Radical Candor: High-Performance Feedback

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Throughout history we have evolved and survived as humanity, lived in society, worked in groups, discovered how to overcome our limits, and reached common goals. Being part of a group means being «protected» by its members – aligned with the same ways of acting and understanding the world around – and, therefore, communicating and telling others what we think is totally necessary and inherent in our nature.

Thanks to feedback we can become more than simple programs with simple reflexes, and develop more complex responses to the environment. Feedback allows animals like us to follow a purpose. Tom Stafford.

Agile, High-Performance Organizations such as Netflix have taken this idea as the basis of their culture: being successful as a team needs honest communication and constantly giving and receiving feedback is a «must».

Radical transparency, autonomy, self-responsibility and truth define the DNA of Agile, High-Performance Organizations.

Likewise, people and teams interact continuously in these organizations and feedback is given and received to improve everything they do. In High-Performance organizations they use the method of Radical Candor to do so.

Radical Candor at Netflix

Feedback is the best guardian of the culture of Agile, High-performance Organizations such as Netflix.

Thanks to the radical transparency of their OKRs, and their projects, any colleague feels empowered to give feedback to another one and to receive it to help improve.

At Netflix, it is an accepted standard, when OKRs or projects are presented, any other colleague can come up with feedback about them, regardless of the department and the hierarchical position. 

What really matters is the truth of the matter and the honesty of a feedback with the purpose to always help improve.

This also applies after any meeting or work session with colleagues of the organization. Based on the slide deck that defines their culture, people give each other feedback on those behaviors that during the meeting or work session may have either reinforced or jeopardized their culture.

In the same way, all weekly check-ins between leader and staff include a 360º feedback about actions observed during the past week.

At Netflix, if people think they can help you improve, they will give you honest feedback with facts and data that will leave no room for interpretation.

At Netflix, feedback is given with a radical honesty. We’ll see what «radical candor» means later on.

The lifeblood of high performance

For the rest of us mortals outside Netflix, without a doubt, giving feedback is not an easy thing, it’s even hard because we somehow are not trained to do it inherently. However, we have to learn how to do it.

The problem is that the feedback many of us have experienced has not been positive, neither at the time of giving nor receiving it. Thus, feedback has become Achilles´ heel of the personal and professional development of many people and organizations on the road to high performance.

Honest feedback is the lifeblood of high performance.

It helps us grow and become much more effective. In Spanish, the word feedback as it is defined in the RAE dictionary, is a very significant word because it refers exactly to this: «returning energy or information output from a circuit to its input system». That is, from one person to another.

Individuals, teams, and organizations must «donate» it themselves communicatively, because it is the basis for developing and achieving high performance.

What does feedback with radical candor mean?

To illustrate the feedback with radical candor in action, Kim Scott, author of the bestseller Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss without Losing your Humanity shares a story about the moment when her boss have it to her for the first time:

«I had just joined Google and gave a presentation to the founders and the CEO about how the AdSense business was doing. I walked in feeling a little nervous, but happily the business was on fire. When we told Larry, Sergey, and Eric how many publishers we had added over the previous months, Eric almost fell off his chair and asked what resources they could give us to help continue this amazing success.» 

So… I sort of felt like the meeting went okay.»

Scott left the meeting satisfied. But after the meeting, Scott’s boss, Sheryl Sandberg, suggested they take a walk together.

She talked about the things she’d liked about the presentation and how impressed she was with the success the team was having – yet Scott could feel a «but» coming.

Finally, Sandberg said:

«…But you said um a lot.»

And Scott thought:

«Oh, no big deal. I know, I do that. But who cared if I said um when I had the tiger by the tail?»

Sandberg pushed forward, asking whether Scott’s ums were the result of nervousness. She even suggested that Google could hire a speaking coach to help.

Still, Scott brushed off the concern; it didn’t seem like an important issue.

Finally, Sandberg told her this:

«You know, Kim, I can tell I’m not really getting through to you. I’m going to have to be clearer here. When you say um every third word, it makes you sound stupid.’»

That really got Kim Scott’s attention, and she has remembered it forever.

For all of us, raised in a culture that preaches if you´re not told something good, you´ll feel bad… that feedback would not be perceived as very nice. But Kim Scott, today, knows it was the most honest thing Sandberg could have done for her.

«If she hadn’t said it just that way, I would’ve kept blowing her off. I wouldn’t have addressed the problem. And what a silly thing to let trip you up.»

High-Performance Feedback:

Finally, after all those years of practice and study on the nature of feedback that Sander thought her – how it is given appropriately, when it turns sour or how we can evolve through it – Scott sums up the formula of ideal feedback in our teams with a model that we should always remember:

Scott claims to achieve high performance, we must be committed to give and receive better feedback (based on radical candor) to turn it into a tool for growth and learning.

“Care and challenge to improve in an honest way.”

To do so, it is necessary to know how Scott defines the different types of feedback that are given in the organizations and their actual impact.

