We’ve all heard that feedback is the breakfast of champions. But lately I’ve wondered: What kind of feedback builds winning teams? Managers, employees, and execs have different styles of giving and receiving feedback. And when those styles don’t match up, feedback can be taken off the menu completely. Not surprisingly, 65% of employees say they wish they could receive more feedback than they currently do (OfficeVibe). That’s why Kim Scott’s concept of radical candor has become a hot topic at HubSpot and is helping us rethink how we help one another grow through more productive, timely feedback.
If you haven’t read Scott’s article on radical candor in First Round Review yet, go do it - she’s a true force, and we’ve learned a ton from her at HubSpot. She has a new book coming out soon about the concept and a few of us were lucky to get a sneak peek. Here’s the basic idea: The best people you work with care deeply and personally about the employees they manage (and collaborate with on a regular basis), but they also take the time, energy, and investment to challenge those employees directly. (See the illustration below from Scott that shows how these forces act together.)
The reason radical candor struck a chord with me and our employees is because it pointed out some gaps in how feedback typically happens. The biggest missed opportunity is that we’re often too soft or too indirect in our feedback, when really we should be more specific, more immediate, and more actionable. Think about the last time someone told you, “Just keep doing what you’re doing.” That’s not feedback, that’s passing the buck. Instead, managers need to feel empowered and supported to be as comfortable saying “that meeting you ran was terrific, do more of that” as they are saying “that thing you did fell short on solving for our customers, let’s brainstorm how to fix it together.”
Giving direct feedback is hard, and I understand why managers would opt to water it down. Maybe they don’t want to disrupt a team’s dynamic, or maybe they’re just not comfortable having difficult conversations. But I can’t emphasize this enough: Skimping on constructive feedback does a huge disservice to the growth of your reports, colleagues, and company.
At the end of the day, you want to help the people around you grow and solve for your company’s mission. Do your part to make it happen by practicing radical candor and creating an environment that encourages it. Here are some ways I’ve been trying to do just that on both the giving and receiving end.
Advice For Managers
Follow Kim Scott’s advice and just do it; don’t overthink it, don’t over-personalize it, don’t over-sandwich it. Focus on giving people actionable, immediate, and constructive input on how they can improve.
Focus on improvements people can control. For example, don’t say “you have a quiet personality,” say “when you don’t share your perspective before, during or after meetings, people assume you don’t have anything valuable to add to the conversation, which we both know isn’t true. If you’re not comfortable speaking up, let’s talk about how we can formulate your ideas in written form before the next meeting so folks don’t miss out on the great ideas you have here.” Telling people to work on things they can’t control is a dead end. Instead, help make feedback actionable by focusing on actions, not personality traits.
Don’t wait until review season to give feedback. If you sit on things people are doing well or could do better, you’ll miss out on huge learning opportunities. Have the courage to give feedback immediately, so everyone involved can improve and grow faster.
Make it actionable. Another leader we've learned from about building a culture of feedback is Patty McCord who used the "stop, start, continue" framework at Netflix. During face-to-face reviews, managers share one thing that employees should stop, start, and continue doing. It's concise, to-the-point, and easier for employees to take the next step.
Ask your peers for help. If you’re not sure how to help an employee on your team grow or learn, ask a peer for ideas on how they have handled a similar situation. This will help you talk it through and get some solid advice, but also remind you you’re not alone in the quest to help people get better.
A critical ingredient that often gets overlooked in giving feedback is authenticity. If you always speak in short, direct sentences but then write your reviews in long-form prose with words like “synergy” and “optimize”, you’re doing it wrong. Tell people exactly what you mean through words and style that are authentic to you. Employees can smell when you’re trying to act like someone else from a mile away, adding a layer of awkwardness to feedback that nobody needs.
Know the whole story before jumping in. One of the temptations with radical candor is to use it as a chance to give direct feedback harshly, and without context or care. The power of radical candor comes from caring personally and challenging people directly; you don't get to do one or the other.
If it helps, write down what you’re planning to say. Does it sound mean? If so, tone it down. Is it actionable? If not, ratchet up the steps someone could take to improve.
Advice For Employees
Let tough feedback soak for 24 hours. If you’re anything like me, hard feedback makes you put your guard up, and I’ve learned that you can’t evaluate feedback objectively when your emotions are in the way. So, sit with it for a day, then if you have questions, ask them in person or over a video call. Email and Slack are wonderful, but tone matters, as can context, so the more face time interaction you can get, the better.
Don’t compare notes. One of the things I hear constantly from people is “I got X feedback from Y person, did they say the same thing to you?” If the answer’s no, they jump to conclusions and begin to get inside their own heads with worry. Often times, taking the time to share feedback is an indication someone cares about you and believes strongly in your growth -- consider it a gift not a threat.
Don’t discount feedback from your peers or people who work for you. Just because someone might not have as much experience or tenure as you doesn’t mean they can’t help you grow or spot things you might not be able to see in yourself. Some of the best feedback I have gotten at HubSpot has been from folks on my own team or collaborators on a given project.
Feedback is a two-way street so tell your manager what's working for you. Managers are human, too, so when you get great feedback, thank them. If you want more detail, ask for it. No one takes feedback exactly like the next person, so help your manager grow and learn by making the delivery a team sport.
Advice for Everybody
Remind yourself that the person in front of you, whether you’re giving or getting feedback, is human. They have emotions and feelings just like you do. So provide constructive feedback in-person and in private, and try to lead with empathy even as you provide direct, and sometimes hard, feedback.
Notice good things. I think people drastically underestimate the power of praise. See someone pitching in to clean up after event? Tell them on the spot you noticed and appreciate them helping keep things presentable for candidates and employees. It’s a reminder to them that these things matter, but also a great way to get in the habit of giving immediate feedback.
Take a deep breath. You’re likely reading this because you care about improving and helping your team improve. Even if it’s hard at time, feedback is the key to helping you do that. So, relax and take the good with the bad when you need to; it’s well-worth it.
Lastly, recognize the people in your organization who are already great at these things. You likely know a manager who is maniacal about delivering effective, timely feedback. Or, you work with someone who is constantly asking for constructive input. Highlight those people and set an example for the rest of your organization. Because ultimately, no matter how amazing your CEO or head of HR is at giving feedback, you need to create a culture of feedback across your org. Radical candor needs to be a team sport, and hopefully these tips are a good start to help us all get our heads in the game.
Originally published Feb 22, 2017 8:00:00 AM, updated February 22 2017