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There’s plenty of talk about the importance of diversity and inclusion in company culture – but how can leaders enact those beliefs across their organizations, especially at small or early-stage companies? Radical Candor author Kim Scott joins the Conscious VC podcast to share actionable insights for leaders who care about building companies where everyone can bring their full selves and best work to the table. She also shares a preview of her upcoming book, Just Work, diving into how we can recognize, attack, and eliminate bias, discrimination, and bullying in the workplace.
Conscious Leadership & Embedding Compassionate Candor into Company Culture with Kim Scott
Thanks for pressing play. Welcome to Conscious VC, where we have real conversations that explore how to build businesses that shape the future while making a giant difference at the same time. Hosted by Navin Chaddha managing director of Mayfield, and me, podcaster and author, Christopher Lochhead. On this episode, Navin and I welcome acclaimed author of Radical Candor, Kim Scott. I had Kim on my other podcast Follow Your Different shortly after her book came out, and I was incredibly impressed with both her book and her, and that was a few years ago. Since then, she’s become a rockstar in Silicon Valley and beyond. Radical Candor is an important part of conscious capitalism. In this discussion, we get into it, why it matters for your culture, how it can improve your communication. She even gives us a sneak preview of some of the critical ideas coming up in her new book. I think you’re going to enjoy this episode very much. Here it is, enjoy.
Lochhead: Navin, we have the, would it be safe to call you Kim, the queen of radical candor?
Scott: Yes, the radical candor lady.
So the queen of radical candor with us. I’m curious why you think radical candor is so important for this idea of conscious capitalism and conscious capital.
Scott: Well, what radical candor is about is love and truth at the same time. It’s about caring personally and challenging directly. In many ways, you could call it compassionate candor if you want instead of radical candor. One of the ideas in the book that I think is really interesting to think about is the difference between compassionate candor and ruinous empathy. Ruinous empathy is what happens when you care about people, but you fail to challenge them directly, and as a result, maybe spare their feelings in the short run, but hurt them in the long run, so it’s not ultimately kind.
Is that the equivalent of telling your child who clearly sucks at violin that they’re fantastic at violin?
Scott: Yes. That’s the every-child-gets-a-trophy quadrant. Exactly right. I want my children to get all the trophies too, but I want them to learn, I want them to grow. I think we want the same thing when we work together is we want to learn and grow together, and that’s what radical candor does for us. That’s when you challenge someone, when you see a problem, you say something about it in a way that shows that you care about the person and that you have confidence in their abilities, but in a way that helps them grow.
Chaddha: Yeah. I’m a big fan of Kim’s work, and I’m a big believer, as you know Christopher, that operating as conscious leaders, one needs to combine empathy with radical candor. A few values of Mayfield always resonate well with what Kim talks about on caring personally and challenging directly. At Mayfield, we believe we need to be loyal to a fault, which relates to caring personally, as it relates to our employees and entrepreneurs. At the same time, we have this saying, hey, don’t beat around the bush, demonstrate and challenge directly. It’s two of our beliefs, be loyal to a fault to entrepreneurs, but then don’t sugar-coat, don’t beat around the bush, challenge them where it doesn’t make sense.
Scott: Yes, because that’s how we become successful together. I love that. I love that. I also love the idea of conscious capitalism. My very first book was called, The Measurement Problem, and it’s about how capitalism is really good at rewarding what it can measure, but really bad at rewarding what we all value. The book was called, The Measurement Problem, because I didn’t have the solution. Hopefully you all are finding the solution.
Chaddha: Yeah. We’re trying, we’re trying our best. Our feeling is, hopefully us as leaders and other entrepreneurs, and VCs, and operators as leaders create opportunities for diversity, equity and inclusion, and they take the time to invest in relationships not just transactions.
Scott: Yeah, and to invest in finding solutions to problems that are turning our sky orange, I guess, also right now.
Unbelievable. Now, one of the fun things for me, Kim, with you is I had you on my podcast, of course, shortly after Radical Candor came out. I thought it was a great book because you give us a simple, powerful architecture for checking the way we’re communicating with people. In the time that it’s come out, it’s become a Bible of sorts in Silicon Valley, which is fun. It’s been fun for me as a fan to see you just take off, and this book is required reading in a lot of places. I’m curious to get both of your perspectives on how the teachings of Radical Candor are shaping company cultures, both of startups and of companies that are up and running and have been for a while.
