Yes We Can
Kim Scott is the author of Just Work: Get *t Done Fast and Fair as well as Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. She co-founded two companies that help organizations put the ideas in her books into practice. Kim was a CEO coach at Dropbox, Qualtrics, Twitter, and other tech companies. Kim previously held leadership roles at Apple and Google. Earlier in her career Kim managed a pediatric clinic in Kosovo and started a diamond-cutting factory in Moscow.
Yes We Can is a recurring series presented by Cloudflare Co-founder, President, and COO Michelle Zatlyn, featuring interviews with women entrepreneurs and tech leaders who clearly debunk the myth that there are no women in tech. To watch more episodes of Yes We Can — and submit suggestions for future guests — visit cloudflare.com/yeswecan
Welcome back for this week's episode of Yes We Can. I've taken a little bit of a hiatus for winter and we're spinning it back up and I have such an amazing set of guests lined up and today I am just so thrilled to welcome Kim Scott.
Hi Kim, welcome.
Thank you, it's great to be here. Thanks so much for joining and you are someone I've long admired, so I feel such a privilege and so fortunate to get to spend the next 30 minutes with you, so thanks for joining us.
Well thanks for having me.
I've admired you from afar and I know you're busy right now, so really appreciate you taking the time.
Great, well look, so let's dive in because there's so much to cover and you have so many things to share with all of us to make us create, help create better workplaces by the end of these 30 minutes.
And so for the audience who's just tuning in, so Kim has a long career being an operator and then since then she's written two very well-read books.
First is Radical Candor, how to give feedback, how to take feedback, and then her new latest book Just Work about creating better workplaces, which we're going to talk a lot about today.
And you're also the founder of Radical Candor Just Work, so you've covered a lot of surface area, you've had this incredible career.
So let's start with these two books you've written kind of in the last, I don't know, eight years I guess.
Tell us about the two books. So Radical Candor is really about caring personally and challenging directly at the same time.
So when you can do both at the same time, it's radical candor.
And that doesn't really sound so radical, caring and challenging, and yet we all struggle with feedback.
So one of the things that I've done to try to make it easier in the book is to give words to what happens when we fail on one dimension or another.
So sometimes we remember to challenge directly, but we forget to show that we care personally.
And this I call obnoxious aggression.
Now in the first version of the book, I called that the asshole quadrant because it seems more radically candid, but I stopped doing that for a very important reason.
I found that when I did that, people would use the radical candor, if you imagine a two by two, upper right hand quadrant is radical candor, bottom right is obnoxious aggression, and they would use it to write names in boxes.
And I beg of you, please don't use these terms that way. This is not another Myers-Briggs personality test.
This is use radical candor to drive specific conversations with specific people to a better place.
Because these are mistakes we all make all the time.
Like very often, I will assert that I try not to be a jerk, but sometimes I fail.
Sometimes I do act like a jerk. And that's problematic for a bunch of obvious reasons.
It's problematic because it harms someone else.
It's also inefficient because when you're obnoxious to someone else, they go into fight or flight mode, and then they literally can't hear you, so you're wasting your breath.
But it's also problematic because I don't know about you, but when I realize I've been a jerk, it's not my instinct to go the right way on the care personally dimension.
Instead, it's my instinct to go the wrong way on challenge directly and say, oh, it doesn't matter.
I didn't mean it, but it does matter.
And I did mean it. That's why I said it. And then I wind up, that's the sort of hero's journey to the worst place of all, manipulative insincerity.
And if obnoxious aggression is front stabbing, manipulative insincerity is back stabbing.
It's where passive aggressive behavior, political behavior, all of the kind of things that make a workplace most toxic creep in.
But the fact of the matter is those are not the two most common problems.
That's where the drama is. So if you watch the Silicon Valley show, the HBO show, Silicon Valley or The Office or something, you're going to see a lot of episodes about obnoxious aggression and manipulative insincerity.
Before you read any of the news articles or the front page stories that make the front page, there's often drama with some of what you're talking about.
Yeah, exactly. But the fact of the matter is the vast majority of us make the vast majority of our mistakes when we remember to show that we care personally, because despite everything you see on social media, most people are actually pretty nice people.
So we do remember to show that we care personally, but we're so concerned about not hurting someone's feelings that we fail to tell them something they'd be better off knowing in the long run.
And that I call ruinous empathy.
So that is the TLDR. But please do read version of Radical Candor. Such a great book.
We did it as a book club at Cloudflare. And it just feels like it definitely gives you language and how to think about it to both give the feedback and then receive feedback.
