If you work in an organisation of any size and you’re looking to improve your people management skills, ‘Radical Candor’ by Kim Scott is well worth the read. The author draws on her years of management experience in Silicon Valley to put forward a practical management philosophy and toolkit honed among the legendary companies and bosses of the tech industry.

At the heart of this book is a passionate argument: to be a good boss, you need to have good relationships with the people you work with – the ‘people stuff is your job… and if you’re not doing it, you’re not doing your job’.


Good managers ‘need to give a damn’

Too often, Scott argues, the ‘keep it professional’ guideline becomes a reason for managers to avoid getting to know and understand what motivates their team members. But a good manager needs ‘to give a damn’. As Scott says, ‘having good relationships with your own direct reports creates a ripple effect that will go a long way towards creating a positive culture in your organisation’.

The author’s philosphy of Radical Candor is a way of managing people involves ‘caring personally, challenging directly’. People will always be more willing to hear open, direct guidance when they know it’s coming from someone who understands them and wants to see them succeed. Scott suggests that this approach should extend not just to our team members but to the way we communicate with our peers and with our bosses.

Staying humble

For Scott, a manager needs to stay humble – ‘it’s not all about you…your job is not to provide purpose but instead to get to know each of your Direct Reports well enough to understand how each one derives meaning from their work’. And it’s not about you as a manager being right, but about getting things right, as a result of the way you leverage the best of your team.

Lessons learned from Silicon Valley

Throughout the book Scott tells some great stories from her time working with the likes of Larry Page, Sheryl Sandberg, Steve Jobs and Dick Costolo, amongst others. She talks about the lessons she learned about the value of receiving immediate feedback (the famous ‘um’ story); allowing your Direct Reports to challenge you; having a separate and equally valuable career track for Individual Contributors; and what you learn when you really listen to the people who work for you.

Scott is refreshingly honest about the mistakes she made herself along the way, which helps to make the book more accessible than it might otherwise have been. Most notably, she describes how she originally took a negative view of people who were not inspired by climbing the corporate ladder as fast as they could: ‘At times, my blind obsession with growth misaligned with my personal humanity…I undervalued or dismissed a considerable number of people’. Equally valuable are the lessons that Scott learned in this area, particularly after she moved from Google to Apple. Her conclusion: we all go through different waves in our career and a manager must never give anyone a permanent label.

Practical toolkit

Building on her extensive experience, Scott provides the reader with a set of practical tools for how to hire, manage, develop (and, if necessary, fire) people to ensure that everyone performs at their best and produces great ideas, decisions and results for the organisation. Rather than adhere to the tools too strictly, though, they’re probably most valuable when they’re treated as guidelines and prompts for our own thinking. How we could adapt and implement them to make ourselves, our teams and our organisations even more effective? How can we better create the conditions for people to perform at their best?

Scott’s practical toolkit includes:

  • Guidelines for setting aside time to manage your people vs executing your own work: she suggests 10 hours per week for team management vs 15 hours for independent execution in your own area of expertise. The exact number of hours might not be right for you, but the ratio is a good one to bear in mind.
  • How to give immediate, informal guidance when you’ve noticed something that wasn’t right. Don’t wait for a meeting, do it in the few minutes between meetings
  • When you give guidance, focus on Situation, Behaviour, Impact. And Show, Don’t Tell. Remember to say ‘I think this was wrong’ rather than ‘I think you were wrong’
  • Suggested formats for having regular 1:1’s, Career Conversations and Skip-Level Meetings.
  • Replacing the traditional Talent Management approach with a Growth Management Framework enables you to explore the growth trajectory of each individual team member so that you can support them to grow at a speed and in a way that’s meaningful for them at that point in time. The idea of remembering the importance of the Rock Stars (Steady as a Rock) as well as the Superstars (High Growth, High Performance) helps you to think about the different ways you can motivate, challenge and engage these 2 different types of high performers. Scott reminds us that ‘People do change…that’s why you have to manage…don’t put people in boxes and leave them there’.
  • Checklists for clear and timely hiring and firing
  • The Get Stuff Done (GSD) Wheel for getting the best ideas generated, debated and executed. I particularly liked the suggestion for separating Debate meetings from Decision Meetings – and also the reminder to ensure that the people with the most information are involved in the decisions.

Final thoughts

Many large organisations already have good, solid frameworks to support managers with their team management responsibilities. And, depending on your own experience and point of view, you might not agree with everything Scott has to say. That goes for me too. But this book exhorts managers to really think deeply about why good people management matters so much. Building trusting relationships, with open and clear communications, fosters the conditions where individuals and teams are more likely to perform at their best and generate the ideas, decisions and results to drive organisations forward. The book also serves as a reminder for managers to stay humble and respectful of each team member’s broader motivations and aspirations in life.

Although the book is relatively short, it could probably have been shorter still with the same impact. Nevertheless, the insights and examples from Scott’s own experience in Silicon Valley serve to make her ideas and tools memorable and thought-provoking.