‘Radical candor’ is a management approach that has gained popularity in Silicon Valley off the back of a bestselling book by former Google and Apple exec, Kim Scott. One of Scott’s key points relates to the importance of challenging directly: leaders telling their employees, in a considerate and objective way, when their work is failing to meet expectations. Though challenging people in this way can be difficult for those on the receiving end, says Scott, it is also the best way to help them improve, and for leaders this is a hugely effective way to show they care, both about their organisation and their employees.
The concept raises some interesting questions about reward and recognition. If employee recognition is the activity employers engage in to acknowledge exceptional performance, is radical candor the flipside of that? How should employers balance the need to reward and recognise exceptional work, with the need to discourage poor performance and undesirable behaviours? To what extent can the two go hand in hand? And where’s the sweet spot?
In truth radical candor should be as much about encouraging leaders, managers and peers to show appreciation, as it is about encouraging constructive criticism. Managers can be reluctant to do both, for different reasons, and therefore it’s hugely important for organisations to create a culture that encourages that sort of dialogue. Indeed, getting managers on board is one of the first steps that any business should take when looking to implement a reward and recognition programme.
Scott has talked about “a culture of feedback” in which employees are “encouraged to overcome their reluctance to hear praise and criticism, and also to deliver it”, adding that the best feedback comes in “impromptu…conversations”. This rings true for both positive and critical feedback.
Encouraging spontaneous recognition ensures that it feels genuine and avoids recognition being confined to certain calendar events or milestones. Our own research on this topic found that receiving rewards spontaneously and for good work was more likely to make employees feel recognised than receiving them at events such as Christmas or on their birthday. This supports Scott’s thinking around the mistake that some employers make in going too far with praise and recognition around promotions. She suggests that there’s enough intrinsic reward and recognition in the act of promoting an employee and that going too heavy on the importance of promotions risks making that the whole purpose of work, rather than employees being fulfilled in by their day-to-day roles.
One area where Scott’s thinking diverges from our own is around the role that systems can play in facilitating a culture of feedback. In interviews she has argued that it’s difficult “to systematise…or operationalise…..” the process of giving feedback. When it comes to recognition, however, we have found quite the opposite. Though this can be done informally by encouraging managers to take advantage of opportunities for spontaneous recognition, the best reward and recognition programs also make it quick and easy to nominate colleagues and publicly celebrate staff achievements, using fully automated, online portals to encourage workers to engage with a scheme. This creates a culture of recognition by building it into the day-to-day routines of all staff.
Arguably, whilst the concept of radical candor is thought provoking, it’s not quite as radical as it first may appear and really is about the importance of communication when it comes to instilling company culture. Whether trying to encourage positive behaviours or discourage negative ones, it can be helpful to consider the following points:
• Be clear about which staff behaviours and performances are being rewarded, or flagged up, how and why
• Be fair and consistent, so as not to undermine your message
• Ensure that feedback you give is reflective of your organisation’s values
For more information on how to build an effective employee recognition strategy download our free e-book here.