Ep39: Elevate Culture and Performance Through Radical Candor - Amy Sandler

Amy Sandler from Radical Candor this week shares how to become a kick-arse boss by nailing the way you give feedback.

I know you probably think you’ve got feedback nailed as a Founder, or you’re probably not bad at least.  But what about your managers? Are they nailing it? What about your team? Are they great at asking for feedback as well as giving it to each other, their one-up managers, their direct reports?

If the answer is “maybe not”, then there’s something to learn! 

This week I interview Amy Sandler, Chief Content Officer at Radical Candor.  Radical Candor is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling book that’s been published in 20 languages.  It shares a simple framework to help you become a kick-arse boss through nailing feedback and guidance to others.  It illuminates the path to building a culture in your business where people care deeply and personally yet challenge directly.  

You’re guaranteed to learn something valuable that you can implement immediately in your business, enjoy this week’s episode! 

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[00:00:21] Sean: G’day everyone and welcome to the ScaleUps Podcast where we help first time Founders learn the secrets of scaling so they can fulfill the potential of their businesses, make bigger decisions with greater confidence and maximise the impact they can have in the world. I am your host, Sean Steele, and I have a very special guest with us today, Amy Sandler, Chief Content Officer at Radical Candor and host all of the Radical Candor Podcast. How are you today, Amy? 

[00:00:48] Amy: I'm doing great. It's fun to be with you today, Sean. Thank you so much.

[00:00:52] Sean: My pleasure. I know I'm very excited about this conversation. You know, many of our audience will have heard the name of the book, Radical Candor published in 2017 by Kim Scott, former Apple and Google exec. And I guess the premise of the book is how to be a kick-ass boss without losing your humanity by finding the right ways to give and receive feedback. And you know, this book has gone gangbusters in the last five years. How many copies have been printed now and in how many languages is it? 

[00:01:20] Amy: I should have that answer off the top of my tongue, but I do not have it. I will say though, that it has really been a New York, at least in the U.S New York Times Bestseller. And I think in terms of the solidity of the ideas, the company where I'm the Chief Content Officer is the executive education company based on the book that Kim wrote were busier than ever. So, the ideas are really relevant and have found an audience. There's also, by the way, a lot in the book beyond feedback, really, you know, how to do meetings successfully and how to build and grow your team. So, there's a lot to it. We tend to focus a lot on feedback because that's a real challenge for most folks, but a lot of other great content in that book.

[00:02:05] Sean: Well, it's funny, isn't it? Because, you know, giving and receiving feedback, when you're a Founder of a business, you've got a lot of our audience are first time Founders running services, businesses, 2 to 20 million in revenue, often in various sort of traditional arenas, like recruitment and accounting, education, IT services, things like that. They're experts in their industry. They've got a strong desire, they hustle, they have great work ethic. You know, they've got adaptability and they get these businesses. But many of them don't have a great or clear framework for delivering feedback. And whilst it seems like something that we should all just somehow innately know how to be good at, I think about the number of difficult conversations I've entered in my earlier career, where I've kind of just about to get into it, like 15 minutes, 30 minutes before, and you are like ‘I'm not even sure how I should start this.’ Like, I don't even have a framework to think through to make sure that I actually nail even the opening 5 to 20 seconds, which is going to set the whole tone for this entire meeting. Like how do I do that? It's not something that you just innately know from my perspective. And I was super fortunate in my last company, I was leading a portfolio of companies and we had really high engagement scores. But I credit the vast majority of that to our people and performance director, Nikola who had a very cold leadership principle about addressing things the moment they occurred. And I don't know why. I mean, I've been in a lot of companies before that, but no one had ever really called that out as like a really important leadership principle when it came to, I guess identifying opportunities to provide feedback was how quickly that needed to be done, and I found it took a lot of courage for myself and for other leaders, people had to really rise to it because they weren't used to that being part of their environment, you know, and every time I looked around and I saw issues when you trace those issues back, you’re get 9 times out of 10, it was a lady who was seeing something happen where feedback was required, but they were nervous or procrastinating. How important is in the context of getting these conversations right, how important is the speed as just one, obviously, it's one ingredient, but how important is that do you think? 

[00:04:05] Amy: Yeah, speed is definitely important. We talk about radically candid feedback and by the way, just to be clear, feedback is just as much, if not more praise as it is criticism. Another thing we like to say, is actually framing it more as guidance. In other words, sometimes feedback can sound very, you know, I know better than you, you have to do it this way. We're really talking about sharing our perspective in a way that's helpful. And being immediate is really important. If you're doing something well, just as much as if it's not going well, I was leading a workshop and someone shared a story where they were out of their home country after giving 10 business development presentations, they're flying home with their boss and their boss says to them, “you know, that phrase you used in that culture is really inappropriate, you should've used a different phrase.” Well, they already just did 10 presentations with using that inappropriate phrase. And so that's where, you know, we like to say feedback has a short half-life. And so, the timing is important. You also talked about something that I think is really important, and something that we feel really strongly about at Radical Candor, which is that, there's a lot of great feedback models out there, but when you talk about the courage to say it or the courage to do it immediately, what your Nikola that you mentioned was doing, we're really focused not just on sort of the model. And we do have a model that we use, but also to really get to the root cause of the issue, which is about really addressing the underlying relationship. What is the context between these two people? We really see this as between, first of all, practicing Radical Candors is back and forth with two people, a one-on-one conversation. And then from there, if I may use the word scale, scaling that, those conversations to create the culture. But it really is starting with these one-on-one relationships and how can we build the kinds of relationships so that we have the courage and we both give it and receive it in a way that is really to be helpful for folks. And so, I think getting in underneath the model into what gets in the way of us saying these seemingly difficult things.

[00:06:21] Sean: Yeah, that's awesome. I've got so many questions about that. Maybe before I start jumping in and taking this down, lots of rabbit holes, maybe you could give the audience who doesn't know, hasn't read the book or isn't aware of the model. Just talk us a little bit about the framework that you use that helps sort of put maybe a box or put some context around how Radical Candor came to thinks about it. 

