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The importance of radical candour in disaster management

Given our disaster management expertise, the clients we work with often operate in extremely high-risk environments like offshore oil platforms or with high-voltage transmission powerlines. As experts, our clients are coming to us to advise them on improving their operations’ safety and preparing them for when things go wrong.

There is an apparent tension between expert and client in this relationship: how do you provide the best advice while maintaining a productive partnership? Sometimes the advice we provide might upset, frustrate, or offend the client. Still, there is an obligation to deliver it, particularly given the high-risk environments some clients operate in and our professional ethics. So, this begs the question, how is uncomfortable advice provided best? Our answer is through “radical candour”.

This phrase was coined by Kim Scott, a former senior manager at Apple and Google, in her 2017 book Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. In Scott’s view, radical candour is the combination of “challenging directly” and “caring personally”. One without the other and radical candour cannot be achieved.

Scott gives two examples of the worst type of feedback categories: “ruinous empathy” and “obnoxious aggression”. In the former, your desire to avoid hurting someone’s feelings means that they cannot receive the feedback they need to about their work, behaviour, or attitude. In this situation, the person is doomed to fail because they think they’re doing a good job, and why wouldn’t they? You’re not telling them otherwise.

In the latter, you provide feedback but without showing care for the person who is receiving it. These are the moments when the boss is shouting down the telephone, degrading someone and failing to see the other person as an equal. Only a rare few will stay long and succeed under such a regime.

Do not be a jerk! But do not mislead others either!

As you might suspect, radical candour is the combination of these two categories – care and honesty. In this scenario, a person receives frank, fearless, feedback, but it is delivered in a manner which treats the other person as a human being, and an equal. As Scott notes, obviously challenging people can piss them off – but as she sees it, if your feedback is delivered compassionately, is work-related, and in their interests, they will appreciate it. We agree with Scott’s diagnosis.

Although Scott designed the philosophy to govern the employee/employer relationship, we bring her thinking to managing our client relationships. When Resilient Services identify a flaw, a gap, or improvement opportunities in our clients’ disaster management regimes, we do not shy away from telling them. We do give a frank assessment but do so in a kind, caring, and compassionate manner.

This approach’s benefits are clear: the client receives excellent advice and support, knowing that we are looking out for their best interests. It is fruitless being experts if you can’t effectively deliver your expertise in a manner the client will take on board.

The radical candour philosophy also forms part of our company culture. No matter how long they have worked at Resilient Services or their title, employees are encouraged to give and receive honest and helpful critiques of each other’s performance compassionately.

Overall, radical candour has allowed us to become a tight-knit team who trust each other and provide each other with opportunities to improve. Likewise, it gives us the tools to have frank and fearless conversations with our clients about improvement opportunities.

Do you or your business implement a frank approach to feedback? Could the way you communicate with your team be improved?

If you want to learn more about our approach, our disaster management expertise, and the other services our experts provide, visit our website: https://resilientservices.com.au/what-we-do/. Also, if you want to learn more about Kim Scott’s approach, and radical candour more generally, you can visit her website on the topic: https://www.radicalcandor.com/


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