And I think that's both really important for anybody in their career as they grow their career because you find yourself in situations where someone may be like, I think you could do better here or I could do better.
And so it's a really great book. OK, so that's Radical Candor. Now, tell us about your work.
So if you write a book about feedback, you're going to get a lot of it.
And indeed, I did. And some of the most valuable but feedback is a gift. I am very grateful.
Some of the most valuable feedback I got about Radical Candor happened when I was I was doing a presentation at a tech company in San Francisco.
And the CEO of that company is had been a colleague of mine for the better part of a decade, someone I like and respect enormously and one of too few black women CEOs in tech.
And after I gave the presentation, she pulled me aside and she said, Kim, I'm excited to roll out Radical Candor.
I think it's going to help me build the kind of culture I want.
But I got to tell you, it's much harder for me to roll it out than it is for you.
And she explained to me that as soon as she would offer someone even the most compassionate, gentle criticism, she would get slimed with the angry black woman stereotype.
And I knew this was true. And as soon as she said it to me, I realized four things at the same time.
The first thing I realized was that I had failed to be the kind of colleague I want to be.
I had failed to be an upstander against that, the kind of bias and worse that she had experienced.
And in fact, I had failed often even to notice the kinds of things, the way that she had to show up unfailingly cheerful and pleasant at every single meeting she ever went to, in spite of the fact she had what to be ticked off about as we are.
I mean, we saw this yesterday in the Supreme Court here.
It's like, it's unfair to not to stand up to that kind of injustice when you see someone going through it.
So that's number one.
The second thing I realized was that I had been in denial about the kinds of things that had happened to me as a woman in the workplace.
Kind of hard for the author of Radical Candor to admit that I had been in denial, but I hadn't been candid even with myself about the kinds of things that were happening to me.
I think in part because I never wanted to think of myself as a victim.
We have such a strange attitude towards being a victim in our society, but even less than wanting to think of myself as a victim that I want to think of myself as a perpetrator.
But the third thing I realized was that I had caused harm. I had been biased at times in my career.
I had never intentionally caused harm, but I had done so.
And then the fourth thing that I realized was that as a leader, I had failed to create the kind of environment in which everyone could just work, just in the just get it done sense of the word, but more importantly, just in the sense of justice sense of the word.
I'd failed to create kind of fair working environments where bias, prejudice, and bullying just weren't tolerated.
That's a lot of aha moments.
Yeah. That's like a lot. One of those is a lot, but all four of those is a lot of realizations.
Yeah. And it took me another four years to unpack all of those and write Just Work, which really tries to parse the problem of workplace injustice so that we can fix it, so we can address it.
Okay. Amazing. Well, okay. So I mean, I know I care a lot about having a great workplace, but it's not perfect.
And I know there's a lot of other leaders listening or people who work in teams or place where it's like, okay, lots of good things, but we're not perfect.
So tell us Kim, in this book, what are some of the ways that we can create better workplaces?
How can we be doing better?
So one of the things, one of the chapters in the book is you can't fix problems you refuse to notice.
And so the first thing that I tried to do is to differentiate between bias, prejudice, and bullying.
I think too often we conflate these problems as though they're one thing.
But the fact of the matter is they're very different.
So I can offer some simple definitions for bias is sort of not meaning it.
It's like a brain hiccup. Whereas prejudice is a consciously held belief, usually reflecting some kind of stereotype.
So that is meaning it. So if bias is not meaning it, prejudice is meaning it and bullying is just being mean.
There's no belief at all. And it's really useful to sort of distinguish between these three so that we know how to respond.
We know what to say when we don't know what to say.
Because very often, I don't know about you, but at least once a day, I'll be in a meeting and someone will say something and I'm like, whoa, but I don't know exactly how to respond.
So what I recommend is with bias, you respond with an I statement.
I don't think you meant that the way it sounded. It sort of invites someone in to understand things from your perspective.
Whereas with prejudice, that's not going to work because holding up a mirror to someone is they're going to look in the mirror and say, yeah, you know, they're going to like what they see.
So you need an it statement in the face of prejudice. And that can appeal to the law, it can appeal to an HR policy, or it can appeal to sort of common sense, like it is illegal not to hire someone because of their hair, which it is in California Crown Act, it is an HR violation not to hire someone because of their hair, which hopefully it is, or it is ridiculous not to hire the most qualified candidate because of their hair.
So that's what you do in a sort of an it statement helps people understand where the line is between their freedom to believe whatever they want, but they can't impose that belief on other people.
They can't say or do whatever they want in the workplace.
And then last but not least, bullying.
What do you do about bullying? I learned about this actually from my daughter when she was in third grade.