[00:06:41] Amy: Sure. Absolutely. I mean, it's a really simple idea. It's not always so simple to put it into practice, but it's this idea that you can build really great relationships at work. And the way that you can build these relationships that are focused on collaboration on teamwork is showing that you actually care about the person that you work with. You're respecting their humanity, at the same time you're willing to challenge them directly. And we were talking at the beginning about this kind of two-by-two matrix that Kim Scott developed. She and I went to business school together. And we joke that one of the things you learn at business school is, if you ever have a problem, just throw it on a two-by-two matrix. So, if you can imagine it 

[00:07:24] Sean: Yeah. Everything needs to …

[00:07:26] Amy: … Just throw it into a two-by-two matrix. So, if you have one dimension, you know, the care personally axis and on the other, the challenge directly, the sort of horizontal and the vertical, and you think, well, gosh, I can't care and challenge at the same time. And it's like, no, in fact you can, that's what makes radical. You know, Kim is really intentional about words. So, one word is the word Candor and mindful that we speak different flavours maybe of the English language, but, you know, Candor is a different word than truth, and it was very intentional to choose the word Candor because Candor, this is really about, I am sharing my perspective. This is how I see it. How do you see it? Rather than I'm the only one who sort of has their hands on the truth. And so, yeah, Candor is really about sharing our perspective and what makes it radical is that it's so rare. You know, usually we're making mistakes where either we're caring about the person and we're not challenging them. We call that ruinous empathy, or we're challenging them. The challenge is super clear, but we're acting like a jerk because we're forgetting that there's a human there and we're yelling at them in the middle of a meeting, or sometimes we just don't do either of those things and we'd neither care nor challenge. And I can kind of double click into those different quadrants, but I think it's really, the reason why I think this framework is so helpful is that you can really start to use it as a compass to kind of guide conversations on the spot with the folks that you work with. You're like, oh gosh, I really was being really challenging there, maybe I need to move up on care, maybe I wasn't being clear enough. I think a lot of this is about clarity. I like to reframe sometimes the challenge directly as the clarity, can I get more and more clear in what I'm saying? So, radically candid conversations are kind and clear.

[00:09:22] Sean: That's so true. And I think about, so there's two words that really jumped out to me and what you were saying there, the first one was truth, you know, I think about, and I'm sure you've heard many people come to workshops or engagements maybe your team has done a where they say, I just tell it how it is. Like that's who I am. I'm just like a straight shooter. I just give it how it is. And I'm like, I get that. That doesn't mean that what you are intending is the way it's going to be received. And actually you, you kind of need to care about that. And so, what I love is this balance between care which is not about being fluffy and challenging directly so that you're getting clarity, you are not withholding. I guess information because you're sort of scared of how someone responds, but you're finding this balance where there's humanity inside it. And actually, it's not. I always think, you know, in the absence of that feedback, that's, what's inhumane. So, if somebody is behaving in a certain way and they may have no awareness of it whatsoever, it could be completely in their blind spot. And in the absence of you giving them that feedback and bringing that thing up to the light or letting you both have a look at it together in a collaborative way, in the absence of that feedback, they got back to doing it. Nobody else is helping. No one else is telling them. That's actually inhumane. The humanity is having the conversation, not running away from it. 

[00:10:38] Amy: Absolutely. If it's helpful, I can share a story when I received some Radical Candor. You know, we're big believers in stories as a way to kind of showcase what you're talking about. And I think also when we talk about care personally, challenge directly, it's going to depend on each person. Care personally is going to look different from you than it does for me, et cetera. And so, this was a time in my career when I was on what we would call a really steep growth trajectory. It was kind of all about me. It was all about my success. I just moved from being an individual contributor to a manager and had a meeting where we had just launched this website. And my boss, who is the Chief Marketing Officer, asked me afterwards how the meeting went. It was with the CEO and the CFO. And I said, the meeting was great. The CEO was really happy with what the board was saying. And the CFO was thrilled with the numbers and I'd gotten this new brand project. My background was in marketing and communications. And so, I said the meeting was amazing, like I thought it was a home run. If I may use an American phrase there, whatever, I'd love to learn the international version of that. 

[00:11:43] Sean: Yeah. You hit it for six. 

[00:11:45] Amy: I had her for six. All right. I hope I said that right. So, you know, I was thrilled and Steve was really complimentary and congratulated me. He knew how hard we'd worked. And then he asked, you know, what did I think, Brooke and Jenny thought of the meeting? And I said; you know, they thought the meeting was great. Brooke was doing the analytics and Jenny was doing the content. And Steve nodded very patiently and he shared; you know, did you notice that when the CFO asked Brooke about the numbers that are right in front of him, you interrupted Brooke. And I got really annoyed and I said, well, you know, Brooke didn't seem to know how to answer the questions. And then I did the same thing. He sort of pointed out I'd done the same thing with Jenny and I didn't even let her answer. And it was this moment when these things happened, where I went, and I'm very sensitive. I like to call myself a recovering perfectionist. So, when he pointed these things out, I went from being like, “how can you say this? I was doing great in the meeting.” To all of a sudden, “oh my God, this is a disaster.” And I was so embarrassed. And then he said; you know, did you notice what happened to Brooke and Jenny during the last 10 minutes of the meeting? And it was just so upsetting because I realised in that moment I had not looked at them once. And I was so focused on the most important people in the room, the CEO and the CFO that I wasn't even paying attention to my team. And he said, because Brooke looked like he was about to blow a gasket. Jenny was miserable, wanting to be anywhere but there, and I'm afraid you're going to lose your team. And he was right. They were all furious with me. And it was just to your point about that not having humanity, it would have been so much easier for Steve not to share the feedback. And by the way, he said something that was really powerful, which is that “Amy, I know how much you care. I love how competitive you are. And I know you can be a great manager, but a great manager lets their people shine.” And you know, when I think back on those moments, it would have been so much easier for Steve not to tell me. It took real courage, because he knows how sensitive I am. He knows, I think it's a great meeting. And by the way, the other thing I realised was that. It didn't make him look very good in front of his peers, the CEO and the CFO, could have been very easy for him to be like frustrated and pissed off with me and interrupting to try to save it for himself. But he didn't do that. He was really focused on how can I help. And so that really came across in that moment, and there were some things that he had done as well to show, he was really invested in my own success. You know, I had a very heavy door, fell on me when I was traveling. He was on the phone with me all night. He invested in this mindfulness program when my company didn't want to invest in it, that I'd been accepted into, you know, before this was a thing. And so, it was those kinds of things. I like to call them like deposits in the relationship bank. I knew he was invested in my success. And so, when he was giving me that feedback, even though as a “recovering perfectionist” who wasn't in the recovery stage at that point, it felt like a ton of bricks had just fallen on me. 

