Radical Candor

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(c) Jean-Pierre Declemy

Though I read pretty widely in management literature, it is becoming more rare that I will jump into texts with much gusto.  I was therefore quite happy to be introduced by colleagues to the podcast related to the book Radical Candor about finding the right intersection between compassion and engaging employees with direct challenge.  Though some managers may naturally fall into the middle if this intersection, I’d reckon that most of us fall to one side of the equation and will benefit from strategies to help walk toward the other side of the equation a bit more.

I found the definition of challenging directly very useful: without calling into question your confidence that someone can do the job, leave little room for interpretation for how the work does not meet your expected standards.

The premise that we can find a happy medium between being obnoxiously candid and ruinously empathetic can seem simplistic but the author teases out the some key preconditions for success that I think are worthy of reflection.

The thing I found most useful is that we are able tap into the benefits of challenging people directly, only after we have taken the time to build a relationship with them.   As the author reminds us, the emotional labour of being a boss is often discounted.  The book offers good suggestions about how to do this which involve learning about each team member’s values and whether they see themselves on a slow growth trajectory (rock stars) or a superstar trajectory.

Rockstars love their work and have found their groove and unfortunately often don’t get fair ratings for being gurus.  It’s important not to take away their craft. In contrast, superstars who want to grow constantly.

Each team needs a mix of both types of employees and we should guard against building teams in which each team member mirrors our own outlook on career.  We should also be alert to employees who change their perspectives over time depending on their personal circumstances.  When kids are very young, you may want to be a rock star, as they age, you may be ready to move into a superstar role.

I also liked the amount of time spent on explaining why giving praise is a necessary part of the feedback loop. Specifically, praise is not about babysitting egos. It guides people in the right direction as to what they can continue to do and how to keep improving. I also really liked the passages suggesting that you should spend as much time getting your facts right when you praise as when you criticize. Think of the harm that is done when the wrong person is praised for the wrong thing or a single person is praised when an entire team carried a project across the line.

The book (especially the first half) and the podcasts are recommended.  I found them enjoyable given the stories (many cringe-worthy) that are used to illustrate  points.

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The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio – Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman – Harvard Business Review

(c) caro wallis

Interesting study cited in this HBR article – the most successful teams have the highest positive to negative comment ratios.    The average for the highest performing teams was a startling (to me) 5.6 to 1 and for the lowest performing teams .36 to 1 (three negative comments for every one).

A worthy reminder that a little negative feedback goes a long way.  As the author reminds us:

“Negative feedback is important when we’re heading over a cliff to warn us that we’d really better stop doing something horrible or start doing something we’re not doing right away. But even the most well-intentioned criticism can rupture relationships and undermine self-confidence and initiative. It can change behavior, certainly, but it doesn’t cause people to put forth their best efforts.

Only positive feedback can motivate people to continue doing what they’re doing well, and do it with more vigor, determination, and creativity.”

They close by noting that, on the personal front, an analysis of couples who are likely to stay together proves almost the same optimal ratio of praise to criticism.

via The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio – Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman – Harvard Business Review.