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Kim Scott: Eliminating Bias from the Workplace

Learn how to build a workplace culture that thrives on transparent feedback with Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor.

Kim Scott is the world-famous author of Radical Candor, an excellent novel that is leveraged by leaders all around the world and most recently the author of Just Work. In this episode, Kim teaches how to cultivate a work environment that promotes feedback while being fair, and unbiased. 

Listen to this episode (or read the transcript below) to learn how to embrace feedback with a growth mindset. 

1 What were some mistakes that you made early on in your management career? 

Early on in my career, I was the CEO of a tech company, and we had this one employee that everybody loved. He knew how to break up a room and get everybody comfortable, but he would always hand in terrible work, and he knew it was terrible. Everybody loved this employee, and I knew that he was a sensitive guy, and I was scared to hurt his feelings, so I was never honest. This is what I call ruinous empathy in my book Radical Candor. I was worried that if I told this employee the truth he would be hurt and maybe even cry, and it would taint my reputation as a leader in everyone else’s eyes which I like to call manipulative uncertainty. 

It eventually came to the point where I recognized that if I didn’t fire this employee all of my top performers would quit because they didn’t want their deliverables to be related. At this point, I sat down with him and explained the situation and he was shocked that I didn’t tell him sooner. I waited so long to have this conversation that he ultimately had to be fired and I promised myself that I would never make that mistake again. 

2 How can managers build a culture of feedback within their organization? 

You need to create a definite order of operation to build this culture of feedback. You want to start by soliciting feedback. The easiest way to do this is to allocate five minutes at the end of every one-on-one meeting to soliciting feedback. These meetings should be listening activities and you should give your direct reports the authority to set the meeting agenda. 

3 What can you implement tactically to constantly get feedback? 

It’s so important to adjust your question for the person that you’re working with. For example, I started a company called Radical Candor with Jason and after we had been working together for about a month he said to me, you know Kim, I hate your go-to questions, they are too open-ended for me, like no. So you have to be able to adjust to accommodate the person you’re working with. 

When COVID first started, Jason gave me some feedback that it was frustrating for him that all of a sudden, I was unable to finish a lot of meetings because the kids were at home and he said that I want you to be with your kids and I want to be supportive, but we have to figure out how to manage this and we were able to work things out together. We were able to agree to have fewer meetings and shorter meetings, and to adjust our work schedule in a way that accommodated the fact that I now had two middle schoolers at home all day, every day for a long time.  

4 What is your book “Just Work” about and why did you write it? 

The book is about how to root out bias, prejudice, and bullying so we can create a kick-ass culture of inclusivity. Part of the reason why I wrote the book is that I realized after Radical Candor came out that a lot of feedback is not legitimate feedback, it’s bias or prejudice or bullying posing as feedback. 

5 How does having a growth mindset relate to biases? 

When it comes to our own biases, we’re often much more likely to have a fixed perception. Instead of stating that you’re not a biased person, you have to adopt the mindset that you do not want to be a biased person and recognize that you most likely have a lot of biases, so you get curious and unpack why they are there. 

Sometimes I feel ashamed when my biases are pointed out to me because I don’t know what I’ve done wrong. So now I’m ashamed because I harmed someone but I’m also ashamed because I’m ignorant so learning how to adopt a growth mindset to move through that shame so that I can become the person I want to be is crucial. 

6 How do you eliminate bias from things like writing? 

I’m a writer, I care a lot about words and choosing the right words so it’s really important to me. I’ve hired several people who are amazing, incredible bias busters. One of them is Bree Harper, who’s our critical race theorist and she pointed out to me that there were about eight terms that were either ableist or hearkened back to racist theories or racist thoughts and attitudes, so I was extremely grateful to learn about them. 

Initially, I was a bit defensive but when I realized it was a tiny fraction of problematic words, I realized that was the defensiveness talking and it was not a rational response.  I was then able to be more open to her feedback and I realized how important it is, as we’re trying to eliminate these biases, to be patient with ourselves, but also persistent. As human beings were patternmakers, but that doesn’t mean we’re the victims of the pattern. We can make new patterns, but it can require some real concerted effort.

7 What is one tip you would give people that are looking to build out a diverse team? 

Both hiring and retention are really important when it comes to building out a diverse team. One of the most important things you can do is adopt some kind of bias disruptor so that everyone on the team understands that it’s not just the job of the person who’s been harmed by the bias to point it out. You can do this by implementing a signal. For example, if someone raises the peace sign, it means there has been some sort of bias in the conversation. It should be a shared signal or vocabulary that everyone feels comfortable using. 

Additionally, you have to teach everyone how to respond when this signal is shared. Whether it be addressing their mistake or simply asking to take it offline. Lastly, you must be committed to flag biases in every single meeting. If you haven’t flagged it, it means you didn’t catch it, or nobody knows how to address it. This practice will have a huge impact on your ability to attract and retain a diverse workplace. 

8 Do you have any tips, tricks, or final words of wisdom for managers or leaders that are looking to get better at their craft? 

I think the most important thing you all can do is to be wide open to feedback of any sort. Whether it’s feedback about your performance, feedback about something that’s going on within the team or probably hardest to hear but most important to hear feedback that you’ve said or done something that is biased or even worse prejudiced or bullying. Be open to feedback and don’t just be open to it but go for it like you’re digging for gold. It’s pure gold when you get that feedback. 

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Konstantin Tsiryulnikov

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