[00:14:58] Sean: Oh, yeah. 

[00:14:59] Amy: Didn’t feel great. But it, my gosh, what a gift, you know, because again, the easier thing would have been for him not to say it, which is what we would call ruinous empathy, where you're so worried about the other person, you don't want to hurt their feelings that you don't tell them what they need to know.

[00:15:15] Sean: Let it slide. Well, and I love that he started with a real recognition of the positive intention that you had, rather than just starting with the things that went wrong, which is such an important place, because everyone's got a positive intention for the behaviour that they're displaying, whether they're aware of what the behaviour is creating around them or not. It's usually always coming from a great place because they want something positive. They want some kind of positive outcome, even if it looks to us to be brackets of bad behaviour. I remember, it's so interesting you telling him that story. It really brought up for me, in my first executive role, I was Head of Sales and Marketing for quite a large company. We had 1500 people in Australia and three and a half thousand worldwide. I was leading sales and marketing, business development, and I'd always been a very kind of A type, go for goals, you know, big ambition and so on and so on. And that sort of got me quite a long way, it wasn't that I was completely cutthroat or brutal, but I was very focused and very ambitious. Anyway, I got to this role, I've been in it for maybe a year and a half and got this great opportunity to have some sort of executive leadership coaching for executive team. And the starting point with this was 360. And they said like, okay, you need to get all of your team to give you feedback. You need to get two peers and you’re one-up manager. And I was like, oh, I'd never been through this before. And so, yep. No problems happy to get all from my team. Got it from my boss. And I was like, oh, which peers am I going to choose? And I thought, if I choose, you know, peers, of course are the ones who are most likely to give you probably the most direct feedback, because I've got sort of nothing to lose, right? They don’t work for you, they don’t manage you. And I remember thinking about it going, I really need to get feedback from the Operations Director. Because really out of everybody in this company, I run the front end and she does all the delivery. Like she's got the biggest team. And we just could not see eye to eye. Like there's just something in our relationship. We had almost zero rapport. Like I felt like she didn't trust me from day one, like I was kind of on the back foot. Anyway, I got this feedback and what was really clear was she was like, essentially, Sean has one way, it's his way. If he thinks there's some feedback coming that he doesn't want to hear, he just goes around you. Like, he essentially will just cut you out to try to get to his goal. That is his model of the world. And I was like, holy cow. And I remember my coach saying, have you considered how career limiting this behaviour is? I mean, like, you're the golden boy. Everyone thinks you're grey. You'll kind of probably the next in line for the CEO and all the rest, but do you think you'll peers, if you would've moved to CEO, do you think your peers are going to support you into that role? Like forget the CEO, he might think you're great and your team might think you're great, but what about your peers? And I was like, “wow, I am really being an ass.” And it was so true and it was the way I was scared of. I was scared of getting feedback that I didn't want to hear and not maybe knowing how to deal with it or interrupting my plans and me having to change something that I didn't want to do. But the quality of that feedback was so good. And I remember sitting down with her afterwards and unpacking with her how much I got from her perspective. Because it was so valuable to me for my personal development. And again, she could have very easily gone, Sean is not even going to listen to this. I'm just going to say. Yep. Yep. All good, all good. Which would have been, I guess a good example of your sort of ruinous empathy, just let them go. 

[00:18:28] Amy: Yeah. Well, first of all, thank you for sharing that story again. You know, we're such big believers in the power of these stories and this stuff happens all the time and I think what's underneath it, why she wouldn't tell you this sort of directly, or you're afraid, like it took the courage and you had the courage to hear it and to act on it. And I think, it's so important when we think about building this culture of Radical Candor, we start out by talking about getting feedback, before we move into giving each other criticism, we have to start by getting it, especially if we're the leader, we've got to lay the power down, show that we're able to take it. If you know the phrase sort of take it before we start dishing it out, but also giving praise saying what's working well so that you're really acknowledging what is going well. And I think, you know, just to also highlight process. One thing we hear so often in organisations is how people are kind of blindsided by, I got something in a performance review and no one had told me this all year that this was a problem. And so, what we really want to build are these frequent one-on-one conversations where we're talking about what's working well, what can be improved? And we're starting by talking about getting that feedback. So, in an ideal world, by the time you get to the 360, you've had all of these conversations. And so, there's no surprises and it can really be more forward-looking and we hear this people come to us like over and over because employees feel like they're not getting the kind of feedback they need to grow. They don't feel like they're being developed or they're not feeling connected to their manager. And people are getting surprised in reviews or when you were talking about large turnover, exit interviews, survey data. When you talked about engagement survey data, and when you dig in, why is this happening, it's because managers and peers and people don't feel comfortable or skill-full enough to have these kinds of conversations. And whether it's, we will ask people, we'll do a poll, you know, what is it about giving criticism that's the hardest, and what's the hardest part about receiving and it's everything from, I don't want to hurt the person's feelings to retaliation, to, is it really worth it or is it, you know, am I seeing it right to I don't trust the person. I'm going to be embarrassed, you know. So, there's a lot under the surface. If this wasn't happening, we wouldn't be busier than ever. And because there's the real sort of emotional part of it. Like I don't want to have to change and I don't want to know that I'm not perfect and I just want to keep going in the direction. And so, we have to do some real, like we have to be willing to look in the mirror and see where we're making the kinds of mistakes whether it's like the ruinous empathy that we're talking about or the obnoxious aggression where the challenge is really clear, but you're not seeing the other person, as a part, which may be, was the dynamic that you were having with this operations person of, just sort of it's my way or the highway, and I'm going to blow in and we do that exactly bulldoze. And then often what happens after we've acted. And by the way, we all act like jerks, you know? So originally, if I can use an off-colour word, Kim was going to call the obnoxious aggression quadrant, the asshole quadrant because it seemed more…

[00:21:45] Sean: Yeah. more direct. 

