January 25, 2024

Radical Candor: The CMO’s Guide to Fearless Feedback

At the heart of transformative leadership lies a powerful concept: Radical Candor. It’s the art of caring personally and challenging directly, a philosophy Kim Scott crafted to help others achieve results collaboratively that you could never achieve alone. 

For B2B CMOs, adopting Radical Candor can be a game-changer. In this episode, Kim Scott herself applies the principles of Radical Candor to the unique challenges of the CMO role. Tune in to learn how to communicate collaboratively with your CEO, your C-Suite peers, and your teams, all in the name of B2B greatness.

Captured live in front of a CMO audience, this session is part of CMO Huddles’ ongoing Career Huddle series spotlighting thought leaders and authors who are reshaping the world of business.

Interested in being part of the conversation? To join a future Career Huddle or to suggest an author whose ideas could ignite the next discussion, reach out to us at support@cmohuddles.com. Your seat at the table awaits. 

What You’ll Learn 

  • How to solicit and give great feedback 
  • How radical candor can increase productivity 
  • How to talk to your boss, your peers, and your teams 

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 381 on YouTube 

Resources Mentioned 


  • [3:49] The core idea behind radical candor
  • [5:35] Ruinous empathy in the real world
  • [10:12] Starting radically candid conversations
  • [19:11] The 4 steps of soliciting feedback
  • [21:38] Radical candor + budget cuts + your boss?
  • [28:00] The “get stuff done” wheel
  • [32:39] Debating vs. deciding in staff meetings
  • [33:47] Minimizing the collaboration tax
  • [36:33] Rockstar vs. Superstar
  • [39:12] The growth management framework
  • [42:36] “The angel in the office”
  • [44:44] Running an exit interview
  • [45:32] Two dos and a don’t: Applying radical candor

Highlighted Quotes  

“Radical candor should always start with soliciting feedback, not dishing it out. The next step after is to give praise, to back up a little bit and remember what you appreciate about this person and give voice to it.” —Kim Scott, Author of Radical Candor

“Your job in decision making is to decide what needs to be decided, who needs to decide it, and by when. Then liberate them to make the decision.” —Kim Scott, Author of Radical Candor

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking that being authentic means to ignore the impact that your words have on others.” —Kim Scott, Author of Radical Candor 

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Kim Scott


Drew: Hello, Renegade Marketers. I’m excited that you’re here to listen to another episode of Renegade Marketers Unite. This show is brought to you by CMO Huddles, the only marketing community dedicated to inspiring B2B greatness, and that donates 1% of revenue to the Global Penguin Society. Wait, what? Well, it turns out that B2B CMOs and penguins have more in common than you think. Both are highly curious and remarkable problem solvers. Both prevail in harsh environments by working together with peers. And just as a group of penguins is called a Huddle. Over 352 B2B CMOs come together and support each other via CMO Huddles. If you’re a B2B marketer who could share, care, and dare with the best of them, do yourself a favor and dive into CMO Huddles. We even have a free starter program and of course, our robust Leader Program, neither of which requires penguins hat. Thank goodness, join us. And before we get to the episode, let me do a quick shout-out to the professionals at Share Your Genius. We started working with them over a year ago to make this show even better and have been blown away by their strategic and executional prowess. If you’re thinking about starting a podcast or want to turbocharge your current show, be sure to talk to Rachel Downey at shareyourgenius.com and tell her Drew sent you.

Narrator: Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, possibly the best weekly podcast for CMOs and everyone else looking for innovative ways to transform their brand, drive demand,  and just plain cut through. Proving that B2B does not mean boring to business. Here’s your host and Chief Marketing Renegade Drew Neisser.

Drew: Hello, Renegade Marketers. Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite the top-rated podcast for B2B CMOs and other marketing-obsessed individuals. You’re about to listen to a recording of CMO Huddles Studio, our live show featuring the CMOs of CMO Huddles a community that’s sharing, caring, and daring each other to greatness every day of the week. The expert at this enlightening Huddle was renowned author Kim Scott, she graciously joined us to share her profound insights on the transformative power of Radical Candor. Let’s get to it. I’m thrilled that Kim Scott, author of the groundbreaking bestseller Radical Candor is joining us for today’s Career Huddle. If you haven’t read the book, do yourself a favor and get a copy or listen to it as I did. I pulled out dozens of quotes. And we would literally need four hours to cover all of the questions I have for Kim. So I’m hoping we’ll get through most of them today. But let me set the stage with this quote. The ultimate goal of Radical Candor is to achieve results collaboratively that you could never achieve individually. And I love that as a vision for the conversation since the CMO community I mean, you are about getting others to sort of work together to make magic happen. So we’re gonna focus the discussion on how CMOs can apply the tenets of radical candor to their most pressing challenges for the CMOs in the live audience. If you have questions you’d like me to ask, feel free to share those in chat. And with that, hello, Kim, how are you? And where are you?

