Kim Scott: Google Shows a Culture of Radical Candor

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Radical Candor" by Kim Scott. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How does Kim Scott see Google implementing a culture of radical candor? What can you learn from Google’s practices?

According to Kim Scott, Google has a culture of radical candor. There are several examples that show radical candor in practice at Google.

Keep reading for more examples of radical candor at Google from Kim Scott.

Kim Scott: Google Experience

As a boss, your main job is dealing with the personal and professional problems of the people that report to you. While this may feel irrelevant to your work, it’s important to realize that relationship maintenance is a boss’s work. For Kim Scott, Google was one of her formative experiences related to radical candor. She was a leader of high-profile teams at Google and Apple University, has found that relationship maintenance should be a top priority when you move into a leadership position.

Management based in radical candor is straightforward and humanizing, guided by two main principles: “caring personally” and “challenging directly.” With these two principles to guide your management style, you can accomplish the overarching goal of radical candor: creating a team that accomplishes more than you could possibly accomplish yourself.

Grant Your Team Autonomy

Giving your team autonomy at work leads to better results and more accomplishments, because a sense of agency—not power and control—builds trusting relationships. When employees feel that they have a trusting relationship with you, they’ll bring their best selves to their work, naturally collaborate better, and are more engaged with their work. This is because a relationship encourages them to bring out their best selves, and ensures that they can trust your decisions, and you theirs. On the contrary, if they feel that their best selves are being forced out, or feel like replaceable parts of a machine, they’ll do the bare minimum.

When loosening the reins of authority, it’s important that your balance between control and freedom still offers your team a sense of structure—too little structure can cause systems to break down, and can allow people to use selfish interests to rise to positions of self-made power. These balances—between freedom and control, and between structure and disorganization—won’t come easily. It’s helpful to keep in mind that you’re not giving up all control—you’re giving up control selectively, in a way that makes sense for everyone.

Put some research and thought into what duties or responsibilities make sense to give up. For example, according to Kim Scott, Google doesn’t do promotions based on managerial decisions or recommendations. Any employee who wants a promotion can put together their own “promotion packet” that highlights the reasons they deserve promotion, such as accomplishments, recommendations, and so on. The promotion is then considered and approved or denied by a team. This eliminates the possibility of one person having full control over another’s path, and also eliminates the ability of someone to act without the interests of the whole team in mind.

Supporting High Performance With Rapid Growth (Superstars)

Don’t get in their way: Recognize that your job is to encourage your superstars to grow beyond your team, or help them get hired to a place where they can thrive. All too many managers squash their superstars’ ambitions and growth because they want to keep the great work and willing attitude for themselves and their team. Stifling your employee in this way will cause resentment, lack of motivation, and subsequently, poor work. Likewise, many managers fail to recognize when they have a potential superstar on their hands who just doesn’t do great work on their team. There are other places this person can thrive—make sure you’re not holding them back from pursuing better opportunities by insisting that they just try harder in their current position. Help them look for opportunities where they can do great work. 

Don’t assume they want to manage: Thinking that growth naturally leads to management is a common mistake, because in many organizations there’s a real emphasis put on “leadership potential.” This emphasis on leadership is unfair on several levels. It’s unfair for the superstar because it naturally caps their growth. If they’re full of potential, but not leadership potential, there’s only so far they can advance in the organization. They may have untapped growth that can continue to massively benefit the organization or their field, but they’re held back because they don’t want to be anyone’s boss. It’s also unfair to the teams of unwilling managers. When someone’s a boss just because that was the only advancement available, they’ll either do a mediocre job out of disinterest, or a downright bad job out of resentment. Bad management limits both the growth of the employee who could thrive outside a management position, and the growth of team members who could thrive under good management. 

Google gets around this particular problem with their “individual contributor” career path, which is even more prestigious than many management positions and is designed to honor the ambitions of superstars who don’t want to be anyone’s boss. In this position, superstars can continue growing and learning on their own terms—they have no overhead supervision and have the freedom to work on projects as they see fit.

Kim Scott: Google Gets Results With Collaboration

The fourth goal of a radically candid workplace is building a highly collaborative atmosphere and a team that works together to accomplish much more than you could individually. The principle of caring personally is especially important to a collaborative atmosphere, for several reasons. First, it allows you to invite an exchange of perspectives—that is, incorporating another’s way of thinking or doing things into your own way of thinking or doing things. Second, caring interrupts the self-interested mindset of focusing only on results. 

Charging ahead toward decisions and results—without caring about the people you work with—can cause a breakdown in your team. For example, at Google, Kim Scott tried to change team structures and responsibilities drastically, without letting her team in on her decision-making process. While her ideas were good, the team fell apart. Because she’d acted alone, her team felt confused or personally targeted by her changes, and some people chose to ignore the proposed workflow. Some people, angry that she’d acted alone in such a drastic decision, even quit her team.

Accomplishments don’t come from diving into a problem alone, telling people what to do, and focusing only on results. They come from approaching problems and solutions collaboratively, setting your power aside, and focusing on your team members.

Kim Scott: Google Shows a Culture of Radical Candor

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Kim Scott's "Radical Candor" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Radical Candor summary:

  • How you have to be direct with people while also caring sincerely for them
  • Why relationships are an essential part of successful leadership
  • How to create a strong team culture that delivers better results

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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