[00:21:46] Amy: Like it's just pretty direct. But the reason she didn't was, first of all, it's not a very nice word, but number two, you know, we all act like jerks. And so, I think it's really important to use these kinds of quadrants are these mistakes. These are mistakes we all make in conversation. We can do it in one conversation where you're sort of acting like a jerk and then you backpedal and then you don't say anything.

[00:22:11] Sean: But it's also taking the behaviour and turning it into the person, like saying, okay, well just because I've seen something obnoxiously aggressive behaviour, that doesn't mean the person's an asshole all the time. As you said, we all step in and out of those moments, that doesn't mean that we're a bad person because we have some bad behaviours every now and then. 

[00:22:25] Amy: Absolutely. And that's something that we, as humans like to do a lot, we start to sort of put people into boxes and that's part of how we end up dehumanizing each other, like, oh, they're such a jerk or, oh, they'll never listen. And so part of our model is really about being specific about the actual behaviour or work product. So, I'm not saying, oh, Sean, you're a genius or oh, Sean, you're an idiot. It was in this specific meeting, you weren't able to answer the question or you answered the question succinctly and as a result, this, and as a next step that, so we have a model for that. And it really takes it out of that. What we like to say, it's not about personality. The model is very much about things you can change either behaviour or work performance. And that's where being really specific and thinking. Why does this matter to this person? Does it matter? Because now you're going to get the funding request or you're going to get the promotion, like, do you know this person well enough to kind of align your feedback in a way that's helpful for them, with their motivation.

[00:23:28] Sean: Gee, there is so much in there. Let me take one step back. One thing I'd love to say is, because I am a huge believer and we built this into the culture of every subsidiary that we had was, we built a rhythm of one-on-ones that was always monthly. And in every one of those monthly one-on-ones, you were looking at performance and you're also looking at the professional development. So, it was a holistic sort of, you know, performance portfolio if you like, like what you're trying to achieve, what's been going on and so on. And we said, this should never be a performance appraisal. There's no surprises. There should be zero surprises because you're having a quality conversation that's two way in feedback every month. Like, how am I going? How am I going in supporting you? What do you need from me? What aren't you getting for me? What's not working for you? That's part of the conversation and therefore, and you know, half an hour, every month you have completely obliterated the need for quarterly or six monthly or annual performance appraisals which scare the life out of people. Like, I feel it's such an inhumane practice to rock up at the end of the year and like find out how you're going, like, and then get some feedback that should have been given to eight months ago. It's like, wow, that is so unhelpful. So, I think that, you know, back to the principle around Nikola, the reason we built such a strong culture was people knew that if there was something people began to trust the leaders that, if there was a behaviour that was not in line with the values of the organisation, leaders would act on it immediately. There would be a conversation. It wouldn't go, it wouldn't slide by, you know, it wouldn't kind of be left to fester, because that's where you really start to damage your culture. You've got all these people are going, oh, well actually, maybe those kinds of things, like they start to sort of pull back because they're not quite sure what to expect if you don't jump on those things. And I don't mean jump on it in an obnoxious and aggressive way, but I address it immediately, have a quality conversation and I love the way that you describe the specificity in the behaviour. And I'd love to chat to you a bit more just about this whole setup and the ingredients of the quality conversation. But I always used to talk about it like it's probably not a great analogy, but it always made sense to me. It's like putting the scorpion on the table. So, it's like, if we're both sitting in a room and there's something going on, there's a scorpion running around on the floor. Like there's some behaviour going on. Neither of us are talking about, it's like somebody just pick the frigging, scorpion up, stick it in the middle of the table and go look, we've got a scorpion in the room. That's really interesting. Let's have a look, let's hold it up to the light. Let's have a look at it together and analyse it together. So, it kind of this equity and power base in the conversation that we're just exploring it. I don't know what it means. I don't know why the scorpions in the room, but maybe, you know why the is in the room. Did you bring the scoping into the room? I don't know. Like, what do you think about this scorpion? 

[00:26:00] Amy: Yeah, that is so great. And I really appreciate what you're talking about the one-on-ones, which is for us, all of these conversations are happening in regular frequent, I would say even more than monthly, you know, in an ideal world, more like weekly, because we want this to become more like brushing and flossing rather than a root canal. And also that it's all developmental. So, you're talking about. This is about your growth. So, if I am giving you feedback or guidance, you know this is in service of my growth, not about, “oh, Amy signing my pay check this month” So, when you think about building trust that it is coming from this place of this is to help you develop. And that the performance feedback is really in service of your growth. And to kind of like you were saying, decoupling the actual review from this ongoing developmental conversations that are frequent, they're talking about for me, if I'm your boss about what am I doing, you know, did I bring it, does it feel like there's a scorpion in the room every time we're together? What's one thing I could do to get us out of this dynamic where we're not talking about the scorpion, you know, how can I be a better communication partner? So, starting with what we would call go-to questions.  But the other thing that you can do is…

[00:27:14] Sean: And what are those, sorry, what would be some of those go to questions? 

[00:27:16] Amy: So, go to questions. Yeah, to solicit feedback from the people that you work with and a good go-to question. First of all, it's not a yes or no question, so it's not a, “Hey Sean, do you have any feedback for me?” And you're like, “oh no, Amy, you're still perfect.”

[00:27:29] Sean: Am I doing great job. Yes, tick. Okay. Thank you. That’s all I need. 

[00:27:31] Amy: Yeah. Tick-tick, okay, great. I can go on with my day. So, you know, not a yes or no question. It's clear, like, you know, what kind of feedback I'm looking for. It's in my voice and it's in a voice that would work for you. So, for example, you know, Kim and Jason are the Co-Founders of Radical Candor and Kim had this go-to question, you know, what's one thing I could start or stop doing that would make it easier for us to work together? So, that was a question she would frequently ask people. Well, Jason hates that question for whatever. That's not a question he welcomed, so they do a different question. So, finding questions that work. So, one sort of line of questioning that I love is, we tend to work with people the way that we like to work. So, I tend to be a little bit of a micromanager. So, a question for me to ask is, what's one thing that you wish I had not gotten involved with you this week or where's something you wish I hadn't been too involved with like, you didn't need me involved in it, you know? And then a similar question Jason has a different style. He likes to work on his own and got feedback at a previous company. He gave someone on his team, a huge project and she was overwhelmed. So really good question for him is where something where you actually needed support from me. 