Kim: I am doing well. I’m thrilled to be here with you all. I am in Los Altos, California in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Drew: Amazing. So can you explain the core concept of radical candor for those in the audience who may be unfamiliar with it?

Kim: Sure. The core idea of radical candor is that you’re going to challenge directly at the same time that you care personally, and I probably should have put care personally first. So when you can care and challenge at the same time. That’s radical candor. When you challenge but you forget to show you care. That’s obnoxious aggression. Sometimes people confuse those things. Maybe I should have called it compassionate candor. And obnoxious aggression is a big problem. It’s a problem because it hurts other people. It’s also a problem because it’s inefficient. If I’m a jerk to you, you go into fight or flight mode, and then you literally can’t hear what I’m saying. So I’m wasting my breath. But it’s also a problem for a more subtle reason. I don’t know about you all. But for me when I realized I’ve acted like a jerk, it is not my instinct to go the right way on care personally. Instead, it’s my instinct to go the wrong way on challenge directly, and then I wind up in the worst place of all manipulative insincerity. And these two things, obnoxious aggression and manipulative insincerity. That’s where drama happens when things go wrong at work, but they are not the most common mistakes. The most common mistake that most people make the vast majority of the time is what happens when we remember to show that we care personally, but we’re so worried about not hurting someone’s feelings or not offending them, that we fail to tell them something they’d be better off knowing in the long run. And that is what I call ruinous empathy. So that’s the radical candor in short,

Drew: Oh, I love it and oh my god, there’s just so many threads going through my mind. First of all the… 

Kim: Sincerity.

Drew: Let’s talk about that a little bit, in that ruinous.

Kim: Empathy.

Drew: Yeah.

Kim: Maybe it would help if I shared a story with you about a moment when I was maybe partly ruinously empathetic, partly manipulatively insincere. What do you think? 

Drew: Perfect. 

Kim: Okay, so I had just hired this guy, and we’ll call him Bob. And I liked Bob a lot. He was smart, he was charming. He was funny, we were at a manager off-site, and it was a startup. And somehow we wound up getting talked into playing one of those endless get-to-know-you games, everybody’s really stressed out. And Bob’s the guy who has the courage to raise his hand. And to say, I can tell everyone is stressed out. And everybody kind of wants to get back to work. I’ve got an idea. It’ll help us get to know each other. And it’ll be really fast. So we can do what we really want to do, which is just get back to work. And he says, let’s just go around the table and confess what candy our parents used when potty training us, really weird, but really fast. Weirder yet, we all remembered Hershey Kisses right here. And then for the next 10 months, every time there was a tense moment in a meeting, Bob would whip out just the right piece of candy for the right person at the right moment. So he brought some levity to the office. Everybody loved working with Bob, one problem with Bob. He was doing terrible work. Absolutely terrible work. I was so puzzled. I couldn’t understand what was going on. Because he had this incredible resume, this great history of accomplishments. I learned much later that the problem was he was smoking pot in the bathroom three times a day. Maybe that explained all that candy that he had at all times. But I didn’t know any of that at the time. All I knew is that he was handing stuff in to me. And there was shame in his eyes. He knew he wasn’t doing good enough work. And I would say something to him along the lines of oh, Bob, this is a great start. You’re so awesome. You’re so smart. We all love working with you. Maybe you can make it just a little bit better. Why did I say that to Bob? I think part of it was truly ruinous empathy. I really did like him. And I really didn’t want to hurt his feelings. But if I’m honest with myself, there was also something a little bit more insidious going on. There was some manipulative insincerity because Bob was popular. And Bob was also very sensitive. And there was part of me that was afraid if I told Bob in no uncertain terms, that his work wasn’t nearly good enough. He would get upset, he might even start to cry, and then everyone would think I was a big you know what? And so the part of me that was worried about my reputation as a leader, that was the manipulative insincerity part, the part of me that was worried about Bob’s feelings, that was the ruinous empathy part. And this went on for 10 months. And eventually the inevitable happened. And I realized that if I didn’t fire Bob, I was gonna lose all my best performers. Because not only had I been unfair to Bob, not to tell him what was going on. I had been unfair to the whole team. And everyone was frustrated, their deliverables were late because Bob’s deliverables were late. They couldn’t spend as much time on their work as they needed to because they were having to redo Bob’s work. And the people who were best at their jobs, were frustrated by this. They wanted to do the best work of their lives, and they couldn’t in this situation, and they were going to quit. So I sat down to have a conversation with Bob that I should have started 10 months previously. And when I finished explaining to him where things stood, he pushed his chair back from the table. He looked me right in the eye, and he said, Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t anyone tell me I thought you all cared about me? And now I realized that thinking I was being so nice by not saying anything to Bob, I’m now having to fire him as a result of it, not so nice after all. It was a terrible moment. It was bad for me. It was much worse for Bob. It was bad for the whole team and it was bad for our investors. We weren’t getting results. Yet, it was too late to save Bob. All I could do in the moment is make myself a very solemn promise that I would never make that mistake again. And that I would do everything in my power to help other people avoid making that mistake because I’m not the only one. Every manager I’ve ever talked to has made some version of that mistake. And that is really why I wrote Radical Candor and I’m talking to you all today.

