Radical Candor book summary
Let's start with a line that really summarises the book:
A boss's ability to achieve results have more to do with listening and seeking to understand, than it does with telling people what to do; more to do with debating than directing; more to do with pushing people to decide than being the decider; more to do with persuading than with giving orders; more to do with learning than knowing.
This book is split into 2 main parts. The first part talks about the philosophy behind this management style, with a lot of real life examples. The latter part is a how-to guide on how to implement this management style.
The topics in part 1 are:
- Build radically candid relationships
- Get, give and encourage guidance
- Understand what motivates each person on your team
- Drive results collaboratively
The topics in part 2 are:
- Relationships - establishing trust with direct reports
- Guidance - ideas for communicating praise / criticism
- Team - techniques for avoiding boredom and burnout
- Results - things you can do to get stuff done together and faster
Build radically candid relationships
- Bosses are responsible for results. They achieve results not by doing the work themselves, but by guiding people on their teams.
- The 3 areas of responsibility for managers are:
- Guidance - often called "feedback"
- Team-building - hiring, firing, promoting and keeping the right people motivated
- Results - the delivery
- Relationships are core to your job as a manager. They determine whether you can:
- Create a culture of guidance (praise and criticism) that will keep everyone moving in the right direction
- Understand what motivates each person on your team
- Drive results collaboratively
- Radical Candor is the intersection of Care Personally and Challenge Directly
- When people trust you and believe you care about them, they are much more likely to:
- Accept and act on your praise and criticism
- Tell you what they really think about what you are doing well and badly
- Engage in this same behaviour with one another
- Embrace their role on the team
- Focus on getting results
- Don't rely on being just professional. Encourage bring your whole self to work.
- Don't have a sense of superiority. Remember that a boss is a job, not a value judgment.
- Caring personally is about caring the whole person with your whole self so you can build a deep relationship. This is the antidote to robotic professionalism and managerial arrogance. Find time for real conversations, get to know each other on a human level and learn what's important for people.
- Challenging others and encouraging them to challenge you builds trusting relationships because:
- You care enough to point out things that are going well and that aren't
- You're willing to admit when you're wrong and you're committed to fixing yours and other's mistakes
- The hardest part of building trust is inviting people to challenge you, just as directly as you are challenging them. You have to encourage them to challenge you directly enough that you may be the one who feels upset or angry.
Get, give and encourage guidance
- There are 4 quadrants, each of which refer to guidance, not to personality traits. They are a way to gauge praise and criticism. The 4 quadrants are (on scales of "care personally" and "challenge directly":
- Radical candor
- Obnoxious aggression
- Manipulative insincerity
- Ruinous empathy
- When you criticize someone without taking 2 seconds to show you care, your guidance feels obnoxiously aggressive to the recipient. It is worth noting however, that if you can't be radically candid, being obnoxiously aggressive is the next best thing - at least people know where they stand and your team can achieve results!
- Manipulative insincerity happens when you don't care enough about a person to challenge directly. This includes giving praise and criticism that is focused on being liked or gaining political advantage.
- Ruinous empathy happens when people want to avoid creating tension or discomfort at work. Praise that is ruinous empathetic is not effective because its primary goal is to make the person feel better rather that to point out really great work and push for more of it.
- To encourage radical candor guidance, start by getting feedback, not dishing it out. When you do start giving it, start by offering praise, not criticism.
Understand what motivates each person on your team
- To keep a team cohesive, you need rock stars and superstars. Rock stars love their work and have found their groove. They don't want the next job if it takes them away from their craft. If you honor and reward rock stars, they'll become the people you most rely on. Superstars on the other hand, need to be challenged and given new opportunities to grow continuously.
- Rock star attributes: a force for stability, ambitious outside of work or simply content in life, happy in current role
- Superstar attributes: change agent, ambitious at work, want new opportunities
- You need to understand the growth trajectory each person in your team wants to be on at a given time and whether that matches the needs and opportunities of the team. You need to do this by getting personal with each direct report.
- When assessing a person's past performance, it's useful to consider both their results and more intangible things like "teamwork"
- "Steep growth" is generally characterised by rapid change - learning new skills or deepening existing ones quickly. It's not about becoming a manager and it's not about getting promotions. It's about having an increased impact over time.
- "Gradual growth" is characterised by stability. People on a gradual growth trajectory who perform well, have generally mastered their work and are making incremental rather than sudden, dramatic improvements.
- Most people shift between a steep growth and gradual growth trajectory in different phases of their life and careers, so it's important not to put a permanent label on people
- Good managers create working conditions that allows everyone on their team to find meaning in their work, in their own way
- One of the most common mistakes bosses make is to ignore people doing their best work because "they don't need me". Ignoring somebody is a bad way to create personal relationships.
- There are different way of motivating team members on different paths:
- Excellent performance + gradual growth trajectory - recognise, reward but don't promote. Ensure fair performance ratings (not biased towards indicating readiness for promotion). Recognise rock stars as gurus or go-to experts and respect their expertise. Do not force promotion if they are not interested in it.
- Excellent performance + steep growth trajectory - keep superstars challenged and figure out who will replace them when they move on. Don't squash or block them. Recognise that not all superstars want to manage.