[00:28:47] Sean: And you didn't get it. 

[00:28:48] Amy: … this past week or, you know, looking forward? So, kinds of questions that will facilitate someone giving you, especially if you're a boss, some criticism, what's one thing I could do to help you feel more supported or to help you on this project. You know, you can tweak the words, because words that will work for you might be different from someone else. But it's that idea of asking questions to get actionable feedback. And you can also ask a question based on behaviour that you know you tend to do. I could say, you know, I know I tend to talk a lot in meetings. It's really important for me to make sure that everyone in the meeting has a voice. So, can you, at our next staff meeting, can you check on sort of where I am with airtime and I'm going to check in with you after the meeting to see what went well and what I could have done better. So, you're kind of giving that person permission to share criticism with you. And again, it doesn't have to be like a huge thing. It's just like, Amy, you ended …

[00:29:45] Sean: Here is something I'm working on. Yeah.

[00:29:47] Amy: Yeah. And it's a little, if you remember the movie, Jerry McGuire "Help me help you.” 

[00:29:52] Sean: Yeah. 

[00:29:53] Amy: Like, I want to get better at this.

[00:29:56] Sean: Yeah. And you know, nothing builds, it's very easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you have to be great and like a hero and stuff all the time as a leader, like, and I fell and I remember falling into that trap and thinking, you know, but getting to this point where I actually, because I'm super curious, I have lots of questions. I really get to know other people, you know, particularly in my teams, But then I realised after a period of time that people didn't actually know me all that well, and it wasn't because I was holding it back in any way, but they didn't feel comfortable. I wasn't sort of inviting them in. So, I felt like I was like, oh yeah. I really know my team. And I'm like that. And someone said, I'm not sure that they actually know who you are. And I was like; wow, okay. And to your point, when you come to them with vulnerability to go; hey, like I'm not perfect. And here's some stuff that I'm working on, I'd love for you to participate in my development. That is such a big trust builder. Assuming that in the way that you then received that feedback, it is accepted.

[00:30:52] Amy: Then you actually do something about right. I mean, yeah, exactly. Yeah, it's huge. And that's a big reason why we're big believers in sharing your own stories when you messed up, you know, sort of giving people this permission. We talk about sometimes even making a really big deal. If you're the manager, you know, we have this thing like whoops, a Daisy where you could have like a stuffed animal or something and say; Hey, I heard that I did this thing. And just kind of normalising this behaviour so that when we make mistakes, we feel okay. Like we can call it out. We can improve and also celebrating when things are going really well, but similarly with criticism, praise is not just rah, rah, great job. It has to follow the same model that we like to use, which I can get into in a moment, but it has to be specific and sincere or else it's going to miss the whole opportunity. I like to say that praise is like putting your foot on the accelerator and criticism is putting your foot on the brake. And if we just, you know, as humans, we like to focus on what’s not working, but we're not going to get very far if we just call out, what's not working, but praise tends to fall short because it tends to be this vague, great job, but we don't know what made it great. And that's what we really want to do is what worked well here so that we can show what we value. We can sort of highlight people's strengths and we can show the team what good looks.

[00:32:14] Sean: So, talk to me then about the, I guess the practicality of like how you enter these conversations, what are the ingredients that make it work? How do you get to that specificity and maybe frames that you're using? Tell me more about that.

[00:32:26] Amy: Can you hear me? Sorry. I got disconnected there. 

[00:32:29] Sean: Yup. Yup. I can still hear you fine. 

[00:32:30] Amy: Okay. Sorry about that. Do you need to repeat the question?

[00:32:34] Sean: Yeah. I’ll repeat the question. So, the question was, I guess in terms of the model or the sort of specificity in the, I guess the practical. Okay. great. I'm all sold, Amy, I totally realised I probably need to be more vulnerable with my team. I probably need to be seeking feedback. I've got some conversations coming up that I know I need to have, and I'd love to do them better. Teach me how, what should I be thinking about? 

[00:32:57] Amy: Absolutely. So, you know, we like to talk about this kind of order of operations, of how we practice Radical Candor. And again, first is that go-to questions. So, soliciting feedback, starting to build. Build the trust. And when you get the feedback to what you're talking about, yes. Reward the Candor. If someone says, yes, you have been interrupting a lot, like follow up with it, you know, make the change and check in and see how it's going. And then we want to move on to giving praise. And so, the model that we use which has been adapted from, you might know the centre for creative leadership, SBI model. We added this idea of a next step. And so, we like to talk about, what's the context, what was the sort of observation? What are the results of what happened? And then next step. So, we call it core. C O R E. Although, technically we could call it corn and then we'd make corny jokes. But so for example, just to give an example, a context of something could be the quarterly budget review meeting with the CFO like that's all you need to say. And it's the same thing for praise and criticism and praise could be. You had a complicated analysis in your deck and you answered the question succinctly, like that's all, you're focusing on work product. You're focusing on behaviour. You're not saying you're a genius. Same thing with criticism. You're not saying you're such an idiot. You totally, you know, screwed up the question. You're saying you weren't able to answer the CFO’s follow-up question or there was an error in your analysis. You're not making a judgment there. You're just sort of observing it. And this result part is where, especially I think with praise, but just in general, where we tend to fall short in our feedback, like, why does this matter? Why does this matter to the person that we're providing this to? Why does this matter to the organisation? So maybe it matters because you know, for praise, we're going to get the funding or, you know, you're on track for promotion or the CFO knows where the go-to team. Or for criticism, it matters because now the CFO is going to double-check everything we send or you're going to have to do a few more projects for the promotion, et cetera. So, do you really know the people that you work with well enough to kind of align the feedback that you're giving in a way that is showing why this matters. And the other thing that I really like about this model is that, Radical Candor is not about nit-picking. It's not, you know; you did this, and you did this, and you did this, and you did this. It's like any good relationship, leave a few unimportant things unsaid. Like why does this really matter? And then we added this idea of a next step, because what we found in workshops and, you know, people would have these conversations and they think they're all agreed. And then you're waiting for that email that you thought you agreed to. And you're just like looking at your email inbox, but I thought we agreed to it. Right? And it never comes. So, what is the next step? And I think what's interesting with praise and next step could be, praise, how also has care in challenge. It could be keep doing what you're doing, you know, do the same thing for the CEO, or it could be share with the team how you built that analysis. And then for criticism, it could be …

[00:36:02] Sean: Or an opportunity to level up or stretch the next time. 

