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Radical Candor in Performance Conversations

Moving from ‘How’ to ‘Yes’ Questions

Accountability begins at the very beginning with the goal and competencies-setting process. It is important for people managers and supervisors to conduct performance conversations with staff to both affirm desired actions, behaviours and raise difficult issues on commitment and accountability in meeting the expectations on work and desired behaviours. People managers and supervisors do a disservice to their staff by adopting a ‘no news equals good news’ approach and they do not confront the difficult performance issues but use words such as ‘ok’ to avoid conflicts or difficult situations with their staff. In the book, Radical Candor by Kim Scott, managers can demonstrate ruinous empathy by holding the belief that people ‘can’t handle the truth’ and only say good things to foster a feel-good environment but avoid raising difficult issues to protect the feelings of others.

Radical Candor_Performance Management

The diagram above shows the intersection between caring personally and challenging directly. Both care and challenge are needed to manage and inspire performance. In the low care and low challenge quadrant, managers are leaving staff on their own – hands off management. The common response is always ‘no time’ and ‘everything’s ok, all good’. Everything seems to appear well and dandy and the niceties demonstrated by both parties are superficial, it is a façade. On the other hand, if people managers just want to be considered as ‘nice’ or ‘caring’ and believes that people should be protected from the harsh realities. They are not doing a service to their staff but are engaging in ruinous empathy by shielding them from difficult conversations.

When people managers just challenge but does not show element of care for the staff, these are classic aggressive behaviours. They will resort to using hurting language, bullying and intimidating tactics to get their staff to improve their performance. The management style is ‘my way or the high way’. When people managers care and challenge their staff productively, they check in regular and conduct performance conversations to avoid surprises. They also provide just-in-time feedback to improve performance and coach their staff to increase capabilities.

Peter Block wrote that ‘how’ questions are a defence against deep change and commitment. Instead of asking how to have radical candor and how to improve performance, try these three questions adapted from Peter Block’s book, The Answer to How is Yes: Acting on What Matters:

How and Yes Questions - Performance Management
There is a saying that if you are part of the system, you are part of the problem. Before trying to ‘fix’ staff performance issues or behaviours, leaders should examine how their own behaviours might have or have not contributed to the issues. Refer to the section on ‘The Reflective Leader: Using reflection and critical thinking in people-related issues’ for an example of how the leader’s actions might have contributed to the very problem he was complaining about.

How do we do this - Performance Management
If we cannot say no, our yes means nothing. Sometimes the hard choice is about what NOT to do instead of doing many things and achieving little. Our battles may be to prioritise on what really matters. Refer to the section titled, ‘Are you an effective team?’ on using the Skill-Will matrix to have the right conversation about doubts.

Yes Questions: What do we want to create together - Performance Management
Our energy should be focused on creating the future that we want. That is more empowering and unique. As stated in the Introduction section, possibility is about creating a space for examining and discussing about purposes, wants and needs.

What performance conversations are you having with your people?


If you find this useful, check out our Performance Management tools and how we can help managers and organizations manage appraisals to align, inspire and empower high performance.


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