- For folks in the middle, raise the bar. Don't get sucked into ruinous empathy by managing people who are doing OK but not great. Building a great team that achieves exceptional results requires everyone doing great work.
- Poor performance + negative growth trajectory - part ways
- How do you know when to fire somebody?
- Have you given radically candid guidance?
- How is this person's poor performance affecting the rest of the team?
- Have you sought out a second opinion?
- Common lies managers tell themselves to avoid firing somebody
- It will get better
- Somebody is better than nobody
- A transfer (internally) is the answer
- It's bad for team morale
- Remember to be radically candid with the person you're firing
- When firing someone, you create the possibility for that person to excel and find happiness performing meaningful work elsewhere
- Retaining people who are doing bad work penalises the people doing excellent work
- How do you know when to fire somebody?
- Low performance + steep growth trajectory - wrong role or they are new to the role and there's too much too fast. There might also be personal problems, or it might just be a poor fit.
- Remember that people change and you have to change with them
Drive results collaboratively
- Use the Get Stuff Done wheel, a circular process which goes through the following steps: Listen -> Clarify -> Debate -> Decide -> Persuade -> Execute -> Learn
- Listen: stick to your own style but make sure everyone on your team gets heard and is able to contribute
- Quiet listening - be silent to give others room to talk
- Loud listening - say things to get a reaction
- Create a culture of listening - set up a structure that allows team members to voice opinions and listen to one another
- Adapt to a culture of listening - if you don't listen, people will not tell you what you need to know
- Clarify: understand and convey thoughts and ideas more clearly
- Be clear in your own mind - create a safe space to nurture new ideas
- Be clear to others - make thoughts / ideas easy for others to comprehend
- Debate: aka the rock tumbler
- Keep the conversation focused on ideas not egos
- Create an obligation to dissent
- Pause for emotion / exhaustion - defer debates until people are in the right frame of mind
- Use humour and have fun
- Be clear when the debate will end
- Don't grab a decision just because the debate has gotten painful
- Decide: ensure decisions are made by the people with the facts or after having spoken to people with the facts
- Persuade: ensure team members who were not part of the debate are on-board
- Address the listener's emotions
- Credibility - demonstrate expertise and humility
- Logic - show your workings which led to the decision
- Execute: minimise time "collaborating" when the team could be executing
- Don't waste your team's time - clear the decks for them and protect them from meetings etc.
- Stay connected to the work your team is going
- Block out time to execute, not just collaborate
- Learn: learn from mistakes and successes and keen improving
- Be consistent...or be prepared to persuade the team why the path changed
- Don't burnout
With the sections below, I've just noted down the key prompts. There's a lot more detail provided in the book for each of these points, but they're almost too numerous to list down. I'd encourage getting the book if you're really interested in the practical detail of how to implement this.
- Stay centered by taking care of yourself first and foremost. Strive to work-life integration (not work-life balance... it's not a zero sum game!). Understand what you need to do to stay centered.
- Now that you're bringing your best self to work, give your team autonomy so they can also bring their best selves to work
- Master the art of socialising at work. Beware of booze and remember that even non-mandatory events can feel mandatory to your direct reports.
- Respect boundaries. Build trust, share values, demonstrate openness, use physical space appropriately (e.g. hugging), recognise your own emotions, master your reactions to others' emotions.
- Solicit impromptu guidance
- Make it natural and safe to criticize you
- Have management "fix it" weeks
- Give impromptu guidance
- Be radically candid with your boss
- Beware of gender when giving guidance
- Think about how your company's formal review process fits in with this framework
- Prevent backstabbing
- Encourage peer guidance
- For manager of managers, consider "skip level meetings" (meet directly with the team who reports to the manager)
- Understand people's motivations and ambitions to help them take a step in the direction of their dreams
- Growth management - figure out who needs what types of opportunities, and how you're going to provide them
- Hiring mentality and process - find the right ratio of rock stars and superstars
- Have a well-thought out firing process, don't wait too long and follow up
- Promotions - be fair
- Reward your rock stars, don't give all the glory to superstars
- Avoid absentee management and micro-management
- One of your most important responsibilities to keep everything moving smoothly is to decide communication lines - this means meetings. Every meeting comes with a significant time cost so it's important to minimise duration, frequency and number of required people.
- The most important meeting is the 1:1 with each of your direct reports
- Sessions that might be needed are as follows (each of them play a part in the Get Stuff Done wheel):
- 1:1 meetings (listen)
- Staff meetings (listen-clarify)
- Think time (clarify)
- "Big debate" meetings (debate)
- "Big decision" meetings (decide)
- All-hands meetings (persuade)
- Meeting-free zones (execute)
- Kanban boards (learn)
- Walk around (learn-listen)
- 1:1 meetings - employees set the agenda, you listen and help them clarify
- Staff meetings - review metrics, listen to updates, identify (but not make) key decisions
- Think time - block time to think and hold that time sacred
- "Big debate" meetings - lower the tension by making it clear that you are debating, not deciding
- "Big decision" meetings - push decisions into the facts, pull facts into the decisions and keep egos at bay
- All hands meetings - bring others along
- Execution time - fight meeting proliferation
- Kanban boards - make activity and workflows visible
- Walk around - learn about small problems to prevent big ones
- Finally, be conscious of culture. Everyone is watching you but that doesn't mean it's all about you.