Scott: I mean, the idea of radical candor is a really simple one. When you care personally and challenge directly at the same time, that’s radical candor. It’s also useful to define what radical candor isn’t. When you challenge directly, but you fail to show that you care personally, that’s obnoxious aggression. When I first started writing the book, I called that of course the asshole quadrant. I stopped doing that for a really important reason. The reason I stopped doing that was that people would start to use the framework to write names in boxes. I beg of you don’t use the framework that way. It’s not another Myers-Briggs personality test. The idea of radical candor is that it should be a guide, like a compass, to help lead specific conversations to a better place.
In its simplest form, you tell me if this is the right way to think about it, Kim, radical candor is saying something that needs to be said that might be uncomfortable that you would do it from a good place. It’s the equivalent of telling a friend or a colleague, “Hey, I hate to tell you, but your fly is down.”
Scott: Yeah, exactly.
Right? Because it’s uncomfortable to say that, you know it’s going to be uncomfortable for them to hear it, but it makes you pretty shitty if you don’t tell them and they walk around all day that way.
Scott: Yes, exactly. It also makes you a jerk if you grab a bullhorn and yell, “Look, Joe’s fly is down.” That’s not the nicest thing, that’s the obnoxious aggression way to say it. It’s actually a great way to think about it. What’s the obnoxiously aggressive way to tell somebody their fly is down? That’s to mock them, make fun of them. Very often when we land in the obnoxious aggression quadrant, rather than moving the right direction on the care personally dimension of radical candor, we go the wrong way and we wind up in manipulative insincerity. If you realize the way you told your friend that their fly is down was obnoxious, and then you say, “Oh, it’s not really down.” I mean, that just confuses everything or, “Oh, it doesn’t really matter.”
In manipulative insincerity, that’s where the false apology, passive-aggressive behavior, political behavior, all the things that make workplaces terrible, all the worst kinds of political cultures creep in in manipulative insincerity. The thing is, it’s fun to tell stories about obnoxious aggression and manipulative insincerity. Radical Candor got made fun of on Silicon Valley, the HBO Show. Of course, what they were really talking about was obnoxious aggression and manipulative insincerity, because that’s what’s fun to talk about. But the fact of the matter is, in my experience, people make 90% of their mistakes in this last quadrant where you do show that you care personally. You’re so concerned about not hurting somebody’s feelings that you fail to tell them something they’d be better off knowing, and that I call ruinous empathy.
That’s the idea. It’s been fun to watch the idea of roll out in a bunch of companies throughout, not only Silicon Valley, but throughout the world, and not only through technology, but some big old factories, and elevator companies, and companies that make power systems and make the flaps on airplane wings go up and down. It’s been really cool.
Navin, from your perspective, why do you think it’s so important that you’ve included it in the pillars around conscious capital, a key topic that you touch on with your entrepreneurs?
Chaddha: Yeah, absolutely. I think having been involved as an investor and board member, personally, of over 50 companies, I have seen people evolve. The companies that succeed and end up becoming iconic companies, they have great leaders. The leaders there actually grow faster than the market and the company. Some learnings I’ve had observing them, and I try to apply to leading Mayfield. First and foremost, these leaders are open for ideas and feedback. They create a very safe environment that it’s okay to speak up and share your ideas. They try to give voice to others, they try to embrace diverse ideas. One of the things I’ve learned is, as Kim talks about caring personally and challenging directly, they praise people at the board meetings, and even in their one-on-ones, and tell them what they should do more of.
But at the same time, they’re not shy of giving constructive criticism and telling them what to do better. Rather than it coming as an order, they get people there through deductive reasoning by asking the tough questions. What I have seen personally, these are the leaders who people follow from company to company. These are the people who build people that demonstrate empathy, and at the end, don’t sit down and sugar-coat stuff and let people fail and their company fail as a result. That’s why to me, conscious leadership and radical candor and empathy is so important for becoming conscious capitalists, because it all starts and ends with people. If you don’t start there, you’re going to end nowhere.
Navin, in there you said a lot of big, profound things, but you also said a few little things. If I could, maybe counter-intuitively, key in on a little thing that you said. You said that leaders speak last.