She was getting bullied on the playground. And I was encouraging her as often adults do to kids in this situation, to use an I statement.
I feel sad when you blah, blah, blah, she banged her fist on the table. And she said, Mom, they are trying to make me feel sad.
Why would I tell them they succeeded?
And I thought that is a really good point. Good point. Yeah. And so we talked about it.
Why are you talking to me like that? If you want to sort of deescalate, or you can't talk to me like that.
But a you statement, now, all of a sudden, you're not in the submissive role anymore, you're in an active role.
And so those are some sort of I'll show you I even I have a, I have a, I have a quick screen share.
I love it. This is people reporting and we all face this on a daily basis of, okay, bias, someone doesn't need it.
What do you do? So yeah, okay, I'll let you review it.
This, I think is really good. So bias is not meaning it just an I statement, invite them in to understand things from your perspective.
I don't think you're going to take me seriously when you're referring to me as honey, or whatever it is.
Prejudice and it statement, it is illegal, it is an HR violation.
It is ridiculous not to hire the most qualified candidate because of their hair, for example, there's many other kinds of prejudices.
And finally, a you statement in the face of bullying, either you can't talk to me like that, or you need to stop now.
Or especially if you're a leader, what's going on for you here?
Why are you behaving this way? So I think that can really help people figure out what to say when you don't know what to say.
Now, of course, what can leaders do to make it more likely that people will actually say something?
Because they rarely do.
I had to think long and hard. One of the reasons why I wrote the book is to express gratitude for the various upstanders in my career.
All kinds of ridiculous things happened to me, which I explain in the book.
But the people who I'm so grateful to are those who, they weren't standing up for me as though I couldn't stand up for myself, but they were standing up to the problem.
They were helping dispel the gaslighting by saying, this is not right.
And so for example, in the case of bias, Aileen Lee, who started Cowboy VC, who you probably know, told me a great story about going into a meeting with two colleagues who were men.
And Aileen had the expertise that was going to win her side the deal.
So when the other side came in and sat across from them, the first person sat across from the guy to Aileen's left, the next person sat across from the guy to his left, and then everybody else filed on in down the table, leaving Aileen dangling by herself.
So often that's how bias shows up, just in where we sit.
So everybody, you know, Aileen was a little uncomfortable.
The two guys with her were a little uncomfortable. And then sure enough, what usually happens in such a situation started to happen.
Aileen started talking.
And when the other side had questions, they directed them at her, at the two guys to her left.
And it happened once, it happened twice, it happened a third time.
And finally, one of Aileen's business partners stood up and he said, I think Aileen and I should switch seats.
That was all he had to do to totally change the dynamic in the room.
And he did that for a couple of reasons. One, because he cared about Aileen, and he didn't like seeing, he didn't think it was fair.
He didn't like seeing her get ignored. But he also did it because he just wanted to win the deal.
And he knew if he couldn't get them listening to her, he wouldn't, they wouldn't win the deal.
So that's a simple story. Why doesn't that happen more often?
Like what can leaders do to help that kind of thing happen more often?
Well, I think what you were saying is true. It's almost, I'm thinking back to my own daily business matters.
And you just find yourself in situations and some of you, you're not sure what to do.
So I think back to the screen share you shared, I'm kind of saying, different situations, how can you handle it?
This is another good example.
Because once you kind of have the tools, then maybe you're like, okay, maybe I am willing to do something, switch chairs, make a comment, an I statement, a you statement, an it statement.
I all do in the next meetings we have today, which we really appreciate, Kim.
Yeah. And one of the, I started a company around just work with Trier Bryant.
And one of the things that Trier and I work with leaders to do is to create bias disruptors.
Because if you don't, you know, if you just ignore bias, when it happens, it gets reinforced.
Bias is kind of a pattern.
And we as human beings are pattern makers, but we're also pattern changers.
We can make a new, better pattern. And so it's really important to teach your team how to disrupt bias.
Okay. So I want to talk about this, but before we get to the disruptive of the bias, so let's just some like data or data or quantify, like how often on a weekly basis or monthly basis or daily basis in the workplace does a typical company or team or an employee experience bias or prejudice or bullying?
Like how often is this kind of once a year or much more frequently than that?
I mean, in the case of bias, it's probably once a meeting is my understanding.
You know, that's my experience. In fact, Alan Eustace, who was an engineering leader I worked with at Google, used to do the following.
He'd stand up in front of his whole team, 500 people.
And he would say, if you are underrepresented and you've experienced some form of bias, you know, in the last week, not ever in your career, but this week, raise your hand.
