Radical Candor is just plain wrong!  (Neuroscience backs me up)

Radical Candor is the wrong approach for proper feedback and growth

From Feedback is not Enough Gallup article –

The six most dreaded words for any employee: Can I give you some feedback?

Gallup has found that only 26% of employees strongly agree that the feedback they receive helps them do better work.

Although it is quite popular these days, unfortunately, cognitive and neuroscience do not back up the claim that supporters of so-called radical candor make re: providing feedback to others. While there are instances like Ray Dalio’s Principles from his stellar stewardship of Bridgewater Associates and Kim Scott’s personal anecdotes, what I have found through the literature on the subject is that these instances are outliers. Most people do not want unsolicited feedback. What people do want is attention. In most cases, in the short term, they are enjoying that you are paying attention to them at all but, in the long run, it is not helpful and may be counter to optimally growing you and your team.

Why do we do this?

According to research done by the NeuroLeadership Institute, there are three main reasons why our brain wants to give feedback.

  1. The brain loves to solve problems
  2. The ‘I told you so’ effect
  3. It is rewarding to think that you are helping others

These factors can fool us into thinking that giving feedback is the best way to go.

Helpful stats

In a 19 country study, with almost 20,000 people, the ADP Research Institute found the following:

‘ …most feedback is focused on what people are doing wrong. It is not focused on excellence.

  • Positive attention is 30X more effective than negative attention (focused on what the team member does wrong) and,
  • 1200X more effective than no attention’

“Excellence is not the opposite of failure: we can never create excellent performances by only fixing poor ones. Mistake fixing is just a tool to prevent failure.” – First, Break all the Rules

The Research

There are many areas in cognitive science and research that support this. I will cite three below:

  1. The work of David Rock and the NeuroLeadership Institute
  2. ADP research illustrated in the book by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall
  3. Cognitive and other psychologists represented here by the work of Art Markman – PhD , Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and Founding Director of the Program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations.

NeuroLeadership institute

  1. One study showed that feedback did nothing or made things worse 59% of the time and improved performance only 41% of the time.  Much of this negative outcome was correlated to the lack of training on how to give effective feedback.  Please see the research for more details.
  2. Rock’s SCARF model shows that the brain is constantly assessing – searching for rewards and avoiding threats.  Since the brain cannot distinguish well the difference between a social and physical threat, it initially misinterprets unsolicited “feedback” as a threat often triggering the fight, flight or freeze response.  This can mitigate or in some cases eliminate the positive impact of feedback.
  3. Rock and his team recommend that you create an environment where feedback is asked for versus given. This, combined with some preparatory work, dramatically increases the chance of feedback being successful. 

ADP Research – Marcus Buckingham

  1. In their latest book, Nine Lies about Work, Buckingham and Goodall demonstrate many misconceptions we have about employee engagement.  One of these is why feedback fails. Here is a short video from Buckingham explaining why.
  2. According to Buckingham, people cannot accurately rate other people. Why is this important? You are NOT the expert on anyone else except you and what you love. You ARE the expert on how you feel/your reaction to what someone does. Please stop assuming that you know what is best for someone else. Bottom line: If, as the idiosyncratic rater effect shows,you cannot reliably rate someone else, then your feedback will often miss the mark. Stop giving it as your first inclination. Make it a last resort and then ALWAYS with expressed permission granted from the recipient. Here is another video from Buckingham on this topic.

I highly recommend reading this remarkable book that breaks many management myths.

Art Markman

  1. In his podcast, Two Guys on your Head, Markman, and his partner Bob Duke shares insights and research on individual topics in 7-minute segments.  This one on Advice is instructive in my opinion.
  2. In his book, Smart Change, Markman goes deep into how to be an effective change agent.  Here is an article that summarizes much of the book.

To me, the bottom line from all of this research is to realize that the goal is not give the best type of feedback but to help others learn, grow and improve to the benefit of themselves and the company (aka shepherding behavioral change). Please let me re-state this, I often hear/read on LinkedIn and other places, so-called feedback experts sharing the best method to give feedback. Care deeply. Challenge directly. Be vulnerable. Provide it in the moment. Build trust. These are excellent guides for providing better feedback but not to the building of a great team with exceptional outcomes.

This is all well and good and none of it is wrong but, I believe, it is focused on solving the wrong problem – how to give great feedback. The goal of a team leader is to build a continuously-improving environment and cohesive team that takes the fullest advantage of the strengths of each member to have the entire team deliver the optimal output to the benefit of the team, the company and the customer.

Based on this research and my own experience, I think that you should avoid giving corrective feedback except as a last resort and as infrequently as possible. Instead, focus on catching people doing something right and help them build on that – a little better every day.

Suggestions of what to do 

Here are a couple of suggestions:

  1. Ask them to describe a day that flew by. What were they doing? This may help identify what they love doing. Help them do more of that. 
  2. Have them put together a Love It/Loathe it list. Please see this post for more detail. Help them do more of what they love. This, of course, must be balanced with what is best for the company and its customers. Here is a video of Buckingham again on how he recommends you do this and why.
  3. Stop them when they do something brilliant.  Ask them to interrogate themselves as to how they did that. Help them do more of that. Five-minute video from Marcus Buckingham talking more about this.
  4. Encourage a growth mindset. In other words, the power of the word “yet”. Show and encourage how the brain has plasticity and with effort and practice can learn many new things. Here is a link to great research, case studies and more on growth mindset.

This was one of my longer posts and has lots of stuff in it. I recommend you pick one thing that works for you and try that instead of trying to do everything in here.  Come back to other stuff later.

As always, please contact me for more details. I am happy to help.

Be exceptional!

Bill  – Certified Growth Coach, Foundations in NeuroLeadership certified, Predictive Index Certified Partner

For MA companies ONLY, as an approved Training and Development provider, Catalyst Growth Advisors can offer up to 50% off program fees.  Click here to see if you qualify.

Please click here to order a copy of my book Further, Faster – The Vital Few Steps that Take the Guesswork out of Growth or download the free pdf version.

Published by Bill Flynn

Gazelles Member Advisor and early stage startup specialist with a proven track record with 16 Boston-based startups (9 to date with 5 successful outcomes, advisor to 7 others); SMB to Fortune 500 companies. 20+ years of Senior Sales, Marketing and GM experience in industries including mobile advertising, security, digital advertising, e-commerce and IT. Core Competencies: Player/Coach, Metrics-driven, Execution-based philosophy, Life-long learner

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