In their latest Financial Times column, Brynne Herbert and Mrs Moneypenny share their thoughts on whether a culture of "radical candor" helps companies get the most out of their employees.
Millennial v Boomer: young generation wants radical feedback
11 February 2016
*This article was originally featured on Financial Times.
When I worked in investment banking, my colleagues and I dreaded our annual appraisal. We each sat down with a human resources manager armed with a paper file filled with the details of our work, anecdotes from colleagues and ratings of our behaviour that would decide our bonus. It felt arbitrary, formulaic and false. It neither won my loyalty, nor got the best out of me.
The millennial generation (and much of the modern workforce) is not willing to wait 12 months to hear how they are doing. They are certainly not willing to speak to HR about it, rather than to the people with whom they work day to day. They prize authenticity, transparency and genuine relationships.
Now that I run my own company and get to decide how to appraise employees, I have taken a different approach. My company uses “radical candour”, a constant feedback loop that Google and Twitter also find works for them.
It is a concept developed by Kim Scott, a former Google executive. What matters is how much you care and how much you challenge your employees — if you care a lot and often challenge your employees directly, you get radical candour. Unfortunately, most managers’ style is best described as “ruinous empathy” — the top left box of Ms Scott’s graph (see picture). In other words, the managers do not give direct and real time feedback to their teams.
Ms Scott explains how it worked for her at Google. “Sheryl (Sandberg) told me that when I say ‘umm’ I sound stupid. That got my attention. But I knew she cared about me as a person and that’s why she told me that. I knew [she cared] because when I moved to California, she invited me to her book club to meet new people and supported me when family members were sick.”
Coupled with clear objectives that are tracked regularly, radical candour helps companies get the most out of their staff.
Any company that sticks to the old, stilted, formulaic and impersonal method is going to find it difficult to hold on to employees, especially those most serious about improving their performance.
Brynne Herbert, a millennial, is founder of Move Guides, which helps companies to relocate staff
Do people really want radical feedback and even if they do, will they interpret it correctly? I think the whole thing could backfire horribly.
Brynne mentions, Kim Scott, who took criticism well from her boss Sheryl Sandberg “because she knew that she cared”.
I care a lot about my employees, they are my second family, but I am not sure it is the first thing that comes to their minds when I give them critical feedback.
I recall one employee who suffered from overbearing body odour each day from about lunchtime. It was so bad that his colleagues hated going near him in the afternoon. It fell to me to address the situation and I am afraid I did not practise “radical candour”.
Instead, I started my discussion with him by presenting a gift of a white sea island cotton shirt. I stressed that he needed to look after this shirt because excessive perspiration would ruin it. In this context I asked him which antiperspirant he was using. His answer? He used deodorant but not antiperspirant. For the sake of his shirts, I suggested that he bought some and started using it immediately. He has done so ever since, much to the relief of his colleagues. But I wimped out of saying “your colleagues find working in a room with you so challenging that is affecting you professionally”.
You could argue that by giving him the shirt I showed that I cared. But that was expensive and time-consuming and not everyone can afford to buy shirts for their staff. Nor can they invest the time to do the many things Ms Sandberg did for Ms Scott before telling her that she looked stupid when she said “umm”. That is why the real world solution is simply to be slightly more cautious about how we give critical feedback.
And if, as a manager, you find yourself in the most ineffective quadrant of Ms Scott’s graph — where you do not care for an employee and are desperate to avoid having to give them very negative feedback — then perhaps it is not you who has to change. Instead, I would suggest you probably do not want a member of staff who makes you feel this way working for you in the first place. Just make sure to avoid “radical candour” in the exit interview.
Mrs Moneypenny, a boomer, owns and runs an executive search company