Chaddha: Yes, they do. What I mean by that is, they don’t try to be the smartest people in the room. They might have experience, but when you are in a hierarchical ecosystem, they don’t want to influence people. They want to listen to what they have to say with original ideas and feedback. Because a lot of times people will just repeat what the CEO or the leader says, and they don’t want that. They want to hear people’s opinion and do it in an unbiased and an unconscious way. To me, that’s the most important thing there. You’re not holding anybody back, and you’re making it easier to have people speak their mind.
Scott: I think you’re so right about that, and it’s so wise. I’ll never forget when I was working at Google in the early days. We were making a decision about the adwords front end. This is a big deal because that’s all of Google’s money, and all of Google’s revenue. The team wanted to do it one way and Sergey Brin, one of the co-founders, wanted to do it another way. He let the team go first and then he proposed his idea in this very humble way, and the team said, “No, we don’t like your idea.” He listened to why and then he said, “Well, would you just put like three or four people on it and do an experiment? Try a couple of different ideas out?” The team said, “No, we’re not going to put anybody on your idea.” You could tell Sergey was conflicted. On the one hand, he was frustrated. He banged his fist on the table and he said, “If this were an ordinary company, you’d all be doing it my way.” But then he said, “But I’m glad you’re pushing back because I want to do it your way.” It was a profound moment for me as a leader, learning from him.
Chaddha: That’s always important. You need to lead by example, create and foster an environment where everybody’s idea is respected and treated the same way. That’s the only way people and companies evolve.
Kim, you have this very exciting new book coming out called, Just Work. You must have been incredibly prescient because I know you started working on this book, if I’m not mistaken, even before the Me Too movement. Is that right?
Scott: Yes I did, yes I did.
Clearly, wherever you’re getting your crystal balls from, you should keep getting them from there. This new book tackles some pretty powerful forces in the workplace today around bias, power, discrimination, prejudice, bullying. Maybe take Navin and I inside Just Work a little and why you think these ideas are important now.
Scott: Well, I’ll tell you where the crystal ball comes from. It comes from soliciting feedback and listening to it.
You mean to tell me, asking good questions and shutting up and listening to the answers is effective?
Scott: Yeah. It turns out Navin was exactly right. If you listen to the people around you, you’ll learn something. If you solicit feedback, you’ll learn something from people. After Radical Candor was published, I was going around doing a lot of talks and workshops, helping companies roll the ideas out. A team and I were doing that. I was at one company and I made an offhanded joke to someone. I said, “Yeah, Radical Candor is a guerilla feminist text.” Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, why am I being clandestine about something in a book about candor? A bunch of participants in the workshops we did explained to me why.
There was one workshop where a black man in the audience raised his hand and he said, “You and I share an issue, which is bias. But it manifests very differently for you than for me. When you walk into a room, before you even say a word, people make a whole set of assumptions about you, a lot of them unfair, just based on the fact that you’re a short, blonde woman. When I walk into a room, people make a whole set of assumptions about me, most of them unfair because I’m a tall, black man.” He said, “Radical candor is riskier for you and for me, it’s risky for us in different ways. How do you think about that?” I realized I hadn’t thought about it enough in the book.
Then I was working with another company where the CEO of the company is a black woman, a person who I had worked with for over a decade. She said, “Yeah, when I try radical candor, I have to be super, super careful because if I seem even a tiny bit annoyed, then I get slimed with the angry black woman stereotype.” It suddenly hit me that I had known her for a long time and that I had never seen her get angry. Why had I never noticed that before and what kind of toll must that have taken on her throughout? Because I knew she had what to be angry about the time I had known her. I realized that radical candor works, but it works much more easily for white men than for everyone else, and that’s a real problem.
I started thinking about, how can we break down the problem of workplace injustice? Because it feels like this big monolithic problem. But the fact of the matter is, it’s six very different problems. There’s the problem of bias, usually unconscious bias. Basically, I would define bias as not meaning it. Then there’s the problem of prejudice, which is basically meaning it, it’s conscious. I think one of the things, at least, that has been most painful for me over the last four years is realizing the extent to which things that I had assumed were unconscious bias are actually quite conscious prejudice. You have to be radically candid in a very different way when you’re confronting prejudice versus when you’re confronting bias.
Do you have maybe a quick example of that?
