group fightingI was intrigued by the recent article in the Wall Street Journal (registration or subscription may be required), entitled: “Nice is a Four-Letter Word at Companies Practicing Radical Candor.” The opening of the article offers:

Companies from advertising firm Deutsch Inc. to hedge fund Bridgewater Associates are pushing workers to drop the polite workplace veneer and speak frankly to each other no matter what. The practice is referred to at some companies as “radical candor,” a “mokita” or “front-stabbing.”

Imagine the start-up of a new program introducing radical candor in a culture where the norm has been more collegial and reserved in communication and criticism:

(Said tongue in cheek): “Finally! Bob, I’ve been waiting for years to tell you what a jerk you really are. And Mary, you should seriously consider a new career because you suck at the current one. Jeff, I know your the new accountant here, but I truly believe you that you couldn’t tell your rear end from a contra-account.”

The sudden introduction of radical candor in most of our organizations would take on the demeanor of the movie, “Liar, Liar,” where the principal character, a lawyer, is suddenly unable tell a lie to hilarious outcomes. (The lawyer not lying sounds like serious fiction.) While the sudden candor makes for some funny situations in the movie, I’m not certain too many would be laughing in our offices. As one recipient of someone’s radically candid observations offered in the article, “…the unvarnished feedback cut me to the bone.”  A good biting, bone-cutting comment from a co-worker is better than an energy drink for my motivation.

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsIn all candor, (I couldn’t resist), environments where people struggle to communicate openly about business issues and performance and behavioral issues don’t need a new program, they need new leadership and management.

Individuals struggle to talk openly and respectfully about the big issues because management stinks. (Hey, I’m getting the hang of this radical candor!) The ability to talk clearly and even directly about the important issues is a function of how effective management has been in imbuing the culture with the quality of accountability and the values of honesty and continuous improvement. The lack of candor in the workplace reflects the absence of those values and the presence of fear of reprisal from those in positions of authority.

In particular, the often elusive quality of accountability is the life-blood of high performance and continuous learning, and where it is lacking, everyone suffers—often in silence. Accountability is key and king when it comes to promoting a healthy workplace environment built around open and honest communication.

At Least 7 Benefits of an Environment of Accountability:

  1. People understand their jobs and what’s expected of them.
  2. Everyone understands what’s expected of everyone else.
  3. Performance gaps are easily identified and traced to the source.
  4. Teams and groups self-police accountability with their team members.
  5. Discussion around the tough topics is a regular, comfortable occurrence.
  6. Accountability promotes continuous learning and improvement.
  7. The chances of negative surprises are minimized.

And yes, even in long dysfunctional cultures, accountability can be fostered and cultivated, and openness in communicating can be strengthened. All it takes is transplanting those in charge with leaders who care. Investing in a gimmicky program is a band-aid for the wounds created by a bigger problem.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Instead of tacking on what is likely to be a disastrous and potentially personally destructive program that breeds fear in an already dysfunctional workplace environment, make it simpler and teach and expect accountability from yourself and others. When it fails to show up, bring it up. This isn’t a program you add on to your firm, openness and honesty are core values and a way of life.

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Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator/adviser. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.