The 25 Cognitive Biases: Authority Bias

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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What are the key principles of Radical Candor? Do you know how to apply Radical Candor principles to key managerial decisions?

There are Radical Candor principles for each part of your role as a manager. Here, the principles apply to hiring, firing, and promoting.

Keep reading for Radical Candor principles for hiring, firing, and promoting.

Radical Candor Principles

As a boss, you’ll be heavily involved in making major decisions about the growth of your team and its members such as hiring onto your team, firing low performers, and promoting your reports into new roles. It’s essential to approach these decisions with radical candor to achieve positive outcomes.

Hiring

Above all, hire with the needs of the entire team in mind. Do you have too many superstars, and not enough rock stars? Do you need a dose of innovation from a superstar? When you’re hiring, keep in mind that hiring is a subjective process—subjectivity can’t be fully eliminated, but there are a few ways that it can be managed.

Define your team’s culture. Come up with 3-4 words that describe your team’s culture, such as ambitious, straightforward, polite, blunt, big-picture, and so on. Interview specifically for that fit—this reduces personal bias in cases where you don’t love the person, but they’d be a great fit for your team. You could also include the growth trajectory you’d ideally like the person to have, so you interview toward that, rather than interviewing with your own goals and trajectory in mind.

Prescreen candidates blindly. To make sure you’re not unconsciously biased against certain applicants, set up a prescreening system where candidates can show you the work they’re capable of before you see who they are. For example, you could ask candidates to perform a task relevant to the work they’d be doing for you. This eliminates people who have a nice résumé but can’t back it up, and it gives opportunity to people with a mediocre résumé but great skill set.

(Shortform note: Read our summary of Blink to find out more about how unconscious bias affects hiring decisions, and how to get around it.)

Create a hiring committee. Having multiple perspectives on a candidate ensures that you’re not letting your bias get in the way of a good hiring decision. A good hiring committee has about four people, and it should be diverse. It might be off-putting for a woman to be interviewed by all men, or a person of color to be interviewed by an all-white committee. Additionally, at least one person should be from a different team than the one being hired onto. This prevents the committee from being tempted to make a decision just to fill an empty role on the team as quickly as possible.

You should have just one committee, which speaks to all candidates. It’s not helpful if one committee liked Candidate A, and a different committee liked Candidate B—they have no common point to make comparisons from.

Take casual moments into account. People are likely to reveal who they really are outside of the interview room. Take them out for lunch and observe how they talk to the waiter, or ask your receptionist for their opinion on the candidate. 

Write down your thoughts. Write down your impressions immediately after the interview—this allows you to later recall the specifics of your discussion, or small signals that they would or wouldn’t be a good fit for your team. Your hiring committee can make better decisions when they rely on true impressions, not recalled impressions. 

Make the decision together. Bring your hiring committee together to discuss candidates. Share everyone’s feedback about each candidate at the beginning of the meeting, and debate until you come to a mutual decision. If you, as the boss, put forth a preferred choice and no one objects, that should be your choice.  

Firing

As with hiring, there will likely be a time in your career that you’re tasked with letting an employee go. This shouldn’t be an easy process, but neither should it be impossible. If your organization fires people easily, it’s likely that bad firing decisions are being made—which carries the risk of causing anxiety among your team members, who worry that they’re next. This will create a culture of fear, where people don’t try new ideas or take risks because a failure might get them booted. If your organization never fires anyone, it’s likely that there are underperformers dragging their whole team down—which carries the risk of high performers quitting out of frustration. 

There are three Radical Candor principles for your firing process: don’t delay, ask for peer opinions, and demonstrate that you care personally. 

Don’t delay. Too many bosses put off firing conversations to avoid the risk of discomfort and negative emotions. Sometimes, they put it off long enough to talk themselves out of the decision. Common excuses to put off firing include:

  • Things will improve. If you find yourself using this excuse, ask yourself: how exactly will things improve, either in your behavior or your employee’s? Even if things do improve, is it possible for them to improve enough? If you can’t come up with answers to these questions, you can guarantee that things won’t improve.
  • I’d rather have someone than no one. If you find yourself using this excuse, look at the rest of your team. You’re creating extra work and stress by letting this employee’s poor work slide. The work of finding an adequate replacement is always less than the work of managing a team that’s breaking down.
  • A transfer is better. If you find yourself using this excuse, understand that making a transfer isn’t kind—it’s comfortable for you. If an employee doesn’t have the right skills for your organization, a transfer will create problems and stress for the colleague you transfer them to, and the employee stays in an environment where they can’t thrive. 
  • It will worry my team. If you find yourself using this excuse, remember that your team’s morale doesn’t decrease when you fire a low performer. Morale decreases when you let a low performer stay on and drag everyone down. 

Ask for peer opinions. It’s easy to get lost in the emotions of firing someone—perhaps you’re acting unfairly out of anger, or acting too lenient out of fear. As noted in Chapter 5, before deciding to fire someone, you should ask a neutral third party if they think your decision is fair. If they agree with your decision, ask for help from peers, your boss, or HR to help you with your documentation so that your reasons for firing your employee are as clear as possible.  

Demonstrate that you care personally. The trusting relationship you’ve built with this person shouldn’t disappear during the firing process. There are several ways to make it a more dignified process for them. 

  • Think about what you can do to make it easier—ask them if they want to announce their departure, or prefer that you do it. Or, ask if they’d prefer to come collect their things on the weekend, when the office is empty. 
  • Help them find the way forward, and make sure they understand that they’re being fired so they can find what they’re good at, elsewhere. You can accomplish this by entering the conversation with ideas of what jobs might suit them better, and connections you might be able to introduce them to. Follow up with them a month or so after their departure to check in and see how you can help them. 

Promoting With Radical Candor Principles

The most important one of the Radical Candor principles when it comes to promotion is that you must be sure that your promotions are fair—the best way to avoid unfairness or favoritism in promotions is to give up the power of being the only person making the decision. However, when you get your peers together to discuss promotions and align them with one another, things can take a negative or competitive turn—there are several ways you can keep promotion discussions productive. 

Prepare for your meeting. Everyone on your team should send in a list of the employees they’re planning to promote and a justification for each. Read through their justifications, and come prepared with an opinion on each person listed.

Keep an eye on time management. Go through your junior positions first, as they should be the least time-consuming decisions, and then work up to your senior positions. Don’t let the debates go on too long, or you risk decisions being made out of boredom or frustration. If the choice seems obvious to you, call the decision yourself. Otherwise, ask that the discussion on that person be continued outside the meeting and revisited, then move on. 

Plan to clear the air. You can only promote so many people, and everyone believes their candidate is the most deserving. Subsequently, these discussions can be difficult, emotionally-charged, and competitive. Plan an activity for the group after the meeting to calm down, such as taking a walk together to grab coffees, or a fun class like axe-throwing. 

12 Radical Candor Principles for Hiring, Firing, and More

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  • How you have to be direct with people while also caring sincerely for them
  • Why relationships are an essential part of successful leadership
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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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