Drew: I love that story and I had that story. It’s funny in all the CMOs who are listening to this, I know that they know that some of those number twos are underperforming. And that’s such a huge issue, because if they aren’t doing it, the CMO can’t rise. They can’t be the leader that they want to do, because they’re down in the weeds solving the problems. Assuming you recognize that there’s an issue and you recognize that there’s an issue early. What’s the solution here? How’s that conversation go? 

Kim: So there’s an order of operations to radical candor. And it should always start with actually soliciting feedback, not dishing it out. If we go back to Bob, maybe I was doing something that was frustrating poor Bob so much he was forced to toke up in the bathroom three times a day, I don’t know, because I’ve never asked him. So it should always start with soliciting feedback, don’t dish it out until you prove you can take it. And then the other thing that you want to do is you want to give praise, you want to make sure that you’re not suffering from what I call technical debt. But often we also have feedback debt. And sometimes when there’s something that you haven’t said pretty soon, that’s all you notice, when you walk by this person, or when you’re on a call with this person, and you’ve forgotten all the things you appreciate about the person. So the next step after soliciting criticism is to give praise, back up a little bit, and remember what you appreciate about this person and give voice to it. And this is not some kind of like Six Sigma process that I’m talking about, you can do all these things this afternoon. Now you’ve laid the groundwork for giving criticism. And before I talk about giving criticism, I want to say something about the feedback sandwich. The problem with it is that when you’re trying to give feedback using this sandwich technique, you’re using praise as sort of a criticism delivery platform. And that is not the right way to use praise. Praise is important on its own, praise should be specific and sincere and you should spend as much time making sure that you’re getting the details right on the praise you give, as you do for criticism. Simple hint about praise. If it’s something you would say to your dog, it’s not helpful praise.

Drew: So, good boy, attaboy.

Kim: Yeah. Good job. You’re so great. I love you. It’s good to say those things. But that is not specific, sincere praise, you’re the best. None of those things are great praise. What you want to do is now that you have given praise that is specific, and sincere, and you’ve solicited some criticism, you want to think about how to have this impromptu two-minute conversation with the person. And this is going to be fast, it’s free, but it takes enormous emotional discipline. Somebody told me recently that offering someone criticism is like a moment of existential dread for them. And so how do you go into this two-minute impromptu conversation? You want to make sure that you’re being humble? I call it candor and not truth. Because to me, candor implies that you’re saying, here’s how I understand the situation. But I also want to know how you understand the situation. It’s a conversation, it’s not a monologue. If you go in saying, I’m going to tell you the truth, you know, you’re kind of implying like, I’ve got a pipeline to God, and you don’t know anything and that’s not a great way to start a conversation. So you want to be humble. You want to state your intention to be helpful. You want to do this right away. And by the way, all these tips apply to both praise and criticism. The purpose of praise is to tell people what to do, more of the purpose of criticism is to tell them what to do less of. So you want to make sure that you’re doing it right away. Why wait until they make the mistake again and again? Or why wait, if you want them to do more of it, you want them to do more of it now, not in two months. In the before times I used to say have these conversations in person, now I say have them synchronously. The phone is actually your best medium for these conversations. And if you are in person, take a walk. And if you’re gonna have a synchronous but virtual conversation, use the phone The reason is that when we’re staring at each other, there may be more noise than signal and facial expressions and body language. We all imagine that we interpret these things perfectly, but we rarely do. So have the conversation either in person or on the phone. And then you want to praise in public, criticize in private, and you don’t want to give someone either praise or criticism about their personality, you don’t want to say you’re a genius. You also don’t say you’re stupid. You want to use context, observation, result, next step. In the meeting, when you said every third word it made you sound stupid, go visit the speech coach, or in the meeting, that’s the context, when you argued both sides of the discussion, that’s the observation, you earned credibility. That’s the result. Do more of that. That’s the next step. So that’s kind of the mindset to go into the conversation. But the conversation told me the first step because next you have to gauge how it’s landing.

