How Radical Candor Improves Team Communication at KWSM

Oct 2023

What would the results of our marketing efforts amount to if no one spoke up with honest and constructive feedback? Would projects ever reach their full potential? Conversely, what if people on our team were ruthless with their red pens, scoffing at every deliverable that landed on their desks? Would that foster a safe environment for creativity and collaboration? There is a middle ground for effective team communication, and radical candor is one tool that helps us find that middle ground.

Strong team collaboration has been the backbone of KWSM’s success for our 13+ years in business. We have a digital marketing strategy task force that works together to determine a 6-month plan for all new clients, teams consisting of an assigned digital account manager, copywriter, content creator, and web designer for every client who signs on for ongoing services, and before our clients see any deliverable, at least two sets of eyes from KWSM’s leadership team review it closely for quality assurance. 

The only way we are able to work well together and produce high-quality work is with strong communication skills.

What Is Radical Candor, and How Does It Impact Team Communication?

Feedback is essential, both positive and constructive. There is no way to make a project its best without honest assessments from a team you trust. That being said, feedback can also be harmful when it is delivered poorly.

“A lack of candor fosters a culture where the team is afraid to confront issues or push boundaries creatively. Rather than just ’going through the motions’ with our clients and internal teams, it’s much more efficient to identify and harness key moments to communicate what really needs to be said. It helps strengthen team and client connections.” 

– Roni Blackburn, Digital Account Manager, KWSM

To structure our feedback process effectively, KWSM adopted the practice of Radical Candor®, a management philosophy from CEO, author, and corporate advisor Kim Scott. Under Radical Candor, feedback becomes clear, direct, and actionable while also remaining empathetic – neither side compromises the other.

Radical Candor can be summed up in its coined expression, “Caring Personally while Challenging Directly.” Let’s examine what this looks like in practice at KWSM.

What Does “Care Personally” Mean?

On the Y axis of the grid above, we see “Care Personally.” This measures how well someone shows that they genuinely care about others on their team – not just their performance but their feelings, opinions, and overall well-being at the organization. 

At KWSM, we demonstrate this by checking in regularly to see if any of our team members need additional support, publicly celebrating each others’ wins,  asking each team member how they believe KWSM can improve, and making sure that everyone feels heard and understood across all levels of the agency.

Why Is Caring Personally Important?

Without demonstrating that you care personally about your teammates, any feedback you deliver will enter the territories of “Manipulative Insincerity” (praising team members publicly but talking badly about them or their work in private) or “Obnoxious Aggression” (being brutally honest with someone directly in an unkind manner). While obnoxious aggression does deliver feedback directly to the person at hand, it never produces a more confident and capable teammate in the end.

What Does “Challenge Directly” Mean?

The X-axis, “Challenge Directly,” measures how you offer pushback and feedback directly to the team member at hand in order to improve results/performance. 

At KWSM, we have channels in place to encourage direct feedback from the whole team. In brainstorming and strategy sessions, we are constantly building off of each others’ ideas and pointing out blind spots that others might not see in order to prevent issues down the road. We also have weekly 1-1 meetings with our managers and quarterly reviews with more members of the leadership team where we both receive feedback about our performance and give feedback about how well the agency is meeting our needs. For any of this to be successful, we have to be candid about what we think or how we feel, or else we run into “Ruinous Empathy.”

Why Is Challenging Directly Important?

This top left quadrant of our grid above represents “Ruinous Empathy,” where someone is so concerned with not hurting their teammate’s feelings or having uncomfortable conversations, that they end up watering down necessary feedback or avoiding it altogether. Rather than making their team members aware of areas where improvement is needed, they act like everything is fine. This not only causes the quality of projects to suffer, but it’s also unfair to team members who must continue to collaborate with that person who is not pulling their weight. 

You Deserve Honest and Kind Feedback at Work

Are you looking to join a digital marketing agency that invests in your growth and values your feedback? A work environment that invests in learning how to best communicate with you, so you can be your best self. 

We want to work with people who are passionate about our industry and are committed to growing their skills. If that sounds like you, visit our Careers page to learn more about open positions at KWSM. 

Fill out the form below to start your conversation with KWSM.

Core Values at KWSM a digital marketing agency