The five-minute management idea: radical honesty

09 February 2018 -


What if managers and employees were brutally honest with each other? Here’s the latest in our weekly shot of new thinking for business leaders

Gabrielle Lane

Creativity: 6/10. Common sense: 8/10. Empathy: 4/10. Is immediate and honest evaluation of all work behaviours the future of management? The world’s largest hedge fund believes so. At Bridgewater Associates – which manages around £160bn of assets – the culture is one of ‘radical transparency’.

Employees can access an app called Dot Collector, which they use to score the performance of colleagues in real time across more than 100 attributes, such as ‘determination’ and ‘self-discipline’. The ratings are public. What’s more, they are used to give more weight to the opinions of high scorers when it comes to group decision-making – even if those individuals find themselves in a minority.

Bridgewater founder and CEO Ray Dalio – himself subject to daily ratings – says the practice encourages employees to speak up. An algorithm is said to make the organisation effective by pairing employees with tasks that complement their abilities.

The system also gives the organisation a competitive advantage, as it fosters an ‘idea meritocracy’. Of course, the strategy is personal – and controversial. A complaint in The New York Times, which Bridgewater refuted, once described the culture as a “cauldron of fear”.

Enter a gentler management philosophy that also hinges on truth. Former Google and Apple staffer and now Silicon Valley CEO coach Kim Scott devised ‘radical candour’. It consists of challenging ideas and performance directly, and caring personally.

Challenging others and allowing them to challenge you builds trust. It shows that you care enough to point out whether work is successful or not, and that you are committed to fixing it.

First, managers should invite feedback on their own performance by asking what they could do to support the team on a particular project. They should listen in silence in order to understand, and not reply.

Second, when giving feedback to their employees, managers should speak clearly and simply about what can be improved. Praise and criticism should be offered equally and authentically; they should be specific.

Employees are likely to be receptive to direct challenges if a leader shows that they care personally. Scott says that a manager must get to know the “whole individual” so that they can understand their motivations at work and structure progression and development accordingly. An open culture in which everyone is encouraged to share feedback and be themselves is likely to be positive, proactive and high-performing.

Note that radical candour is sensitive to context. Individuals and teams will differ in how they understand and apply it. Scott observed the culture at Jerusalem tech startup Deltathree as one of “outspoken directness”, whereas the Japanese emphasis on politeness at Google Tokyo meant employees found contradicting others’ ideas too aggressive. Instead, they chose to express their frustration with how adverts were being used in mobile applications with “quiet persistence”.

Scott writes: “I’ve seen first-hand that it’s possible to adapt radical candour equally well for Tel Aviv and Tokyo.” In the UK? “I’ve learned that Brits, despite all of their politeness, tend to be even more candid than New Yorkers.”

Learn more about Kim Scott’s management philosophy in Radical Candor: How to Be a Great Boss. And give her your honest feedback at

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