Drew: Let me interrupt you on a couple things, one, because when this becomes a podcast, someone is going to digest all this, and I need to help them do this. So let’s do that. One of the things that I want to just throw in there, which goes way back early, soliciting feedback, in the book, you have this line, “What could I do or stop doing that it would make it easier to work with me.” And I love that line and it’s just a great way of starting a conversation to say hit me? Right? And it’s funny, you mentioned the dog thing because I think that quote came up when some dog trainer saw you not disciplining your dog, and that person said to you, it’s not mean, it’s clear. So anyway, two great quotes about caring personally and challenging directly. Has there ever been a time when someone you said, “What can I do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?” And then they said, “Yeah, be somebody else.”

Kim: Yes, more often than I like to think. So what do you do in that moment? When you disagree? You solicited feedback. And by the way, I like my question. But if you don’t like my question, that’s fine. In fact, I recommend don’t write down my question. Because if you all sound like Kim Scott and not like yourselves, then people won’t believe you want to know the answer. In fact, when I was working with Crystal Corals at Open Table, she said to me, I could never imagine your words coming out of my mouth. The question I like to ask is, tell me why I’m wrong. Okay, that’s fine, too. So write down your own question. I think one of the things that can really help in that moment is to remember, don’t just say thank you for the feedback, if you disagree, because the other person is going to hear something much less polite than that, they’re going to feel like you’re just brushing them off. And they’re never going to give you feedback again. So you want to take a moment and look for the five or 10% of whatever they said, that you can agree to, you probably don’t disagree with 100% of everything they just said. So listen, with the intent to understand and the intent to find some area of agreement and give voice to that just to demonstrate that you are listening to make your listening tangible. And that’s what you want to do is you want to say let me think about the rest of it, and then get back to you. And then you’ve got to get back to them. Because very often, when you’re having a disagreement, you feel like if you explain why you disagree, it’s going to present a challenge to your relationship. Many of the best relationships I ever formed in my career started with a good, respectful disagreement. So explaining why you disagree can be actually a great word for that candor. At some point, you can’t argue endlessly. You got to listen, challenge, commit. And if you have a disagreement, and you’re not sure that you’re right, and you’re not sure that the other person is right, especially if you’re in a position of some authority, the more often you can defer to the other person, the better. So for example, Rustler Away, who I started a company with and worked with at Google, he used to tell his team, if we have data, let’s do what the data says. But if all we have are opinions, let’s do what you think. But he would still share what he thought. And that is a great way to reward the candor.  

Drew: You’re about to go to sort of the next step, you’ve solicited the feedback. You wanted to sort of talk about some other steps.  

Kim: There are four steps to soliciting feedback. So we skipped to the last one, reward the candor The first thing is to write down your go-to question. So if all of you listening can take out a pen and write down, what’s the question you’re going to ask, Who are you going to ask it to? And when are you going to ask it? When should be today or tomorrow, or today or Monday, then our time today will be very well spent. The next thing you have to do once you’ve asked your question is you’ve got to listen with the intent to understand not to respond, because no matter how good your question is, you probably are not going to make the other person feel comfortable. The only way out of this discomfort is through. And so the simplest tip I have for you is close your mouth and count to six. So the other person will probably say something. This brings us to the third step. The third step is to make sure that you’re listening with the intent to understand not to respond. simplest technique I have here is to ask some follow-up questions. My daughter said to me the other day, “Mom, I wish you weren’t the radical candor lady.” And immediately this wave of parental guilt washed over me, I thought I’m spending too much time at work. And then I felt well, I should make sure I’m listening with the intent to understand. So I asked a follow-up question. I said, Who do you wish I were. And she said, I wish you were the lady who minded her own business. So I can go spend a little more time at work as far as she was concerned. So you want to make sure that you’re really asking those follow-up questions so that you really understand what they’re saying. And then the fourth step is to reward the candor. So we already talked about what to do if you disagree. If you agree with the feedback, what you want to do is you want to make sure that you fix the problem. Again, it’s not enough to say thank you for the feedback, you want to make your listening tangible by fixing the problem that has been brought to your attention.  

Drew: So all of this so far in framing it is about working with your team, the folks that report to you and we talked about just the importance of the problem of ruinous empathy and the importance of being candid and constructive. I want to shift gears a little bit because right now, I’m anticipating a major crisis for CMOs in that something like, and this was a Gartner study, three out of four B2B CMOs are reporting that their budgets are flat for 2024. But their P firms, their CEO, their CFO are expecting 25% growth or more. So there’s this massive disconnect. And there’s an absence of radical candor, if you will, because this is magical thinking. And the CMO is gonna have some really hard conversations, is there a way to shift radical candor, when you’re having a conversation with your boss?

