Radical Candor—A Band-Aid for Lack of Accountability

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.

Read more in the Art of Managing Series.

Read Art’s All-New Management and Leadership writing at About.com

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.



Leadership Caffeine™—Fight to Eliminate Obstacles

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveWhat are the obstacles in front of your team and how hard are you working at knocking them down? Chances are you can and should be working harder at this critical task. 

A number of years ago, I was responsible for the product and marketing activities of a prototype systems division inside one of the world’s largest consumer electronics firms. It was and is one of my favorite roles of my career, and a firm I hold in high regard for its commitment to a strong set of core values. Nonetheless, like most large firms, it had rules and a bureaucracy to inform and enforce the rules.

Our business unit was unique inside the broader corporation. We were effectively helping the firm learn in real-time about what it took to manufacture highly specialized hardware supported by our own software for very specific vertical applications. Everything about the business was different from the firm’s consumer electronics or industrial components businesses. However, when it came to the rules and processes of conducting business and managing our unit, we were held accountable to the same guidelines that governed all of the businesses. Given our charter, this made little sense in a number of circumstances, however, it was the “law” within our corporate walls.

As we were embarking upon a new venture, I was charged with building the team needed for success. I carefully tailored the role descriptions and sat down with my regional H.R. representative who pulled off a fat, dusty book and set it down on her desk in front of me with a resounding thud!

“What’s that?” I asked.

“This is the approved position and title book. If the job you are asking for isn’t in here, I can’t approve it.”

My eloquent response was something like, “Huh?” as I was momentarily dumbfounded over the idea that our new business was going to be limited by an old collection of roles and titles.

Needless to say, there was no match for my job. I responded by booking an airline ticket to our corporate headquarters and justifying my new position to a series of increasingly higher ranked H.R. executives. When I reached the top, he approved the new position in about 5 seconds, reinforcing my faith in humanity and good business sense. He also handed me the form required to ensure the role made it into the “book,” taking the shine off of my new-found faith just a bit.

You Own the Role of Knocking Down Obstacles:

Bad managers and lousy leaders spend most of their time enforcing the rules. Effective leaders and the managers you and I want to work for seek out the rules and conventions blocking progress and knock them down—sometimes with finesse and sometimes with brute force.

What I observe in mostly old and tired firms is an irrational pride in seemingly tried and true processes and rules. Most of these conventions exist to restrict the ability to freelance or go maverick within the organization. They made sense when the goal of the organization was to control employees. However, in today’s very different era, these controlling rules and processes restrict creativity and innovation. Allow these outdated control mechanisms to rust in place over time, and your firm risks being rendered obsolete by market forces and disruptive entrants.

I’ve also observed firms rejuvenate, in-part, by throwing out the old rule books and allowing employees to explore and develop new approaches to solving problems and creating value. This requires courageous leaders and leadership.

How courageous are you? While you might not hold the power needed to transform your organization’s approaches wholesale, most revolutions start with a single shot.

5 Starter Ideas to Help You Initiate a Positive Revolution:

1. Pay attention and learn about the “administrative overhead” slowing your team members down in their pursuits. Ask and observe. Take on some of the compliance and process burden yourself and develop a body of evidence that will support your cry to adapt processes and strike out rules that effectively are shooting your firm in both feet.

2. Keep it positive. While your gut may tell you to rail at the dumb-a@@ rules, your brain should take control and help you propose positive change designed to enable faster response to customers and improved organizational results. If I would have attacked the ridiculousness of the “position book” in my earlier example, I would have lost. I focused on the key objectives of our unit as they fit with the corporation’s objectives. I created the unarguable argument and gained approval to complete my mission.

3. Seek first to understand intentions. Always assess what it is that the rules and bureaucrats are striving to prevent or protect. Good negotiators and great salespeople understand the interests of their opponents or prospects and strive to meet those interests, but in unique ways.

4. Build coalitions to drive broader change. Operating as a solo mercenary is interesting and exciting, but building a coalition to promote change is the key to an effective internal revolution against the tyranny of anachronistic rules and processes. Armed with first-hand perspective (based on #1), work to identify other stakeholders that will gain from changing the rules. Make certain to include your boss in this coalition. You need to both protect her and make her a hero.

5. Know your role. Remember that you are the shield—the last wall of defense between your team members and the misguided efforts of the process imposers and rule-makers. Live this role daily. Just make certain your team produces or, you will be overrun.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Wherever groups gather and firms form, both healthy rules and processes and unhealthy rules and processes emerge. The conventions that ensure ethics, fairness, freedom from harassment and compliance with the laws of the land are off-limits. Every other procedure and process that restricts your team’s freedom to explore, experiment and innovate is fair game for change or extinction. Good hunting!

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See more posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. 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.

