strategic consulting firm Deloitte, maintains a more traditional approach: “The old adage says, ‘praise in public, criticize in private,’ and I like to share project feedback in three steps:  (1) recognize what went right, (2) understand what went wrong, and (3) get input from my team around what we’ll change moving forward, and how I can help them be better equipped to succeed.”

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