Since we were little we’ve been told ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’, and it’s only now, as this century becomes old enough to drive, that somebody has decided to turn this on its head.
Although speaking candidly isn’t exactly a new thing; for the tea-drinking, scone-eating traditional ones of us, it’s been seriously restricted from the workplace, most especially when talking up instead of down.
A business technique that has been floating around silicon valley for a while now, the art of truthful chatter has made its slow and steady way across the pond to our slightly colder shores. In part, thanks to ex-head of global ad-sense at Google, Kim Scott. Writing about her controversial techniques in management manual, ‘radical candour: be a kickass boss without losing your humanity’, Scott suggests she owes her success to what she calls an anti-hierachy culture.
Giving anecdotes from her own life, working at both Google and Apple, you can’t help but empathise with her old colleague, Bob, whose mistakes are covered by Kim and her team, until she faces the whole establishment falling around her ears and ends up firing him. Scott centralises this on the fact that a “lack of praise AND criticism had absolutely disastrous effects on the team” and suggests if she’d just been more honest she wouldn’t have had to lose a well-loved member of the team.
Suggesting that the difference between Silicon Valley and the rest of America is due to the high-demand for talented employees, Scott implies that her current employees feel comfortable enough to speak out when they’re unhappy, because they have other options for employment. Whilst this might seem to put everybody on shaky ground, it’s actually led to a higher level of employee retention and has meant that conditions have improved ten-fold. Now Scott can include the CEO’s of both Dropbox and Twitter in her list of clients.
So how would we implement this ‘radical candour’ in our own lives? Well Scott proposes this is all down to comfort level, assuring your employees that you are actually interested in their opinions can help, but so can interacting on a personal level. Somebody is much likelier to speak up when they have an idea, if they feel they are talking to a colleague or friend, not a boss.
Former CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi and supporter of candid conversations, Tamara Ingram, poises that the key to implementing honesty is to leave “people feeling a little more elated, even if it is a tough conversation”. Teaching your employees to combine criticism with praise is a sure-fire way to ensure there are no tears shed in the office.
The key to concise honesty is really in picking your moments, crying out every time something slightly irritates you, wouldn’t be the best tactic in any relationship, and it definitely won’t go down well at work. Instead make sure you’re picking your battles, and your colleague’s smelly lunch shouldn’t be one of them.