[00:36:05] Amy: Correct. Oh yeah. Like keep growing. Absolutely. And then same with criticism, you know, let's meet next week before the meeting with the CEO, let's go through the deck and any questions. So, this idea of context, observation result, next steps, but it forces us to really get clear on what I want to say to this person. And I like to, you know  we were talking on our podcast of how we like to actually just write these sort of bullet points out before we have these conversations, first to hold ourselves accountable to actually doing it, but it forces you to get really clear, because we'll do this in workshops where people will practice giving this feedback and all of a sudden, there's this other person there. And even though it's a role play, all of a sudden people start rambling and it's like; well, Sean, you know, thanks so much for coming, you know? It's great to see, how are you? You know, and we just start to totally ramble. And without the practice, you know, so you can work through the nervousness in any emotion.

[00:37:06] And some real emotion can come up. So, it's helpful to practice several times so that by the time you're having the conversation, you are clear on what it is you want to say. And you're also clear, like, I really like to go into this, what is my intention with this person? My intention is to be helpful because sometimes I might be going to this conversation and I'm just really pissed off, like, is my intention to be helpful or is my intention to say, why did you do it this way? Or this was a disaster. And so, I think really 

[00:37:35] Sean: And also, you may think that you know why it happened, what happened, et cetera. But actually, they're going to have a completely different perspective to use. If you walk in there and making that assumption, your intention is like, well, I'm going to tell them how it is because I know exactly what happened in there. I know what's going on. I just I'm trying to like lead them through a conversation. So, they basically, yes. That's exactly what happened. you might be, you know kind of to the …

[00:37:59] Amy: You're like leading the witness in the court of law, like yes, Sean on February 10th. Yeah. No, exactly. And we do this all the time. You know, I did this, I've never been in an organisation where just so much trust and care and Jason is my manager, and so I had gotten an email and I was surprised that I wasn't involved in this project. And it all seems so obvious to me. So, I said; Hey, Jason, do you have a minute to talk? And he said, yes. And so, I explained, and I was expecting him to be like, oh, of course, that was such a strange oversight. Why didn't I do that? But that wasn't what he said. He was like, I don't see it that way at all. I see it this way, you know, blah, blah. And I was like, and then he's like, and I'm kind of frustrated. And I said, oh, I said, well, I wasn't expecting that at all. And I'm kind of frustrated, you know, and we have the language to talk about it with each other. And I was like, this is really bizarre. So, it's just such a good reminder. We go into the, like, our minds are such amazing story making machines. And so, it didn't even occur to me. You know that Jason might've had a different perspective on the situation. So, it's always, you know, I teach this to force myself to practice it

[00:39:08] Sean: And I like that, when you, you know, I think that one of the places to your point, so there's the rambling and setting up the context to start with. And the person on the other side of that conversation is kind of like, where is this going?

[00:39:19] Amy: Just like, just tell me.

[00:39:21] Sean: Just please, just get to the point. So, you get to contact you like, okay, this was the context. And then the observation to your point that the desire to the inability for people to hold back their judgements in that description of actually what happened is I find it really hard habit for people to break. And so I was trying to like, think about it, like facts. Like you just think about it like a bank robbery. Okay. You know, there's a bank robbery, there's nine people in the bank, you know, and every single, every one of those people of course has a completely different description of the height, the colour of the skin, the tone of voice, what was said, where they moved to, everyone's going to different maps. So, the map is not the territory. No one has an actual reality, right? None of you have a reality and therefore all you can do is describe how you saw it. Describe what you thought was happening without the, and it means this, and it means this, and it means this to give that person a chance to respond, because you will get caught out very quickly when you've already gone in with that sort of predetermination. Yeah. I really liked that model.

[00:40:23] Amy: Yeah. And it also forces you to get clear. And this is, you know, I think praise is such an under-utilised tool for folks of what does good look like. And especially as leaders are trying to scale and grow their organisation, when something goes, well, how does this align to your company's culture to your value? You know, why was this result, the result you were looking for? Because you can't always replicate the outcome, but you can replicate the inputs and what you were trying to do. And so, when you get really specific about why this was good, you know, it's like if somebody says, oh, that was a great presentation. Well, tell me what was it that made it great because that tells me more about you, what you value and what was it that didn't work? Why didn't it work? What would have been more helpful? So that's how we grow when we learn what's working well specifically. And it also is a sort of window into what other people value.

[00:41:19] Sean: Do you feel like, I was just, as you were saying that I had this sort of thought bubble of the feedback sandwich to read the feedback sandwich, like, okay, I'm going to deliver you something hard to hear. So, first, I'm going to buddy you up with something that I think is great. Then I'm going to like slam you with this like punch in the face. And then I'm going to give you some nice buttery, you know, fluff at the end. You're going to love it. Like you're going to accept that feedback sandwich and eat it wholeheartedly. What happened to that model? I haven't heard it used for a long time. Thank God, because it was terrible model.

