Radical Candid Criticism at Google and Apple

In Radical Candor, Kim Scott explains how almost any organization — whatever its size and nature may be — can “defy the gravitational pull of organizational mediocrity.” The ultimate goal of what she characterizes as Radical Candor “is to achieve results collaboratively that could never be achieved individually.” Scott focuses on two dimensions:

“The first dimension is about more than ‘just professional.’ It’s about giving a damn, sharing more than just your work self, and encouraging everyone who reports to you to do the same. It’s not enough to care only about people’s ability to perform a job. To have a good relationship, you have to be your whole self and care about each of the people who work for you as a human being. It’s not just business; it is personal, and deeply personal. I call this dimension ‘Care Personally.’”

“The second dimension involves telling people when their work isn’t good enough — and when it is; when they are not going to get that new role they wanted, or when you’re going to hire a new boss ‘over’ them; when the results don’t justify further investment in what they’re working on. Delivering hard feedback, making hard calls about who does what on a team, and holding a high bar for results — isn’t that obviously the job of any manager?…And yet challenging people is often the best way to show them you care when you’re the boss. This dimension I call ‘Challenge Directly.’”

I wholly agree with Scott about the need to understand the “perilous border” between Obnoxious Aggression and Randical Candor. “Radically Candid criticism is an important part of the culture at both Google and Apple, but it takes very different forms at the two companies. Google emphasizes caring personally more than challenging directly, so I’d describe criticism there as Radical Candid with a twist of Ruinous Empathy. Apple does the opposite, so I’d describe its culture of criticism as Radical Candor with a twist of Obnoxious Aggression.

“In the Introduction, I described briefly a documentary in which tech journalist Bob Cringely interviews Steve Jobs and asks what he means when he tells people ‘your work is shit.’ It’s worth reading the transcript to explore the perilous border between Obnoxious Aggression and Radical Candor.”

Note: To check out the outtakes of that interview for the PBS documentary Triumph of the Nerds in The Lost Interview, please click here.

I also highly recommend HBR Guide to Delivering Effective Feedback, published by Harvard Business Review Press (2016).

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Kim Scott is the co-founder and CEO of Candor, Inc., which builds tools to make it easier to follow the advice she offers in the book. She is also the author of three novels. To learn more about her and her work, please click here.

Radical Candor was published by St. Martin’s Press (March 2017)

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