Kim: Absolutely. In theory, radical candor works the same way up, down, and sideways. And by the way, you can also use it at home with your spouse or your kids, it is always a good idea to begin with soliciting feedback. And if you’re soliciting feedback from your boss, there’s a couple of nuances, you want to make sure that you understand your boss’s perspective on what you’re doing. And you also want to make sure that you understand the pressure that your boss is under, and what’s worrying them, or your boss probably feels just as stressed as you do right now, in this environment. So you want to make sure that you understand where your boss is coming from, and that you’re rewarding the candor from your boss. And then when it comes to giving praise, I think we’re often reluctant to give praise to our boss, because it feels like kissing up. But the fact of the matter is when you take an extra beat, to express gratitude, to tell your boss what you appreciate, you do a couple of things. One, you make yourself happier, you make them happier, you prove your relationship, but also you tell them what to do more of, often a boss doesn’t know they’re doing something that’s very helpful to you, but they don’t know it’s helpful to you. And so you want them to do more of that. For example, I was working with a team recently. And they’re going through some real serious turmoil. And I sent a note to the leader of that team and said, What I appreciated about the team. And I said, I know you’re going through a lot of turmoil, you don’t even need to reply to this email. And I know there’s not that much I can do right now. But just know I’m here for you, you know, and so that can be a helpful thing to do. So you’ve solicited feedback, you’ve given some praise. And now it’s time to give some criticism. I think that one of the things that you can do to make it safe is you want to start in sort of a neutral place and then you want to gauge how it lands. And by the way, this gauging of your feedback is also helpful with everyone but especially with your boss. If your boss seems sad or mad when you give them the feedback, that’s your cue to move up on the care personally dimension but especially if someone’s mad, it’s pretty hard. I mean, it’s tempting to start yelling back. So get curious, not furious if that’s happening. And if your boss brushes your feedback off, now, you’ve got to go out further than feels comfortable on the challenge directly dimension and that can be scary, but I was talking to a woman who had just gotten a new job on me Wall Street working for someone who had a reputation as the biggest jerk on Wall Street. So she was a little nervous about this. And she adopted this mantra, “There is only love.” And what she meant was she was not going to talk badly about this guy, to anyone, even her own husband, she was going to make sure that she was focusing on the stuff she appreciated about him. But when he did something that she disagreed with, or that frustrated her, she was gonna go tell him directly. And it turned out he actually appreciated that. So speaking truth to power is an important part of radical candor. But I want to acknowledge that it feels tricky.

Drew: Yeah, I’m imagining the praise going something like this. “I really love the way you stood up for marketing against the CFO and their unrealistic expectations.”

Kim: That’s a great example. Thank you for that manipulatively and sincere praise.

Drew: Yes. So I’m still not convinced that we’re there yet. Because if we ask the CEO, and we say, “How’s it going, how am I doing?” And they say, “Well, you realize how much pressure I’m on? They’re asking you to grow the company 25%? What are you going to do to help me grow the company 25% next year.” And you’re looking at saying, Wait, not only is my budget down from where we would not only did we not hit our growth targets this year, but now suddenly, I’m supposed to take the same amount, which is gonna go less far because of inflation.

Kim: It’s tricky. I think you’ll want to say no in a way that strengthens your relationships. So there was a marketing executive at Apple, when the iPad was about to launch was told that she needed to support that launch. But there was gonna be no increase in headcount no increase in budget. So this seemed like Mission Impossible, understandably, to her. So what she did was she sat down with her boss and like, understood, what were the company priorities. And she realized there were a bunch of things that she usually did for the iPod team that she just was not going to do this year, in order to support the iPad launch. She went to that team immediately. First, she went to her boss and said, I’m not going to do these iPod things. Bad news early is the key. She didn’t wait to tell the iPod team that she wasn’t going to support her Christmas sales. And so they were going to have to figure out what they were going to do about that. Those were hard conversations that it’s tempting to kick the can down the road. But the fact that she was able to have them early, and to prioritize appropriately, and to figure out if she was going to do these important things, something was going to have to give, and she needed to be very explicit about what those things were that needed to give. So that’s an example of handling a hard situation reasonably well. 

Drew: Agree. So I’m shifting gears slightly, but I remember a quote in the book that said, I was laser-focused on getting stuff done and fast. That slowed me down in the end, I’m thinking of a lot of CMOs, who are in fact laser laser-focused and are expected to get a lot done in a short period of time, what went wrong for you? And what’s the lesson here for the folks in the audience?