Scott: Yeah, sure. I mean, I was chit-chatting with a person before a meeting, not too long ago. He said to me, “My wife doesn’t work because it’s better for the children.” I didn’t really think that he believed that I was neglecting my children by showing up at work. I could see where it would be better in certain situations and different people make different choices. I tried to make a joke of the whole thing and I said, “Yeah, I decided to show up at work today because I thought it would be better to neglect my children.” I expected him to laugh and maybe offer a quick apology, but instead he dug in and he said, “Oh no, it really is better for the children.” Now I realized, this wasn’t just an unconscious bias that I was confronting, but it was a real belief.
I was working with this guy and we were maybe going to have to go on business trips. If he had this prejudiced belief, it was going to be hard for him to work well with me. If it had been unconscious bias, the I statement, “I’m not neglecting my children,” would have been enough. But since it was actually prejudice, you need an it statement to respond. In this case at that company, “It is a HR violation to tell me I’m neglecting my children by showing up at work.” That was a pretty strong response. The reason why I made that response-
So you said that to him. You said, “You just committed an HR violation.”
Scott: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The reason why I did that is because I wanted to draw a very strong line to show him that he couldn’t impose his prejudices on me. Then I said, “Look, I’m not going to make a big thing of this, but you’ve got to understand.” If I had wanted to be more gentle I would have said, “It is mean to tell me that I’m neglecting my children,” or something like that. But I wanted to let him know, in no uncertain terms, that he could not impose his ideas about parenting on me. That’s the idea of the it statement is you’re saying that, I can’t control what you believe or what you don’t believe, but I can say where the line is between what you believe and your freedom to impose what you believe on me.
Do you think your ability to say that today is materially different than say, I don’t know, you tell me how far back, 10 years, 15, 20 years?
Scott: Totally different today. But it depends on where you’re working. I was working at a place that took these kinds of violations really seriously, and I knew I would be supported. I think the idea of an it statement is you can appeal to the law, it is illegal not to hire women who are the parents of young children, it is an HR violation, or you can just appeal to common human decency. It is mean, it is degrading too. But you’re appealing to that line between the other person’s belief and their freedom to impose their belief on you. That’s what you’re appealing to with the it statement. Does that make sense? You look skeptical.
Yeah, it does. What I’m curious about, maybe Navin you could shine a light on this, if I’m a founder, a CEO of an early to mid-stage startup, and I want to have these ideas in my culture. On one hand, a concern I would have is, it’s tricky to teach people this because it’s somewhat intuitive. Sometimes it feels more black and white than others. I guess my question is, on one hand, you want to create a true north that is powerful enough that employees can gauge a situation and make a judgment call. But at the same time, I got to believe there’s a certain level of training or being explicit about certain things that require being explicit about. I guess my question really about is, how do you create this true north which allows room for interpretation and judgment, but at the same time drawing some hard lines where hard lines need to get drawn?
Chaddha: Yeah. What I would say is, whether it’s Mayfield that I lead, or when I invest in a company, I tell the founders and the CEO to just start by writing what is the mission, what is their vision, and write down your values and beliefs. It’s so critical for the foundation of a company to get it right from the get-go. One of the things I’m trying to look for in these people before we invest is, are they going to embrace the unconventional, the different, and the unusual? Because my strong belief is, everybody needs a chance. We need to create a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion. If they’re not putting it down on their values, it’s never going to happen. I’m looking for signs when they come into Mayfield, how do they treat the junior-most person, the person who greets them, the receptionist? How do they deal with their assistants? When we take them out to dinner, how are they dealing with the waitstaff?
You start picking these signals and you can realize that, “Hey, are these the people who are going to give a chance to others or is it all about them?” Venture is a picking business and my feeling is, people either have that true north, or as Kim says it, you need to challenge them directly and say, “Dude, or dudette, basically get on the program and start thinking about these things.” Because if you’re going to create a built to last company, it’s not going to be a built on thin air. That’s what I’ve seen great people evolve. But sometimes they just don’t know what they don’t know, and they have this bias and you can coach them. But if they have a prejudice, I won’t invest in them. Because if they’re doing it knowingly and they’re not willing to listen, it’s time to move on for Mayfield because our values are not alike.
Kim, this gets me to one for you. In the situation that you just described, my happy place, the place where I go, is anger. I would give them a, “Oh yeah?” Give them a verbal smack. I was raised by a single mother who worked very hard, and who was a legendary mother, and she worked her tail off to raise us. Don’t be coming at me with that. No, by the way, I’ve worked with lots of legendary women and you can be legendary in your career and be an incredible mother. If that’s what you want to do, being an inspiration to your children, showing them that a woman can do that, might be one of the greatest gifts you can give them as a mother that might be more powerful than staying home. I don’t know. But here’s what I do know, it’s your choice not fricking mine. But I digress. My point is, in a situation like that, I would tend to get angry and want to pop somebody. To Navin’s point, how does one, if you have the knee-jerk reaction that I do, try to take an educational mindset with this person that I now want to injure as opposed to let them have it?
