‘Radical candour’ – effective feedback system, or just plain brutal?

Radical candour is the buzzword in business right now with more companies implementing the ‘harsh but true’ approach to feedback, and former Google executive Kim Scott has gone as far as to suggest that it is the best way to progress at work.

With the latest round of performance appraisals about to commence, should we now be brutally honest with your employees?  More to the point, since ‘radical candour’ invites the same from staff, are UK bosses really willing to hear what employees really think, without judgement?  We asked HR experts for their thoughts.

HR Director Pam Rogerson from the ELAS Group believes such a policy needs very careful thought.  Pam said:

“Introducing a ‘radical candour’ approach can either be a complete blessing or a total nightmare; there is no middle ground and companies should think extremely carefully before implementing a policy such as this. If not, they could find that they have opened a Pandora’s Box which cannot be closed.


“This sort of approach is something that has to be worked up to gradually rather than simply implemented. You can’t send staff home on a Friday working one way and then tell them on Monday that you expect them to tell you exactly what they are thinking. This could lead to people believing they have free rein to say anything they like, constructive or otherwise.


“Such a drastic change will not be well received unless the work environment already has the kind of culture in which this is encouraged. Large, free thinking corporations such as Google are places that everyone wants to work at but which don’t work for everyone.


“No matter how much an employer says that it will be ok to be totally, and sometimes brutally, honest with them, in reality it can be a different story when this actually happens.


“Some people may view this approach as defensive however as a HR professional you are acutely aware of the fact that all employees think differently, interpret differently and can read into the same instruction differently. It’s easy to think that engaging this type of candid approach will immediately give you a number of issues that you can simply “put right” however people and emotions are complicated.


“A company can never go from zero to 100 when it comes to policies such as this. There needs to be various different kinds of initiatives e.g. staff questionnaires or communications reminding employees of the open door policy or a staff referral scheme/rewards for ideas introduced first in order to ease the way of thinking into the kind of culture in which radical candour is accepted and embraced. This will encourage positive interaction rather than just saying tell us what you think, warts and all.”


Adrian Lewis, Commercial Director for Activ Appraisals software agreed:

“We encourage two way feedback, both from our own staff and for our clients who use our online appraisals software.  However it is important that performance reviews leave the employee motivated.  That comes from delivering constructive feedback to staff and encouraging the same by return.  Radical candour can work, but it should not be permitted to descend into a ‘free for all’, after all, the whole purpose of performance reviews is to motivate and engage people.  Google manages a highly skilled and highly motivated workforce, employers should remember that what works there would not automatically translate into every office environment, or even every job role.”

Author: Editorial Team

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