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Book Brief - Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Updated: Jun 18, 2023

Let's talk about talent conversations. Talent conversations are those between a leader and employee that support strong performance and ongoing productivity.

Radical Candor Book Brief

I've been on my soapbox about talent conversations, and you can read about that philosophy here. I also shared tips for mid-year check-ins here. In this article, I'd like to share with you a few thoughts from a favorite leadership book, Radical Candor: Be A Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity.

Kim Scott has an authentic voice and writes from her years of experience as a leader of people. I appreciate her approach as a leader who's led from the front-line, and find that her guidance is fresh, giving new color to existing leadership capabilities.

In this Talent Folks' Book Brief we'll touch on the premise of radical candor, plus two points Scott shares about specific talent conversations.

If you're new to Book Briefs, they offer talent development-specific application from business, leadership and sundry books. Not a review. Not a synopsis. A few bullets that you can apply to your daily talent development work.

The Premise of Radical Candor - Care Personally + Challenge Directly

Here's the premise of "radical candor:" it's "what happens when you put 'Care Personally' and 'Challenge Directly' together."

"Radical Candor builds trust and opens the door for the kind of communications that helps you achieve the results you're aiming for. And it directly addresses the fears that people express to me when asking questions about the management dilemma they face. It turns out that when people trust you and believe you care about them, they are much more likely to 1) accept and act on your praise and criticism; 2) tell you what they really think about what you are doing well and, more importantly, not doing so well; 3) engage in this same behavior with one another… 4) embrace their role on the team; and 5) focus on getting results" (p. 9).

When it comes to leading the folks on your team, I don't know that there's any better advice than to create genuine relationships with them. A vested interest in their performance and future is true differentiation, setting apart the okay leaders from the truly great ones. It's never a bad time to begin building those relationships. That's what "Care Personally" is all about. Scott builds upon the relationships with a favorite approach of mine, too: candid & kind. "Challenge Directly" is about pointing out clearly what's not going well and inviting the same feedback for yourself.

Perspectives on Talent Conversations

Scott offers perspectives on a variety of different talent conversations. We'll touch on two:

One-on-one conversations

Scott shares that "1:1s are your must-do meetings, your single best opportunity to listen, really listen, to the people on your team to make sure you understand their perspective on what's working and what's not working." She goes on to say that one-on-one meetings are the best forum to get to know your folks, and to and clarify what each person is working on and where they need support (p. 200-201).

Several points of advice for 1:1 meetings are to:

  • Be in the right mindset - think of 1:1s as a chat over coffee verses a project meeting.

  • Hold them at a frequency that makes sense, but doesn’t overwhelm. Personally, I like every two weeks for an hour, and I use that time for everything from work updates, performance check-ins, relationship building to development chats. I'd rather err on the side of too much time with my folks - you learn so much more about what's going on with them and their work that way.

  • Show up to the meetings. Don't be the boss that cancels them at the last minute. Sure, schedules shift - move them, but don't cancel them. Say no to other priorities to make your people your first priority.

  • Let your people set the agenda for 1:1s. Let them drive the conversation, and most likely you'll end up covering the topics you had in mind, too.

Performance Appraisals

Scott offers plenty of thoughts on how to conduct performance appraisals from direct experience managing teams. One particular piece of advice I really appreciate: "Spend half the time [in a performance review] looking back (diagnosis), half the time looking forward (plan)… Focusing on the future discourages people who did well from resting on their laurels and prevents people who did badly from wallowing in despair. Focusing on what each person plans to do differently as a result of the review is also a great way to check for understanding…" (p. 164).

This advice is golden. Performance reviews are supposed to be helpful, right? But so often they just aren't - leaders don't want to give them and employees don't want to receive them, so the conversation is forced and awkward. One way to support a more effective discussion is to let your employee know that you'll talk together about performance with a backward look at the year so far, then turn to a forward-focused conversation on plans to continue the great work or course correct, as needed.

Overall, whether you are a leader of people or leader of talent development processes, Radical Candor is a great addition to your library. Scott's advice is sage and there are plenty of tidbits throughout the book for me to recommend a full read to you.

Dig in and let us know one thing you'll apply from Radical Candor with a comment.


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