Scott: This is a really important point because it is so hard to care personally about someone who just said something prejudiced against you. That’s a really tall order, so I just want to acknowledge that. I want to say a couple of things. One is that very often, people who are underrepresented are not allowed to express anger in the workplace. We’re all human, and so I may feel the same kind of anger that you do. But as a woman I’ve been taught since I grew up, since I was a little girl, that I’m not allowed to show when I’m mad. I’m white, I think it’s way harder for women of color, that issue. One of the things that I think is really important in the workplace is, A, giving people the freedom to express how they really feel sometimes at work, and B, to have… I think Navin raised really important point about sharing your values. Beliefs are different from values. I think it’s really important to be able to say, “Look, we have a code of conduct at our company.” You want a diversity of beliefs. You don’t necessarily want people with prejudices, in fact you don’t want people with prejudices, but you’re going to have people who have very different beliefs on important subjects. You don’t want to have your values written in a way that excludes a whole set of political beliefs for example or something like that. Because you want to have a diverse workforce. This is what’s tricky about the time in which we live. I think it’s really important to say, “Look, I, as your leader, it’s not my job to control what you believe or what you don’t believe. But it is my job to articulate where the line is between what you believe and imposing your belief on someone else.”
That is really what I mean by a code of conduct that allows people who may not feel as free for a whole set of cultural reasons, expressing the anger they feel when they’re confronting prejudice to say, “Look, it’s an HR violation. You cannot say that to me, it is an HR violation.” Whereas with bias there’s, I think, a much gentler sort of intervention, but it also requires some leadership. I think in the case of bias, you really want to have bias interrupters. Because things get said in meetings all the time, all the time, that are biased, and that skew the way the meeting goes, and that skewed decision-making in a way that is irrational and unproductive. Yet we don’t have good language with which to interrupt it.
One of the things that I encourage leaders to do is to sit down with their teams and to say, “Okay, here’s what bias is roughly,” but don’t go into great gory detail and unconscious bias training because it’s been proven that it’s not all that effective, it can take a ton of time. “Here’s an idea of what unconscious bias is.” When you think you see it happening in a meeting, just say it, and we’re going to agree what the word is. Some teams I’ve worked with have liked, “Yo, bias.” Other teams think that that trivializes a really important subject and they prefer something like, “I don’t think you meant that the way it sounded.” Whatever it is that works with your team, come up with a bias interrupter that is short. Then come up with a norm on your team, where if something biased gets said, somebody interrupts it.
Ideally, the person who interrupts the bias is an upstander, not the target of the bias. If it’s gender bias, it shouldn’t always have to be the women in the room who are interrupting it. Men can notice it too and interrupt it. The person says, “Yo, bias,” or whatever your word is. Then the person who said the bias thing gets two choices. They can either say, “Oh, I get it, I’m sorry.” Or they can say, “Oh, I don’t get it. Can we talk after the meeting?” Then the meeting goes on. It doesn’t have to interrupt the main business of the meeting, but the bias does get interrupted. It is a violation of a radical candor norm which is, criticize in private. This needs to happen quickly and it needs to happen publicly because it is such a broad cultural problem. If we’re going to get on the same page and change our biases, we’ve got to interrupt them publicly like typos.
You can use this on multiple dimensions. I was in a meeting recently where this company is creating something that’s very forward on its skis, very much pioneering a new category, very much targeted at a maybe 12 on the lowest end to maybe 30 on the highest end demographic. Most of the people on the call were not in that demographic, myself included, and some of them had experience in the industry as it is today. This is a company that wants to radically redesign a category. Anyway, during the conversation, somebody would say something and I’d say, “Well, I think that’s more in the context of the way it was, but not the way it’s going to be.” I kept calling bias on, for lack of a better description, legacy thinking.