[00:41:47] Amy: Yeah, I think, well, I don’t know maybe all of our gluten intolerance, we had to let that go. But the reason why, you know, from a Radical Candor perspective, the real problem with the feedback sandwich is that it's not clear, you know, we're all about clarity. And so, it's like, wait, so this was good. Okay. But no, this was bad. Okay. But wait, this is good. So, like tell me what to do. And so, that's why we want this feedback to be frequent. One of the things we also joked about on our podcast was Jason shared how one of his first jobs, this might go back to sort of the same management book that had the feedback sandwich was like the boss saying; let's go walk for a cup of coffee. Now, I don't know if this translates where you are, if there's a different beverage, but you know, it was like he said, he lost his taste for coffee because every time you knew that walk for the cup of coffee was not going to end well, this was like criticism, like you're walking the plank to get the criticism. And so I think, the reason why we want to have more praise than criticism, and we want these things to be frequent is because we want to point out like, and it doesn't have to be these huge things, just little moments. Like even if I say in this conversation, are you bringing up the feedback sandwich? Which was such a great question because it helps me go even deeper into why things are or are not effective or, you know, and so it doesn't need to be sort of this big grand thing. But so first of all, it's not clear. I don't know what to do. And then second of all, we want this to be more frequent so that these things can kind of, I don't think it's terrible to have some praise and then have some criticism, but we want it to be frequent enough that we're doing it. You know, maybe it's, we don't need an exact count, but you know, four or five pieces of praise every so often, and then a piece of criticism, so it's not like a formula, it's just a frequent conversation.

[00:43:31] Sean: Yeah, it brought up an image in my head of your comment before about the sort of accelerating and break. If you imagine driving in your car, you know, if it on a normal trip, you're probably going to have your foot on the accelerator, 80 to 90% of the time, and 10% of the time you're going to have to break, or it's almost like kind of pulling on the handbrake rather than even the foot brake, you know, like you might go a little bit slower. But actually, if you have it all the way up the handbrake, you know, nothing you do on the accelerator is going to work. And so, if every time you rock up to a conversation with one of your team and they're expecting, oh, here we go again. Like I'm about to get…it's like, that's not a good relationship to be in. Well, what do you do, Amy if, I know this happens for a lot of leaders where two colleagues aren't working all that well together. And maybe you haven't quite built Radical Candor, maybe not everybody in the organisation has the skills yet for these conversations a bit earlier on, but you see two people that actually kind of really, you want them to be able to give each other better feedback and you feel like this kind of risk of sitting them down like children in a room to go, ‘okay, you know, John, you need to talk to Jane, and Jane you need to give some feedback to John.’ How do you manage that situation? How does a sort of Radical Candor think about that kind of scenario? 

[00:44:45] Amy: Yeah, I think that's one of the hardest things. And when we talk about sort of encouraging it, building this culture of Radical Candor, where you, as the manager, you're soliciting it, you're giving it, and one of the things we didn't talk about was gauging it, which is this idea that Radical Candor is measured not for my mouth as the speaker, but for you as the listener. So, like, how did it land for you? And then, so we talked about, get it, give it, gauge it, you know, how is it landing? There's no sort of one objective measure. That's why we want this in person, if we can, or at least with video or in synchronous time, and then encouraging it. And the way that you start to encourage it is for first of all, for you as the leader to be soliciting it. And when it comes to your team, you know, not only are you modelling this and in your larger meetings, you're sort of reflecting when you've gotten some criticism and how you're acting on, you're acknowledging things specifically. But I think the example that you're talking about is, you know, one person comes to you and it's like Adam complaining about Ben. And then, you know, Ben comes to you complaining about Adam. So, even though I think the most important skill of all of this is listening. We spend a lot of time actually practicing listening, because there's no better way I think to show that you care to really understand what that person, what matters to them, the sort of context. But this is the one time I'm going to encourage you not to listen because after you've heard it the first time; Oh yeah, Ben is such a challenge. And then you talked to Ben; oh yeah, Adam is such a train wreck.
No, that's what we call manipulative insincerity. This is where we talk about people and not to people. And there's a great quote. You might know it from the head of Pixar. He says, you know, “If there's more truth happening in the hallways than in the meetings, we have a problem.” And that's really the behaviour that you're talking about that we're trying to really nip in the bud. And that's your job as the manager, we do want Adam and Ben or whoever these two people are to talk to each other. And if they're not having success with that, then you would need both of them to talk to you because you're only getting, to your point, like maybe. Ben sees a scorpion and Adam sees a lizard and it's like; okay, what are the qualities of a lizard? What are the qualities… like you might need to mediate. If for some reason, it's someone that actually you don't report to then have that person's manager, so it's like all four of you are in the room. I do think that can be some of the hardest work. If you have been modelling that you value this and you're encouraging people to do it, like that's really what we're trying to do. We're trying to take away a culture where people are coming to you and saying; well, I heard this thing. And you know, it sort of all of these like side games of telephone and you want people to be talking as much as we can to each other.

[00:47:35] Sean: That's so true. I remember somebody saying to me; Don't turn your boss into, I guess it was basically like, don't make your boss the mediator of you guys. Like you guys need to have this conversation together in a way that builds relationship because every interaction is either probably building the relationship or diminishing the relationship in some way, based on the quality of that interaction and the adjudicator is like don't ever turn your boss into the adjudicator. That should not be your …

[00:48:07] Amy: And sometimes if that…

[00:48:09] Sean: If it's required, sure. Yeah. If you can't work your way through. 