Understanding her needs to explain the four axes in the model above: 

1. Radical Candor

«Care and challenge to improve in an honest way»

This is the communication sector we could call the ideal feedback, the perfect balance between caring for and challenging (understanding it as a positive challenge) other people so that they can progress and develop. 

Somehow, radical candor is almost intuitive in people because, if you take care of your colleagues, you want them to succeed and you want to communicate in a way that can be beneficial to them and for no other reason.

The story of Scott and Sandberg at Google I told you before, describes perfectly the effects of this feedback.

2. Ruinous Empathy

«Care, but do not challenge»

It’s not easy to tell someone you appreciate something negative about him/her. Sometimes we try to ignore reality and don’t communicate what we think for fear of hurting the feelings of the people we like. 

You have to be careful, yes, but you also have to be honest if you want to strengthen personal relationships in your teams. 

Probably, our colleagues want and need our feedback because we can’t see ourselves (but we can listen to how others see us). So don’t let someone you have a good relationship with have to say “why haven´t you told me?”. It’s like a small betrayal of trust.

3. Onoxious Aggression

«Do not care but challenge»

Maybe you are right in what you are saying and it is true, but just because something is true it doesn’t mean you ned to say in a way that hurts. 

People who receive feedback must be able to sense that we give it because we care for them and because we care about their well-being. It is this kind of radical candor that should really motivate us to give them our opinion. 

Before giving feedback, we should ask ourselves whether what we are going to say is to develop or to hurt the other person.

4. Manipulative Insincerity

«Do not care and do not challenge»

Welcome to the communicative horror. When you are in this sector, or you listen to a feedback located here, be sure it only about: insecurities, anger, and lies. When these factors influence our communication, we tend to manipulate rather than give feedback that fuels both sides. 

If you never want to arrive in this sector, always ask yourself before giving feedback: is what I am saying true? 

Knowing the feedback sectors, which we should stay in, and understanding that total sincerity is our goal, we must take a step further and see how our communication can help other people succeed. It helps the whole team and also ourselves as an integral part of it, because understanding and adopting feedback of total sincerity, as they do in Netflix, can change the culture and life of our organization completely. 

Be committed to give and receive better feedback in order to transform it into not only something positive but also into a tool for growth and learning towards success. So:

Accept the truth and take responsibility for it.

Four steps to embracing feedback with radical candor

It will help you if you remember four things to learn how to give and receive better feedback (radical candor):

1. Accept 

The first step is to accept feedback when we receive it. We have to learn to feel comfortable asking our team about ourselves or receiving opinions from others, because it´s the basis for establishing a culture where feedback is not something to fear but part of our day to day, of our work as a team.

  • Take it as an opportunity. It may not be comfortable at first, because it is not always given to us when we want or need it, but it must be transformed into an opportunity to become familiar with its use, to study how to receive and how to respond to it.
  • It’s about trying to understand, not just responding. It seems simple, but perhaps it is one of the greatest challenges of communication. So, a little trick is to take a deep breath and count to ten when you get feedback. Give room for understanding and don’t leave the communication in a vacuum of silence.
  • Being honest is something you should always be grateful for to people who invest their time to help you. This is especially true for something you are not pleased to hear and few people would dare to tell you. Say thank you – always.

2. Offer 

  • Give feedback well. It’s like learning a new language: you have to practice it. And by practicing you will probably make mistake,s but you will also improve, for sure.
  • Try to praise rather than criticize. We tend to focus on the negative when it come to reinforcing the team. Always remember to also tell them when they do things right.
  • Be honest. 
  • Help with your comments
  • React immediately. Give feedback as quickly as possible. If you can help someone, why not do it as soon as possible?
  • Do not prejudge. We are full of constricting beliefs, do not let yourself be blocked by your prejudices.
  • Do it in person. In the closest possible way: face to face, through video or, if not possible, by phone. Use writing as the last option, think of all the non-verbal nuances we lose along the way.

Give feedback in private, praise in public.

3. Improve

Whenever you can, remember to ask people if the feedback you have given them has been useful, if you have been able to help them with it. You will also recognize if you can improve it or do something else for that person within your possibilities.

4. Promote

Having a great team depends on having a communicative culture based on honest feedback, and, I’m sorry I don´t want to be too enthusiastic, it’s not going to happen inherently, unless you are at Netflix,

If you have read this, I trust that you will be able to take the lead, encourage your team, all the people around you to communicate with others. Especially if you are in management positions, or lead teams, you need to deploy effective and sincere communication through example.

  • Don’t let people gossip or speak ill of others in front of you but behind their backs.
  • Ask if they are trying to improve in their communication, if they are trying to solve problems that may come up.
  • Suggest to enhance the quantity and quality of feedback between all of you.

In a nutshell, this is how to embrace feedback by radical candor:

And now it´s your turn

Of course, each company is different, but no High-Performance Organization can be built without honesty.

No matter what our current culture is like, with radical candor, we can transform it – now.

Let me ask you for this. Do give feedback. Accept feedback. Promote feedback. Improve it and remember:

Honest feedback is the lifeblood of high performance.


I recommend all readers of this article to also see Radical Candor- Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. Kim Scott, 2017.


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