Radical Candor: Rocket Fuel for Your Teams

By Elisa Hebert, Head of Operations and Client Solutions

Kenzan + Sourced
6 min readNov 16, 2020

This is the sixth post in a multi-part series about Radical Candor and authenticity in the workplace. To start at the beginning, check out the first post in the series.

It’s been a little over a year since I was introduced to Radical Candor, though in COVID times it seems perhaps more like a decade. The book and the practice have helped me level up in ways I hadn’t anticipated, led to conversations I wouldn’t have expected, and given me tools to help me understand myself and my communities more clearly and deeply.

When I first started this journey, I promised to report back on how our book club was improving our communication and transparency as a team and an organization. I also promised not to hide the ways we were still working out the kinks. So, here I am, with a readout of some good stuff, some challenging stuff, and teeing up a soon-to-come Book Club Play that we’ll share for you to explore this material (or any) in your organization.

Piloting the material

Kenzan’s Client Solutions team was my first stop in the journey — ensuring we had a cohort that was willing to muddle through it, workshop and hone the material, and to find our footing as a critical jumping off point. This isn’t just a book club — we were testing the waters on leveraging this material to substantively change our organization’s communication DNA.

I recruited our incredible Learning & Development Manager, Kate Pisano, to help me facilitate the sessions. (Quick aside — there really is no way for me to overstate how much I appreciate Kate as a trusted advisor and partner as I evolve my approach. I am deeply grateful for her willingness to always jump on Zoom and talk through a crazy idea and help me mature my thinking, and her constant encouragement along the way.) If you’re thinking about kicking off your very own Radical Candor book club series, I cannot overstate how important it is to have a thought partner that you trust and whose input you value deeply.

We started with a pilot that went like this: the Client Solutions team read the book and then conducted three deep-dive sessions together, each about two hours long, and focused on how to leverage the material:

  1. With each other
  2. With our colleagues across Kenzan and our parent company, Amdocs
  3. With our clients

I was excited and impressed with how the team dove into the material and the thoughtfulness with which it was considered. It was clear to everyone that I was enthusiastic about the book. I was excited to evangelize it with my team and see them take to it as something that could help them tactically and strategically in their own evolution.

We shared our experience in an All-Hands meeting, and I was instantly flooded with Slack messages from across the organization asking if we would be doing another round. There was a deep desire to participate and dig into the concepts. Our team discussed the best approach to turning the pilot into a series, and folx took it from there. We’ve since had two more groups, run by members of the Client Solutions team along with Kate, and we’re planning a third. Participants are from all around the organization, crossing locations, roles, and levels.

What did we learn?

Anecdotally, we’ve seen some incredible growth, and some missteps, from folx exploring this material. It’s been encouraging to hear that Radical Candor is helping people think through their relationships (both personal and professional) differently, and what we owe to each other in terms of feedback. It’s also been heartening to see the places we’ve over-extended — sometimes with a preamble that they realize hasn’t been quite tuned enough, like I’m going to be Radically Candid here — and then been self-reflective enough to realize that’s not quite how to apply the concepts in practice.

I wanted to hear, and share, reflections from participants. Feedback was copious. I’ve selected a few thoughts across the organization that hopefully give a sense of the impact the series has had and why we continue to invest in it.

About the material and model

If a team signs on to implement Radical Candor and has trust in each other to be kind, that team can focus on the work and get more high quality work accomplished. It’s an un-blocker.Jeremy Brett, Software Engineer

Using Radical Candor to constantly point out each and every flaw in a colleague is not helpful. I think the book calls it Obnoxious Aggression and it is definitely both those things. I have also noticed obnoxious aggressors are the least likely to actually take constructive feedback in the spirit it is offered. I think there is this happy middle ground that requires judgment and good intentions to find.Mike Ryan, Director of Engineering

Rock Stars have a different motivation. As an organization, how can we structure our HR tools and techniques to support these concepts? I’d like to use the book when we are recommending new things like our career mapping conversations… how do we align our processes, tools, etc to Rock Stars vs Super Stars?Robin Morrison, Head of Agile Solutions

I tend to think in systems, and I have a hard time with consistency without them. Radical Candor gives me a system for managing interpersonal interactions that I never really had before. It finally made ‘There’s a difference between nice and kind’ make sense.Chris Terry, Platform Engineer

Understanding how other people have the same blockers to being candid helped me acknowledge that discomfort and push through it myself… the harder something is to say, the more important it is for you to give that feedback.Kellan Folkers, Director of Client Solutions

About the book club framework

I got to bounce my interpretations off other people, hear angles I wouldn’t have thought about, and through those, better understand the concept model. It felt especially useful hearing from others who had experiences they could tie Radical Candor to.Chris Terry, Platform Engineer

My learning from the book club was less regarding the book material itself. Instead, I learned more about the people in the book club series within my group: how they think and feel, how they perceived the material of the book, and how they felt challenged by the book. — Dennis D. Kirkpatrick, Platform Engineer

The open, honest discussions amongst our cohort were insightful and highlighted that different readers can come away with nuanced understandings of the text. The discussions about those nuances were the highlight of the sessions for me. Bill Schwanitz, Technical Architect

Getting to hear others’ perspectives and insights is always extremely valuable. As we discussed in the CS book club, no two people have the same experience, so hearing these varied perspectives could not only help us expand our insights into the material, in this instance it could help provide fuel for caring personally..Jeff Grow, Senior Manager, Client Solutions

Listening to others enabled me to learn from situations that I may face in the future. Hearing from others how to apply the methodology to situations I haven’t yet faced helped me to speed up maturing as a manager without having to pay the price. Jaffid Landeros, Director of Engineering

Radical Candor needs context — if left unguided it can definitely end up in ruinous empathy or obnoxious aggression. It is an uncomfortable topic and can be hard to operationalize without guidance. To that end, I love that we did it as a book club series and that Elisa championed it around the organization with a rigorous, thoughtful approach. Ming Linsley, Head of Kenzan

Paying it forward

If you’ve gotten this far, perhaps you are interested in leveraging Radical Candor in your organization to make meaningful change in your operations and communication. No sense in reinventing the wheel… in our next post we’ll share our blueprint for running your own book club.

Are you using Radical Candor personally or in your organization? I’d love to hear your thoughts and how it’s working! Find me on LinkedIn.

If you enjoyed this article, catch up on all the articles in Elisa’s series on Radical Candor:

Part 1, The Daily Practice of Crit(ique)
Part 2,
Calling Yourself Out
Part 3,
Management Style: Sunny With a Chance of Bananas
Part 4,
Pink Hair, Piercings, and Professional Services
Part 5,
Pandemically Candid