Kim: So this happened shortly after I joined Google, I had five direct reports. And three of them quit. They didn’t quit Google, but they joined other teams at Google in one week, I thought, oh, my gosh, I’m gonna get fired. I remember like driving out to the coast and watching the ocean and thinking, are they going to pay for me to go back to New York when they fire me, and I went to talk to my boss who said, Look, you jumped too fast execution. And we sort of developed what I call the get stuff done wheel and it always starts with listening, you want to listen to your team, you want to understand what’s going on for them, what they’re gonna do, what they’re not going to do, and make it safe for them to talk to you about what their priorities are just like, in an ideal world, your CEO is making it safe for you. They’re probably not, but that’s okay. You can make it safe for your team, then you want to help them clarify their thinking before you send their thinking into the rough and tumble debate. So I’m thinking of doing this, I’m thinking of not doing that, and use your one-on-one time for that. New ideas are so easily crushed, and you need to make sure you’re creating space for new ideas to flourish, to make sure that you’re incorporating thinking from your team. Then you’re getting close to making your thinking about a decision before you make a decision about this new idea that your team had. You need to have a debate and you need to include cross-functional peers in that debate, anybody who’s going to be impacted by the decision needs to be brought into the debate so that once the decision is made, they don’t feel like they were robbed of their opportunity to have a voice. And then you need to push your decisions into the facts. So your job and decision-making is really to decide what needs to be decided who needs to decide it, and by when do they need to decide and then liberate them to make the decision. And you also want to make it clear when you’re having a debate that at the end of this is not going to be a decision, you’re getting your facts on the table, and there’ll be a different meeting where you make a decision, or maybe it’s the same meeting. But the first half is for debate. But you want to make that very clear, because very often, there’s a lot of turn around half the people are there to make a decision, half the people are there to have a debate. And pretty soon instead of talking about the thing, they’re yelling at each other, you’re jumping to conclusions, and you’re not, you know, so you want to make that clear. So now you’ve gone through this long process of listening, clarifying, debating, deciding, it’s tempting to start executing. But first, you’ve got to persuade the people who weren’t along for that whole ride, that this is the right thing to do. And persuasion is very different from listening, clarifying, debating, deciding, when you persuade people, you need to stay focused not just on the rationale, but also on their emotions. So you need to make sure that you’re clear in your mind about not only what are the relevant and determinative factors that went into that decision, but what’s the persuasive factor that went in the decision, now it’s time to start executing, but don’t say too long on implementing whatever the idea is, now you got to learn whether it worked or not, and start this wheel all over again, this is how we get things done collectively. And it can feel like it’s a waste of time. But it’s not, you’ll get more done faster. If you make sure you’re moving through this get stuff done wheel, not getting stuck in any one step. But making sure that everyone is participating, because there is a tax, when we collaborate, there’s a collaboration tax, and you want to minimize that tax. But you also want to make sure that everyone is paying their fair share of that tax.  

Drew: Okay, a lot to unpack there. Yes, we could do a whole session on persuasion. And I suspect we will need to do that. A couple quick little punctuation points I want to put on knowing the difference in a meeting between debating and deciding. And I was thinking about that just in our organization, we have a tendency to have our status meetings, and then something will come up or recognize a problem, we’ll talk about it, and then we decide. And that feels really good. But in fact, we really needed to sleep on it a little bit.  

Kim: I was at a startup that was growing or when I was at Google, the same thing would always happen in my staff meeting, as things grew. Is that pretty soon, it took more and more time because we were trying to make decisions in the staff meeting. And then everyone who was in the meeting felt like it was a waste of time, and everyone who wasn’t in the meeting felt sad and bad and left out. So I made a very clear rule, we will never make a decision in a staff meeting, we’re going to have a separate big decisions meeting. And we’re going to publish to everyone on the team, what the agenda is, and anyone can come. That’s an open meeting. And at first, the big decision meetings tended to be too big, but people really don’t love to be in meetings. And so pretty soon it was self-selecting, only the people who needed to be there were there.

Drew: I love the expression, minimize the collaboration tax and I just want to clarify this. In particular, this is a case where there’s a lot of managing sideways in the CMO job, you have to have a partnership with your CRO and a lot of things don’t work if that partnership isn’t, and let’s say you decide to do something big like an ABM program. You know, that’s where a lot of folks are renaming it from Account Based Marketing to Account Based Marketing and sales or some other way to say we own this together. But I just want to go back to this minimizing the collaboration tax. We’ve got folks involved, and marketing may do the preliminary but then we need to get sales involved just talk about when to involve sales. And again, the notion of applying radical candor to your peers, as opposed to your boss or your direct reports.  

Kim: Yeah. So I think in terms of decision-making, I would recommend involving your cross-functional peers at the debate stage, involve them earlier, it’s tempting to not to include them in the debate and the decision parts, but it’s going to be much harder to persuade them if you haven’t involved them earlier. So I think that is a key thing is you need to make sure that when you’re having the debate, you’re inviting all of the people who are going to be impacted by the decision. You can’t require them to come, but at least send them the meeting notes, right? If they can’t come. So I think that’s really important, I think in terms of cross-functional collaboration and cross-functional radical candor, again, the same basic four steps apply, you want to start by soliciting it, you want to make sure you’re taking time to build your relationship and stay focused on the things you appreciate about the people who you’re working with cross-functionally, and you want to not allow too much feedback to enter into that relationship. I think often we feel like there’s no point in having these radically candid conversations. If we can’t punish the person with bad ratings, or threaten that we’re not going to promote them. But I don’t think that’s true. I mean, radical candor is really about development. It’s not about performance management. And it hooks into the intrinsic desire to succeed, to do good work to grow, and to build good relationships at work. So I think that it works just as well when you’re not in a reporting chain. In fact, it’s really the only tool you have, since you don’t control usually their ratings or promotions.