Art’s Leadership & Management Writing for the Week Ending 1/2/16

NewsflashIn case you missed it:

At the Management Excellence Blog:

Writing as the Management and Leadership Expert at About.com:

  • Everything I Know About Managing I Learned Playing Video Games: OK, while the title is a stretch, perhaps we as managers can take a lesson or three from the game designers who have turned work into fun, cracked the code on engagement and possibly enabled the most powerful problem-solving approach known to human-kind.
  • Seven Ideas to Strengthen Your Team’s Performance: In today’s workplace, teams are the engines of innovation, problem-solving and everything new. However, high performance teams don’t spontaneously generate. As a leader, you’re accountable for the hard work of building the environment for performance to emerge. Here are some tips to help your cause.
  • Want to Lead? Consider Becoming a Project Manager. Project Managers are the unsung heroes of our corporate world for all of their efforts and results to translate ideas and customer needs into reality by guiding and groups in pursuit of something unique. The role is also a remarkable leadership training ground. Here are some thoughts on focusing your leadership development efforts in this remarkable field.
  •  Developing as a Manager in an Era of Uncertainty. Today’s and tomorrow’s managers face some profoundly complicated challenges. In my lead-off post as the Management and Leadership Expert at About.com, I share some thoughts on cultivating the skills needed for success in this difficult role.

That’s all for the week. It’s forward and onward with the new year and new week. And remember that success as a leader is built one encounter at a time. Make them all count! 

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The Inner Game of Leading and Your New Year’s Resolutions

best practice on blackboardFor the past few transitions to the new year, I’ve reposted my “A Leader’s Resolutions are Calendar Blind” article, suggesting that we need a bit more frequent refresh than this annual once per year, open-season on resolution resets. While I stand behind the suggestions in the post, my thinking has evolved a bit during this past year.

In my opinion, a daily refresh isn’t too frequent—and in this world of complexity and change, it might not be enough.

A bit of background is in order.

I had the great fortune thanks to a client engagement to dig in to the very important topic of leading and leadership in dangerous situations. Sadly, this century has thus far been marked by global turmoil, war and violence, and as a result, we’ve developed a body of research on the challenges, issues and practices that work (and don’t work) in dangerous settings.

  • General Stanley McChrystal and his team have suggested an entire new approach to managing and teaming in his excellent book, Team of Teams.
  • A 2011 publication, “Leadership in Dangerous Situations,” offers some outstanding research-backed guidance on the practices and approaches that work in both modern combat and first-responder situations.

At least one of the core themes in all of these works is the need for the leader to internalize and constantly execute on his/her role in distinct ways because of (not in spite of) the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) in these situations.

In the business world, two important works suggest the need for new approaches to leading:

  • The Attacker’s Advantage by Ram Charan suggests combatting VUCA by going on the offensive and striving to see and seize opportunities in all of the noise.
  • No Ordinary Disruption by Dobbs and Manyika (and the McKinsey Team) offers up a view to the unparalleled and profoundly powerful macro forces impacting the global economy and business environment. Surviving and thriving in this environment surely demands new approaches to leading and managing.

What’s a Leader to Do?

The behaviors that everyone of us can list chapter and verse that reflect our traditional view of effective leadership still hold, but they’re not enough.

There’s a new dimension in business—the need for speed around innovation, problem-solving, opportunity development and execution, coupled with the need to promote safety and security in what is ostensibly an unsafe and insecure environment. These factors suggest that today’s successful leaders cultivate a stronger sense of purpose and role and work tirelessly to reinforce this role. I referenced this in earlier posts this year as, the “Inner Game of Leading”.

How does this relate to your new year’s resolutions to be a better leader, you ask?

Here are my suggestions for supporting your growth, development and daily effectiveness in the new year.

4 Big Ideas to Renew Your Leadership Effectiveness Daily:

1. Rethink your role. Today’s leader must offer “burden relief” to his/her team members. Take the environmental problems away and do everything possible every day to allow your team members to apply their creativity and talents to their core work. Uncomplicate things for them!

2. Decomplexify. (Yes. I’m minting words in this post.) Ambiguity in our markets is the order of the day. You need to actively strive to take the complexity out of the situation and allow your team members to focus on taking bite-sized chunks out of the elephantine level of challenges in front of them.

3. Practice “adjusting your own attitude” every morning before work. Take a few minutes in the parking lot at the coffee shop or at your desk before the craziness starts and focus on what you can do to best support your team members. It’s likely not about barking orders or running an endless series of status update meetings. If you are spiritual, consider incorporating or adapting your own variation of the Jesuit practice of The Daily Examen.

4. Learn to care about your team members. Show it and mean it! Beyond displaying competence, the notion that the leader “cared” for team members and their safety and security is consistently listed as the most critical credibility builder for leaders in dangerous situations. While most of us aren’t facing the daily hostilities of our treasured men and women in the armed forces, we are dealing with people who will respond positively to a leader who cares about them, their careers and the security of their jobs and families.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Great leadership practices are timeless, but the context has shifted. It’s different for all of us today. There’s an underlying feeling of anxiety and stress in a world where “change is changing” seemingly at an accelerating pace and where economic turmoil and the miserable specter of violence in our society are never far away, whether we’re in Paris or on the streets of Chicago. You and I must learn to be better at our jobs every single day!