[00:48:12] Amy: We really want people to feel empowered that you can have these relationships and that same order of operations, you know, you talked about peer-to-peer feedback. And I will say, you know, I think this can be very challenging for people because sometimes you feel like it's sort of like the what's in it for me. Well, all I see as a whole lot of, you know, I'm so busy, I'm so stressed. Like, am I really going to go out on a ledge for this person, et cetera. And so, I think that's where having these values of like, we've got each other's backs. We had a partnership with second city works, the improvisation group, um, here in the U.S and back when we were doing more in-person stuff, we would do a show with improvisers. So, they're really funny. So, I just met this guy once and he came out from the bathroom, we were just about to go onstage and his fly was down and I'm looking around like; okay, well, who's going to tell him that his fly is down. We're just about to go onstage. And I was like, okay, Amy, first of all, your teaching Radical Candor, so you, and second of all, like you, it's just literally you and him is the way to onstage, like you are between him and that audience. And so, I pulled him to the side and I told him, and of course he was an improviser, so he is very funny and really appreciated it. But the reason why I share that story, first of all, like it's all of our tendency to be afraid or to not want to do this, but also there's a phrase in improv. “If you're going to go onstage live, it's got your back.” And that idea of like, you're not going to let me go on stage with my fly down and I'm not going to let you go on stage with your fly down. And it goes back to what you were talking about of like building this culture that if I was making a mistake this whole time, that I would trust that somebody is going to tell me I'm messing up. And if all of a sudden, I find out I've been doing this thing for a year and nobody had the courage to tell me, and so that's the kind of culture that we're trying to… Yeah. I mean that when you think about sort of trust and safety, and so I would encourage anyone in an ideal world, things are trickling down that bosses are soliciting feedback, but peer-to-peer, sometimes you have to be the one to make that offering to solicit feedback. You know, maybe you're doing something that's getting in the way of them getting the deliverables to you on time. Maybe you're giving them last minute that you don't know, like what's one thing I could do to help make our partnership more effective. You know, that kind of thing. When you were sharing your story about that operations person who shared that feedback, it reminded me of some difficult peer-to-peer relationships I had, and I never sort of reached out proactively to say; Hey, how could I be in a better working partner for you? Or, you know, this is really important, what's one way I could make things a bit easier for you. So, if we can start to model that with each other, it can go a long way and it just took knowledge peer-to-peer. I think sometimes can actually be almost the hardest one because it's a little bit like; What's the ROI in this? It's easier for me to just go complain to my boss.

[00:51:13] Sean: And I think if you, you know, as a leader, when you're thinking about the building of your culture, if you can crack that nut, like if you can truly build a culture where actually your team feel like each other has each other's back and that they feel like you as the leader have their back, that's a relationship with people are actually going to feel free to take risks, be able to feel free to make mistakes. They know they're not going to get caned for it like that. Business really starts to thrive because everyone's not running around waiting to be caught out for something or like shamed in some way, because the only feedback that happens is basically people get hung out to dry or only get given negative feedback or it's public or whatever which is super toxic. And I imagine, you know, I've done lots of values workshops in building new businesses or brands or acquiring a subsidiary and things like that. And all working with private clients. And when we get at almost without fail, somebody comes up with honesty as a value, usually honesty and integrity are always somewhere in the top five. I’m like, if we have to call out integrity as one of our big values are that it's kind of scary, but honesty is I think this kind of shift, and so it might help people who go looking at their values going well, I've already got honesty as my value. I’m like; well, honestly, it's kind of pretty close to truth. Like maybe Radical Candor would be, and you know, like I've got your back, would be a really nice coupling of some values to go; hey, we actually give really high quality, we give really good guidance to each other, but we do it in a way that's comes from a place of care and support and knowing that we're actually going to keep each other safe. Like that's a nice place to operate in that. That's a culture you'd want to be part of. 

[00:52:50] Amy: I really appreciate that framing and what's coming to mind is, you know, another phrase that we use, if you tend to have this struggle with obnoxious aggression where the challenge is really clear, but you're not caring so much. We also we'll call it compassionate Candor. And because we would see that a lot where it's like, oh, I'm just being brutally honest. It's like, no, that's not brutal honesty. That's still obnoxious aggression. Going back to what you were saying, I'm just telling you how it is. So, I think when we talk about words, like honest or truth, I think, you know, keep like double clicking on those, what's one specific example. What does that actually mean? That's why we like to have people tell their stories. You know, what is care personally and challenge directly look like for you? Because to your point, those words can sort of seem. Big and amorphous. And it's like, how does it actually show up for you? Give me an example of these behaviours that are associated with these different values. And, you know, I think it's very tempting for leader says, oh, my team needs to work on this. But it's like, I hate to say it, but you've got to be the one that really models that behaviour and that when somebody gives you some radically candid feedback that you explore it, you talk about it. And when you can model that and share that back with your team, like; Hey, I understand I've been making this mistake. I'm so grateful for it being called out for me. Like, this is what I'm going to do. That's how you start to build that safety. But you are really the one people are going to believe far more about what your behaviour is, rather than maybe a few words on a website.

[00:54:27] Sean: I mean, I could talk to you about this all day, but unfortunately, we don't have all day, and we are probably at the end of that time before people end up spending two hours listening to a podcast. But I just want to say a huge, thank you. For me, that's been such a joyful conversation and really valuable. I think it's such a under-discussed part of it's like it's so embedded in all of our practices. We spend so much time doing this, but actually often very unconsciously with no thought, no depth and no training and kind of how to do. it better and understanding the implications of doing it well or not doing it well. So, thank you very much for sharing that with the audience. I'm sure they'll find it super valuable. You have a download I believe that people can get access to that will help them give a little bit of, do you have a web link or something that people can follow? How would you suggest that people learn more about Radical Candor?

[00:55:15] Amy: Yeah, absolutely. Well, you can go to our website, RadicalCandor.com. And then we do have, if you want to download some tips, we've got a lot of tips available. People love the specificity of the tools and the practices to start to put it into action. So that's RadicalCandor.com/one-pager. So, RadicalCandor.com/one-pager. Maybe you can put that in the show notes as well, but yeah, I love the conversation and I am really passionate about it because. You know, people want to succeed. Like we all want to do our best. We all want to do well. And you know, I think especially now, if we can build these kinds of relationships, not only to do great work, but to actually feel like, wow, I made a difference for someone today. It's inspiring to be able to spend this time with you. So, thank you.

[00:56:11] Sean: Awesome. Thank you. so much, Amy. Folks, I hope you really enjoyed the show today. Huge thanks to Amy Sandler from Radical Candor. Before you go, the best thing that you could do for us is just to share that. Just tell one person about ScaleUps Podcast and these episodes specifically something that you liked about it, feel free to go on the socials and let us know what you liked. We're @scaleupspodcast, or you can email us at questions at Scaleupspodcast.com. You been listening to ScaleUps Podcast. I am Sean Steele and I look forward to speaking to you again next week. Thank you so much, Amy.

[00:56:42] Amy: Thank you.

About Sean Steele

Sean has led several education businesses through various growth stages including 0-3m, 1-6m, 3-50m and 80m-120m.  He's evaluated over 200 M&A deals and integrated or started 7 brands within larger structures since 2012. Sean's experience in building the foundations of organisations to enable scale uniquely positions him to host the ScaleUps podcast.

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