Scott: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I think it is really important to… I mean, in fact, one of the books that I recommend that people read is, Kahneman’s, Thinking Fast and Slow. I mean, that’s what we’re talking. These are the… Gender bias, racial bias, it’s all part of the same problem with the way the mind works. Bias, by the way, is not always a problem, it might prevent me from stepping on a snake. Before I even know that I think that stick might be a snake, I jump. We want to make sure that we are tolerant of the way our minds work, because our minds are miraculous things. But we also want to make sure that when our minds are working in irrational ways, that we hold up a mirror for one another. I think that’s another really important thing that leaders… the sooner you do this as a leader at a company, the better off your culture will be. Thinking very crisply and cleanly about the difference between bias and prejudice and how you’re going to deal with these two problems in your organization. You’ll never eliminate these things altogether, but how you’re going to manage so that they don’t screw up your culture, which they will do if you don’t focus on them.
Chaddha: Yeah. One of the strong beliefs I have is, as an investor and entrepreneur, experience does count for something. But you need to keep an open mind in order to build and catch a black swan as an investor, you need to be able to adapt and you need to have nimble thinking, because dinosaurs never survive. The word that was used, legacy thinking, only gets you somewhere, but it’s not going to lead you to where your potential is and what’s possible. You need to be dreamers, you need to be visionaries, and you need to challenge the status quo. In order to do that, you learn from the past, but don’t get into shackles based on what you have seen in the past. You need to just keep an open mind.
Scott: Yes, absolutely. That’s part of what eliminating bias is, is keeping everybody’s mind open. It’s not all bias and prejudice. There’s this third problem. These are the root causes of workplace injustice. The third root cause is bullying. Bullying is being mean. If bias is not meaning it and prejudice is meaning it, bullying is being mean. The huge problem, I think, with bullying is that it’s quite effective. It works really well for the bully but it works terribly for the broader team. It is the job of the leader. One of the most important jobs that leaders have is to create consequences for bullying that are severe enough that the bullying doesn’t work.
What I encourage leaders to do, entrepreneurs to do, is to think about the impact that you’re going to make bullying have on people’s conversations. You’re going to be willing to interrupt bullies in meeting, to shut down bullies in meetings. The impact that bullying is going to have on people’s bonuses, on people’s compensation, and the impact that bullying is going to have on their career. Don’t promote your assholes. In the immortal words of Steve Jobs, “It’s better to have a hole than an asshole.” Yet, we’ve all seen this, there’s… one of the biggest problems at companies as they become successful is that there’s a period in the company’s growth where the assholes start to win, and that’s where the company starts to die.
Amen. Hallelujah, sister. Say all that again, just so I can soak in it.
Scott: It is so true.
Chaddha: There is this fine line between bias and prejudice in my mind. When you see this stuff, you have to just stand up and say, “This is not allowed. This is not just the right thing to do.” Then if you do it yourself, you need to be able to receive that feedback and empower those people, whether it is done openly, or through 360s, or through blind surveys. You need to just know what you don’t know.
Scott: Yeah, yeah, exactly right. I think there’s a subtle form of bullying, which I call bloviating BS. We all know this, the person in the meeting who makes the… Sarah Cooper has a great book called How To Look Smart in Meetings, which is all about bloviating BS. There’s a couple of problems with bloviating BS. One is that it works, you can look really smart. It’s effective, again, for the bully, but the problem is, it silences the people who actually know stuff in the room. It hurts the team’s ability to come up with the best answer and to make the best decisions. It also really hurts your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts because it turns out that people who are underrepresented can’t really get away with the bloviating BS in the way that people who are overrepresented can.
I was talking to Frank who was head of diversity at a big bank, and he said he would see the same thing over and over and over again. Partner goes into a meeting. One week, he goes into a meeting with an analyst who’s a man. The man makes a mistake in the meeting, the partner lets him know in no uncertain terms that it was a problem. The next week goes into the similar kind of meeting, similar analyst. This time the analyst is a woman, he doesn’t tell the analyst, and so that hurts her career. Then they go into a meeting and the person who’s the best prepared in the room is the only underrepresented person in the room, usually, either a woman or a person of color or both. That person doesn’t dare speak up because the bloviating BSers is taking all of the oxygen out of the room. He said it was terrible for diversity efforts, but it was also just terrible for decision-making. How can we stop this? And it’s leadership. It was a very simple answer.