Drew: And again, there’s a codependency, particularly with sales, but even you know, thinking about the CFO relationship, and so forth. So there’s a nuance in the book that I thought was so interesting, the difference between a rock star and a superstar. Can you talk about why the CMO should want one more than the other?

Kim: So when I think about my team, and who to promote, and that sort of thing, I would try to really distinguish between people who are in rockstar mode and superstar mode. And the mode part of that is really important. It’s tempting to use the term rockstar as a label for people. But we’re all in different modes at different moments in our career. So people when they’re in rockstar mode, they are doing great work, their performance is exceptional, but they’re not necessarily gunning for the next job. In fact, they don’t want your job, they don’t want your boss’s job, they don’t want to be Steve Jobs, they just want to do their job. And if you don’t screw it up for them, they will often do that job very well, for many years. And so you want to make sure that you’re honoring people when they’re in rockstar mode and not promoting them. But also, you don’t want to save up all your high ratings and bonuses for people who are in superstar mode, because that then is unfair to the people in rockstar mode. So superstar mode, those are the people who are wanting to grow super quickly in their career. Sometimes I call it shooting star mode, because they may not be on your team very long, and may go off and do something else. But they are not only great at the current job, they’re actually operating at the next level already. And when people are in superstar mode, you need to keep giving them new challenges, you probably are going to need to make sure they understand their path to promotion, you also are going to need to make sure that who is on their bench in case they wind up like a shooting star and not a superstar. And you need both, your people in superstar mode, foster growth, people in rockstar mode foster stability, and you need to balance growth and stability on every team. I mean, there are some moments in time when you need more people in superstar mode because it’s unpredictable what’s going to happen next, people are gonna have to flex and all kinds of different ways. But there are also times you need people who are in rockstar mode, I hope that every pilot on every plane I ever fly is in rockstar mode. I don’t need them learning how to be stunt pilots, I need them to land the plane.

Drew: Love it. I think a really important one is the idea of growth management and the growth management framework and why this is so relevant to CMOs.

Kim: Yes, absolutely. I think very often, at least at a lot of companies where I worked, as we were doing sort of talent planning, we would use this thing called a nine box which asks you to judge people on performance and potential. And I’m going to assert that there is no such thing as a low-potential person. And so I don’t like that framework very much. Instead, I prefer growth management. And so growth management helps you understand what kind of growth trajectory a person is on, and also how well they’re doing in their current role. And so when someone is on a steep growth trajectory, they’re in superstar mode when they’re on a more gradual growth trajectory they are on rockstar mode, but then there’s also people in the middle who are performing well. But maybe they’re not knocking your socks off. So what do you do to manage those people in the middle? It is tempting sometimes to label those people as B players. But I’m also going to assert, there’s no such thing as a B player, everybody can excel, everyone can do exceptional work at something, everyone can’t be exceptional at everything. And so it is your job to push people when they’ve been sort of quarter after quarter met expectations, but never exceeded them, give them projects where they can exceed where they can demonstrate exceptional performance. And if they can’t, maybe encourage them to go find someplace where they can. And then in terms of the growth management framework, there are also people who are not performing. And for those people, you need to sort of figure out if this is someone who you’ve already explained the expectations to, and you’ve given them a lot of feedback, and they’re still not performing. It’s probably time to manage that personnel. But there also may be people who are not performing, and it’s your fault, not their fault. Those are the look-yourself-in-the-mirror, folks. Maybe it’s because it’s a bad fit. And you need to encourage them to go work somewhere else at the company, maybe you haven’t explained the role well enough, maybe they haven’t gotten the training they need. But I think especially in these times, we really cannot afford to keep people on our teams who are not doing great work. It is not an act of kindness for that person or for the rest of the team to let people linger when they’re failing to perform.

Drew: Yeah, and I want to just make a point about that is you may be putting off the decision because you just don’t want to have that conversation. But the ripple effect on your team is a lot more than you think. Because they know who’s underperforming. They know who the rockstars and the superstars are and they count themselves on. And they see this person who’s getting away with what they call murder. It’s a drag for the whole team. And I think going through this book, it really reminded me that crass way of thinking of this is, you know, hire slowly, fire quickly. But there’s truth in there in that you got to deal with the issues that are there, you need a team right now that can really deliver. 