May your resolutions and your resolve to improve be ever-green!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. 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.


Leadership Caffeine™—Aligning Your Efforts to Results Ratio

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveIf you’ve ever worked incredibly hard only to have something run off the rails or just not generate the results you were after, you understand what an imbalance in the Efforts-to-Results ratio feels like.

I recall rankling at a college writing instructor who gave me a B on what in my mind was clearly an A-paper. I visited her during office hours and naively made my pitch for a better grade based on the amount of effort I had put into researching and redrafting the paper. She commended me for my effort and then proceeded to leave an indelible print on my professional and personal soul with these words: “I understand, but effort doesn’t count, results do, and this isn’t an A paper. However, the good news is that your hard work kept it from being a C paper.”

Ouch. That hurt, but she was right. My values were out of whack when it came to the Efforts to Results ratio. I equated hard work with success and naively expected the recognition of that effort to be rewarded. In a sense, it was with the B versus the C, but that’s not what I expected. Great lesson!

In the workplace, I often see situations at the individual, managerial and systemic levels that signal an imbalance in the efforts to results ratio.


  • There are the average performers who expect above average compensation. Much like my younger self, their value-set on the efforts to results ratio is out of whack. Many never internalize the lesson and move through their career in a perpetual state of outrage over the compensation injustice they endure. Robust, behavioral feedback and dialog and crystal clear goal/objective setting are essential for dealing with these characters. Beware however, most never move beyond their outrage and will actively work their managers in an attempt to extort additional compensation. You cannot build high performance with perpetually dissatisfied employees, so, after due diligence and appropriate effort, if the behaviors remain the same, vote these employees off your team or out of your organization. And yes, I just suggested getting rid of average, disgruntled performers.
  • There are the timekeepers who burn the proverbial midnight and weekend oil, mostly marking time but not really making visible or measurable forward progress. They believe they are working harder than everyone around them and are bitter when time invested doesn’t translate into extraordinary compensation. Training and coaching on time and priority management plus careful observation and feedback (especially positive) may help these individuals move beyond their time invested = personal outcomes equation imbalance.
  • And of course, we have the micromanaging managers who examine the minutiae of everyone’s work or, the managers who expect everyone around them to be on call 24/7.  They definitely have a warped sense of the efforts to results ratio. They’re frantically and frenetically trying to improve their own lot by making your lot miserable and by overloading you on the efforts side of the equation. If you’re in charge of someone who operates like this, get them off your ship. If you work for this manager, transfer departments or go somewhere else. Life is too short and these people are typically beyond repair.

While the situations above are all manageable, it’s the systemic imbalance in the efforts to results ratio that is the most troublesome and the most difficult to fix. I see this in organizations that manifest the following two characteristics:

1. Procedures and policies beget more procedures and policies in an ever-expanding from of bureaucracy that serves the bureaucrats but smothers those striving to serve customers and push initiatives in the right direction. The daily drill becomes compliance with the policies and procedures and employees are effectively taught that this takes priority over innovation, problem-solving or customer service.

2. Poorly designed, tyrannical matrix report-to structures. I witnessed a scenario where the helpless middle manager reported to the local G.M, the regional engineering manager, the corporate safety officer and the labor relations director. There was no coordination between those he reported to and as you might imagine, each “boss” had a nearly full-time workload for the manager. It was a brutal experience for this manager that generated sub-par results. The approach was designed to fail.

It’s a gross failure of top leadership when the system determines that massive efforts will equate at best to middling results. The late, great quality and management guru, W. Edwards Deming railed at the poorly designed systems emanating from top management where the workers were blamed for poor results. His famous Red Bead experiment is a simple but powerful illustration of this systemic breakdown. The best cure in this situation is a profound crisis brought on by poor results and encroaching competition combined with defecting customers, all leading to a transfusion of leadership at the top.

Getting the Ratio Right as a Leader:

Effective leaders focus on building an environment for success to flourish. They don’t judge people by effort or inputs, they measure and evaluate output per unit of input. It doesn’t matter how hard you worked on that project if it failed to meet customer needs. While you might learn something from the failure, eventually, you are accountable for positive results.

My guidance: always be on the lookout for for ways to simplify complexity, eradicate systemic barriers and obstacles and extract yourself from the wrong side of this efforts/results equation. Listen to and observe your team members. If big efforts are yielding small results, something is wrong. And don’t forget to look in the mirror. You may have your own equation out of alignment here, and as a result, you may be adversely impacting the broader efforts to results ratio.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I’m proud of my ability to work hard and I know many others who feel the same way about their tenacity and stick-to-itiveness. Tenacious people drive great outcomes, often through experimentation, failure and learning. I admire anyone willing to put in the hard work, however, in the final analysis, you will be evaluated based on your results. Get the balance in the efforts to results ratio right and your life and the lives of your team members will improve dramatically.

See more posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. 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.