I had the opportunity to work with some startups over my career as a consultant. There’s something addictive about the culture of deadlines and the need to prove themselves to the market. There’s an inherent drive with most successful startups that are driven by the need for quick results. Successful companies have learned that quick feedback is not the only necessity for success but also most powerful when it’s brutally honest. This combination is what makes the recruiting feedback loop a powerful competitive edge.
This tends to be an issue for most larger corporations trained to death by an HR culture of fear in honest communication. I’ve worked with managers who spent more time trying to sugar coat how to communicate performance issues with team members than they did communicate with the team. Radical feedback is not insensitive, but it also isn’t known for dancing around the subject.
Kim Scott’s book entitled “Radical Candor” outlines the process to create this culture. To receive radically candid criticism from an unwilling team, Scott suggests that you spend a couple of weeks doing the following:
- Don’t let people off the hook when they refuse to give feedback. Keep asking, and then use silence to get them to say something.
- Reward them handsomely for their criticism. Thank them, praise them, most notably: take action to fix their criticism if you can.
- Scott argues that you should be soliciting guidance every day, in one-to-two minute conversations between engagements, not in scheduled meetings on your calendar. (To drive this point home, Scott tells the story of Sheryl Sandberg actively chasing a banker for feedback — during Facebook’s IPO process! Sandberg was relentless in her desire for improvement).
The concept of Radical Candor is vital for the sprint process, especially during the biweekly meetings with your team and the client. We began our biweekly meetings with our clients during our pilot by outlining the ground rules for our version of Radical Candor. We encouraged everyone to share their feedback openly but raw, real, and respectful. One of the major rules was for the feedback to be brutally honest and helpful in its delivery.
This was a major culture shift for many of our clients, who tended to share direct feedback about recruiting only with my boss or me. To change this mindset, I worked with those I had control over to set the tone. I challenged the team to be open and honest during our client meetings about our obstacles. My commitment to my team was that I would provide the cover fire they needed when they brought to the meeting credible obstacles. Fortunately or unfortunately, I can be a bit of a jerk when I need to, so it’s not an issue for me to push back when required, especially in intense situations.
The first couple of feedback sessions made slightly more progress than the other, but nothing out of the polite ordinary. One particular sprint’s performance was impacted by the lack of involvement from some key members of leadership within a division. They had indicated these roles were critical yet pushed interviews out two weeks, inhibiting our ability to meet the definition of success they had set just a week before. The recruiters were more than reluctant to bring this up as an obstacle for fear the clients would retaliate during the call. Well, I thought this would be an excellent time for us to test the waters of our new feedback style.
The recruiter most impacted identified the lengthy interview process as an obstacle to the process on the call. Almost on cue, one of the executives began to give a “get over it speech” when I politely intervened.
Me: “Hey, we agreed that critical roles would require all of us to move schedules around to keep active candidates engaged in the process. Correct?”
Executive: Yes but….
Me: There isn’t an excuse right? Did we agree to open feedback right?
Executive: We did.
Me: Ok, great. So now that we know you all created the barrier to success, how can we work together to avoid this in sprints in the future? This isn’t an attack or anything, we just have to find a way to get around scenarios like this. It creates a lack of productivity for us and you lose out on great candidates. Thoughts?
This opened a dialogue with our client that produced additional commitment from that department to realign schedules to value interviewing over various meetings. It was not a contentious conversation in tone, but it was confrontational in context. The rules we had set early on allowed us to identify an obstacle in the process and discuss solutions to avoid similar situations in the future in a constructive way.
While this is a short chapter, I would encourage you to vet this principle with your recruiting team and managers thoroughly. The initial pains will soon be replaced with efficiencies, accountability, and balance as you sprint on toward happy candidates and engaged managers.
By the way, if you haven’t read Kim Scott’s book on Radical Candor, let me plug it. It’ll help you in the feedback process with your team members, clients, and even candidates who do not get the job. Definitely check it out.
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