One of the things I wonder about with this is, the companies that I’ve been associated with, that I’m attracted to, have had cultures that you might describe as tough. Certainly very results-oriented, certainly don’t suffer fools well. You don’t want to be the person who’s dog ate their homework. There’s a very serious focus on, ta-da, the product ships, ta-da the quarter happens and there’ll be no excuses. Almost militaristic in that sort of level of commitment and discipline to measurable and definable results. But at the same time, highly able to have diverse conversation, highly able to what I would describe as productively disagree. Highly able to get in a room, really have it out with each other, not personally, but on the merits of ideas and unpacking things and pushing and shoving. Then in the end, when a decision has to be made, even those who aren’t for the decision, we had always a commitment, disagree and commit. When it has to get made, it has to get made. After it’s made, no matter what side we were on, you wouldn’t know what side we were on. You would all think we were all for it. These kinds of principles.
Scott: Listen, challenge, commit.
Yes. On one hand, it can be easy to interpret that as tough or bullying or people, I’m a loud guy and I can yell and I like cultures where we yell at each other. But not personally, I’m talking about at the ideas. Where we love and respect each other, but man, we’re going to go at it. One of my favorite beers, Sierra Nevada. They have a sign on the top of the beer it says, “Family-owned and argued over,” and I love that. I guess what I’m asking both of you is, if I’m someone who loves that kind of culture but wants it to be in the bounds of mutual respect, in the bounds of collaboration, even if to the untrained eye you might look at it and go, “these people are about to kill each other.” Do you know what I’m trying to articulate here? How do we find that line when we want that kind of culture, but we want it to be an inclusive, fun, supportive. But make no mistake, we’re going to have at it from time to time.
Scott: Yeah. I mean, it sounds to me like what you’re describing is radical candor, where you really care about each other and that is why you challenge each other’s ideas and challenge each other’s ideas as hard as you know. I don’t know. Navin, what do you think?
Chaddha: Yeah. I think my feeling is, one of the values has to be, as you mentioned, radical candor. But at the same time, there has to be this mutual feeling that all of us are better than any of us, so you need to embrace teamwork and say, hey, it’s okay to disagree. It’s okay to have diverse ideas. But at the end, don’t we want to win? The only way we’re going to win is because this is a team sport. You’re not playing an individual game. You’re either playing football or you’re playing basketball. It’s not about just one person. It’s okay in the heat of the moment to disagree and you have a shared account. You have to increase equity value whether you’re a VC or an entrepreneur. As long as you have that mindset and respect, as both of you mentioned, is key. It’s just key and fundamental.
What we’re discussing is, on every Monday when we are making investment decisions, I remind the team, “Hey, we have an option today. Just because you sourced the deal to invest in a bottle of water,” I’m just giving an example. “Or we can invest in a new form of Coca-Cola, or we can invest in a meat company, or we can invest in a SaaS company, or we can invest in a company like Lyft. Let’s find the best investments.” It’s not about you. It’s about the company. How do you promote that kind of a culture and say, “We have a shared account and we’re going to win together and lose together.” As long as you’re open and honest and keep reinforcing the same thing, I think people start listening. One wise man has always said, “You keep repeating yourself as a leader until you realize you’re tired and then you can hope people got.” That’s what you have to keep doing.
Scott: I think there’s also another element to this which is, you want to make sure that you get to know the people who you’re working with well enough to… communication happens on two planes with people, it happens on an intellectual plane and it happens on an emotional plane. If you ignore the emotional plane, you may be missing your most important signal for good communication. One of the things that I encourage people to do is, when they’re having a heated argument with someone, to make sure they’re understanding how what they’re saying is landing for the right person, and choose the correct vector on the radical candor plane. If the person looks like they’re getting upset, if they look like they’re sad or they’re angry, either one. I might start to cry, you might start to yell, we’re probably having the same emotion, the person other person needs to attend to the care personally dimension, not keep on challenging us. Whereas if I’m like, “It’s fine. It’s no big deal.” If I’m just brushing off what you’re saying, then you need to move out further and challenge directly with me. I think being aware of what vector to move out on is what can prevent you from bullying others when what you’re trying to do is share your truth with them. Does that help?
Chaddha: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things as a moderator I try to do is what you just mentioned, ask people at the beginning of an offsite or a meeting, what are the rules of engagement? What do we want to do, what we don’t want to do, and treat people the way you want to get treated. Create a guideline that, “Hey, we are going to be discussing your idea. My feedback is on your idea. It’s not on you.” As long as you keep reinforcing that, I think people get comfortable. They realize, “Okay, it’s about the point I made, it’s not about me.”
