Can ‘radical candour’ support your reward and recognition strategy?


‘Radical candour’ is a management approach that has gained popularity in Silicon Valley off the back of a bestselling book by former Google and Apple exec, Kim Scott. One of Scott’s key points relates to the importance of challenging directly: leaders telling their employees, in a considerate and objective way, when their work is failing to meet expectations. Though challenging people in this way can be difficult for those on the receiving end, says Scott, it is also the best way to help them improve. And for leaders, this is a hugely effective way to show they care, both about their organisation and their employees.

Can ‘radical candour’ support your reward and recognition strategy?

Radical candour in the context of reward and recognition

The concept raises some interesting questions about reward and recognition. If employee recognition is the activity employers engage in to acknowledge exceptional performance, is radical candour the flipside of that? How should employers balance the need to reward and recognise exceptional work, with the need to discourage poor performance and undesirable behaviours? To what extent can the two go hand-in-hand? And where’s the sweet spot?

In truth, radical candour should be as much about encouraging leaders, managers and peers to show appreciation, as it is about encouraging constructive criticism. Managers can be reluctant to do both, for different reasons, and therefore it’s hugely important for organisations to create a culture that encourages that sort of dialogue. Indeed, getting managers on board is one of the first steps that any business should take when looking to implement a reward and recognition programme. 

Spontaneous recognition

In an interview with Forbes, Scott talks about “a culture of feedback” in which employees are “encouraged to overcome their reluctance to hear praise and criticism, and also to deliver it”, adding that the best feedback comes in “impromptu…conversations”. This rings true for both positive and critical feedback. 

Encouraging spontaneous recognition ensures that it feels genuine and avoids recognition being confined to certain calendar events or milestones. Our own research on this topic found that receiving rewards spontaneously and for good work was more likely to make employees feel recognised than receiving them at events such as at Christmas or on their birthday. This supports Scott’s thinking around the mistake that some employers make in going too far with praise and recognition around promotions. She suggests that there’s enough intrinsic reward and recognition in the act of promoting an employee, and that going too heavy on the importance of promotions risks making that the whole purpose of work, rather than employees being fulfilled by their day-to-day roles.

The role of recognition programmes

One area where Scott’s thinking diverges from our own is around the role that systems can play in facilitating a culture of feedback. In interviews she has argued that it’s difficult “to systematise…or operationalise…” the process of giving feedback. When it comes to recognition, however, we have found quite the opposite. Though this can be done informally by encouraging managers to take advantage of opportunities for spontaneous recognition, the best reward and recognition programmes also make it quick and easy to nominate colleagues and publicly celebrate staff achievements, using fully automated, online portals to encourage workers to engage with a scheme. This creates a culture of recognition by building it into the day-to-day routines of all staff. 

Arguably, while the concept of radical candour is thought provoking, it’s not quite as radical as it first may appear and really is about the importance of communication when it comes to instilling company culture. Whether trying to encourage positive behaviours or discourage negative ones, it can be helpful to consider the following points:

  • be clear about which staff behaviours and performances are being rewarded or flagged up, how and why
  • be fair and consistent, so as not to undermine your message 
  • ensure that feedback you give is reflective of your organisation’s values.

For more information on how to build an effective recognition strategy download our free e-book.

Author is Jamie King, director of global reward at Xexec.

This article was provided by Xexec.


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