Kim: And if we go back to that Bob story, I was not doing Bob any favors. I was not doing the team any favors. I was not doing myself any favors, and I was not doing our investors any favors not to deal with Bob’s poor performance.

Drew: The quote that sort of sums that up, I think is “Care personally, but kill the angel in the office.”

Kim: Yeah, so the angel in the office, I talk a lot more about this in my next book, which is called Radical Respect. But very often, it is hard to be radically candid across difference. Like for me, as a woman in the workplace, it was very hard. Sometimes I would be what I felt was radically candid, and I would get unjustly accused of obnoxious aggression. This is like the abrasive problem. I don’t know if you read this but there’s a great article by Keiran Snyder, who’s the founder of Textio, about how in performance management, very often a man and a woman will have done the same thing. And what will be said of the man as well, he’s aggressive, but he has to be to get the job done. And what will be said of the woman is, she’s abrasive, you know, we’re gonna give her a poor rating. The problem with getting that kind of bias really, that is masquerading as feedback, especially for me earlier in my career is that it was tempting for me to go the wrong way on challenge directly, and to try to be liked. And that was a disaster. Then the other thing, I found that as a woman, I was dragged too high up on the care personally dimension, you know, people expected me to do the equivalent of bake cupcakes for the whole office, which I wasn’t going to do that. And there’s a wonderful essay by Virginia Woolf, about how the job of the woman writer is to kill the angel in the house. And what she meant by that was, she was referring to this Victorian poem about how women are so wonderful because they have no wants and needs of their own. They just exist to serve the needs of the men around. And she said, “No, we’re not going to give any credence to that idea.” And I think Virginia Woolf, although she had a huge impact did not manage to kill the angel in the house. Instead, the angel left the house and went into the office sometimes. So I think, sort of dealing with those expectations is really important.

Drew: One last question, one from the audience about exit interviews and how that can help. I mean, you’re going to make a decision and there’s going to be an exit. So now what is that an opportunity?

Kim: Absolutely, I think that someone has left your team. Maybe it’s regretted attrition and maybe they left because you fired them. Either way, I think it’s a really good idea to have an exit interview. Because in this moment someone’s leaving your team and they’re more likely to be honest. So it’s a great opportunity to solicit feedback. And you may learn something that you didn’t know before in that exit interview. So never miss the opportunity to solicit feedback and an exit interview.

Drew: Okay. All right. So we’re gonna wrap up this and I’d love to get your final words of wisdom. So if you could give us two do’s and one don’t when it comes to CMOs applying radical candor.

Kim: So, do solicit feedback from everyone, whether up down sideways, do solicit feedback. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that being authentic means to ignore the impact that your words have on others. So don’t be obnoxiously aggressive. And more importantly, don’t be ruinously empathetic, don’t pull your punches in a way that causes you to fail to communicate. Don’t make the mistake that I made with Bob. 

Drew: All right, I appreciate it. And I’m just going to throw in another thought that you had in the book, which is giving a trophy to employ that says, you are right, and I was wrong. 

Kim: That is a great way, that’s a do, do make your listening tangible. I was on the sales side and one of our customers had given us a big glass trophy. And I didn’t know what to do with this thing. So I decided it was the I was wrong, you were right statue. And I would put it on people’s desk as a way to try to make my listening tangible, but also to make it fun to disagree with me.

Drew: Love it. All right. Well, Kim Scott, thank you so much for joining us. Where can people find you? And when should they hire you?

Kim: You can hire me today. So if you go to radicalcandor.com, you can see the talks and workshops that we do. We also made a sitcom about radical candor. You can also find our podcast there. Listen to the Radical Candor podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you search for radical candor, you’re bound to find it. And you can also check out my new book, which is called Radical Respect. You can pre-order that on Amazon. 

Drew: All right, I’ll get in line when we hang up. But Kim, thank you so much for being here. Amazing conversation, really appreciate you and all the work that you’re doing. So thank you.

Kim: Thank you and I would be the world’s biggest hypocrite if I didn’t end by asking what could I have done make it easier for you all to be radically candid. Radical candor at radicalcandor.com.

Drew: There it is. Alright.

To hear more conversations like this one and submit your own questions while we’re live. Join us on the next CMO Huddles Studio, we stream to my LinkedIn profile that’s Drew Neisser, every other week.

Show Credits

For more interviews with innovative marketers, visit Renegade.com/podcasts and hit that subscribe button! Renegade Marketers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Hey, that’s me! This show is produced by Melissa Caffrey, Laura Parkyn, Ishar Cuevas, and our B2B podcast partners Share Your Genius. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro Voice Over is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about B2B branding, CMO Huddles, or my CMO coaching service, check out renegade.com. I’m your host, Drew Neisser. And until next time, keep those Renegade thinking caps on and strong!