Well, I’m a person who is, rightfully or wrongfully, A, committed to full self-expression and B, I’ve been told that one of my superpowers is to express anger at a level that most people don’t, unless they’re about to commit some kind of a violent crime, which I have never done. I have an ability to express anger, I guess is my point. I’m reminded of two things. The people who love me understand this about me. When I can’t short circuit myself, they find a way, and I’m reminded of two examples. My wife, Carrie, will say to me, and I’ll sometimes say this to her but it’s more to me. Something will be cooking up and it will be getting a little off the rails and she’ll say, “Hey, Hey, Hey, this is not us,” and it snaps it, it just stops it.
Then I’ll never forget a dear friend of mine. I’m on the board of a nonprofit. I love these people dearly. I’m a co-founder with them and it’s very close to my heart and so forth and so on. Anyway, we were dealing with this very problematic issue and it was really pissing me off. I was starting to get really angry and I was starting to yell and I was getting angrier and angrier. My buddy, Gill, who’s on the board says to me, “Hey, hey, Chris, you’re yelling at us.” It was like he doused me with a bucket of cold water. I was like, “Why am I yelling at you. I love every single person here. What am I doing?”
Scott: Yeah, and that’s it. He moved up personally and he moved you up. Whereas if he had started engaging and yelling at you back, it might not have been as helpful. Yeah, so I think those are great. I want to say another thing for entrepreneurs that’s really important. We talked a lot about bias, prejudice, bullying, and how to prevent these things from marring your culture. But the problems of course get much worse when power enters the equation. When you are an entrepreneur and you’re setting up your company and you’re setting up the systems that you’re going to use to hire people, to fire people, to promote people, to make all these decisions. In some senses, it’s almost like your own little Zimbardo prison experiment, and that is really a harsh way to look at it, but it is unfortunately the truth.
You want to be very conscious of setting up checks and balances and, as the entrepreneur, as the leader of the company, submitting to the checks and balances. If you watch Hamilton and George Washington is stepping down and King George was like, “I didn’t know that was something one could do.” That is, the checks and balances that you set up for your company are what will prevent bias, prejudice, and bullying from becoming discrimination, harassment, and physical violations. They are what will prevent these smaller things from becoming bigger things that will destroy your company. Just a big plug for checks and balances.
The other thing you can do as a leader is to begin to quantify your bias, quantify your bias. This is uncomfortable, but take a look regularly at your hiring pipeline, at your promotions, at the ratings if you have a performance review system, and cut the data by gender, cut the data by race, and look for bias. Just because you’re not hiring any women doesn’t mean necessarily that there’s bias, but you cannot exclude the possibility that there’s some bias in your hiring practices. If diversity and inclusion matter to you, measure it, measure what matters.
You’re saying if the, on the website, photos of the executive team look like they’re card-carrying members of the KKK you might be in trouble?
Scott: Well, you’re definitely in trouble there. Look, I tell a lot of stories in this book about times when I screwed it up. I hired myself. I had several teams that were all white men. I understand how this happens, but I also understand why it’s the wrong way to manage a company and also what you can do to prevent it from happening. Because if you do nothing, it will happen. You’ll have all white men, especially here in Silicon Valley, probably not everywhere, but that’s what will happen.
All right, well, clearly the three of us could talk for hours, but I want to be respectful of everybody’s time. Anything else either one of you want to touch on before we wrap?
Chaddha: No, this has been a great conversation. I learn so much every time I interact with both of you. Really want to thank Kim for taking her precious time to be with us today and sharing her views and insights, hopefully which is going to help entrepreneurs, operators, and everybody to practice radical candor. At the same time, understand the difference between bias, prejudice, and bullying.
Scott: Thank you so much. The book is out March 16th, but you can buy it today, so go get it. Pre-orders matter. Thank you so much, really fun conversation. I hope these ideas can help people build cultures in which everybody can love their work and even working together.
Thanks, Kim, you’re legendary. It’s really fun to see your impact grow over time. Navin, a blast as always. Thank you both.
Thanks for joining us with Navin Chaddha, Managing Director of Mayfield, and me, podcaster and author, Christopher Lochhead. You can find me on the internet at Lochhead.com. Conscious VC is presented by Mayfield. Visit Mayfield.com, where you can learn more about the five pillars of conscious capital and much more. Thanks again for pressing play.