100% of the underrepresented, meaning basically not a white man, 100% of the underrepresented people raised their hand.
And he said, okay, put your hand down. Now he said, if anyone has expressed bias in the last week, raise your hand.
No hands went up. And he said, there is the problem.
We can't fix problems we refuse to notice. We've got to learn how to notice this in a way that is not, you know, because you say or do something biased, it doesn't mean you're irredeemably horrible person.
It just means you're living in a society that is profoundly biased.
And if we're going to change it, we got to start learning how to interrupt it.
So I would say, I mean, at least for my, I'd be curious about what your experience, but I mean, I've experienced not only bias, prejudice, and bullying, but also discrimination, harassment, and physical violations in the workplace.
And, you know, the physical violations far less often, you know, maybe a couple of times a year, but the bias, I would say on a daily basis.
And even though some of the physical violations I experienced were far more traumatic, I would say in aggregate, the bias has been like a repetitive stress injury that actually has hurt me more.
And different people have different life experiences.
So I'm not saying, I'm not trying to impose mine on the world, but I'm just saying that's how it's been for me.
Yeah. I think that you, you, I think this idea that it's prevalent bias, prejudice, bullying, it's prevalence and maybe different, different spectrums, depending where you work, your team, who you are.
But the point is that especially bias, it comes up all the time. Okay.
So I love this. You and Trier's term bias disruptor. So tell us, tell us what that means and then tell us all things we can do to help disrupt bias.
If we see something in a meeting, you know, after, after we're done in this conversation.
So there's three parts to bias disruptors.
And I really recommend if you're a leader, sit down with your team and take the first step, which is figure out, come up with a shared vocabulary.
What are you all as a team going to say when you notice bias so that everyone knows so that you can move past the moment sort of quickly, but so that you know what to say.
So I don't think you meant that the way it sounded. Some teams, other teams have, have said that they'll say, ouch.
And when someone says ouch in a meeting, that means something biased.
And then that gives the opportunity who said the bias thing to say, oops, you know, so, so that, so that has worked for some other teams that we've worked with, throw up a peace sign, Trier and I wave a purple flag, which I have here and, or say purple flag or throw up a purple post-it or whatever you have, whatever you want.
And the thing about a purple flag is it's friendly.
It's not a red flag. It's not a yellow flag. It's inviting.
The key thing about this shared vocabulary is that it shouldn't be overly harsh or aggressive.
It should invite someone in to understand that, that, that bias has happened.
And so then the next part to bias disruptors is a shared dorm on how to respond when you're the one whose bias has been disrupted, because it is, I don't know about you, but when someone points out to me that I've said or done something bias, I feel deeply ashamed.
And, and it's difficult to respond well, when you're in shame mode, it's a, it triggers the same kind of fight or flight response.
And it can't be up to the people who are disrupting the bias to, to manage my shame response.
I've got to manage my own shame response, but you as a leader can help people on your team manage their shame response by just having a shared norm for how to respond.
And it basically needs to include some form of, thank you for pointing it out.
And then either I get it, uh, I'm working on it and, and we're going to have to be patient and persistent with one another, by the way, because even though I, once I realized that, that I'm using, like if, for example, guys calling a mixed audience guys, like that's very hard language to change.
It's going to take some persistence, but then there are other times when my bias has been disrupted and I don't even know what I did wrong.
Now I'm doubly ashamed because I've harmed someone and I'm ignorant.
And so teaching people to say, thanks for pointing it out.
I don't quite get it. Can we talk after the meeting is really important.
So that's why the shared norms are so important. And then the third thing is a shared commitment to, if you get to the end of a meeting and no purple flag has been waved, you got to pause for a moment.
So if we get to the end of this conversation and you haven't waved a purple flag on me, let's pause.
What did I say that was biased? Cause I promise you, I said something, uh, we all do.
So it's sort of, you want to make sure that you're looking for it, that you're, that you're, and then, and then that you're moving through it quickly so that you, so that every meeting isn't all about bias.
That's great. Those are, I mean, those are really, I think that that feels like something every manager or team lead can just have a conversation in their next leadership meeting of around some of this, a very practical, very actionable, and you can kind of see it having a shared norm, shared vocabulary, gives people the tools built to better handle it when it comes up.
Cause one of the things that I've seen, I don't know if this came up in your work with organizations is, and you've kind of said it, but I always say people don't put their foot in their mouth.
They don't want to say the wrong thing.
And sometimes you kind of get caught in an awkward situation and you feel like, okay, I really said the wrong thing, but I don't know what to do about it.
And that's, and so I think helping people just have shared norms and behavior and what to do about it is, and language is very helpful.
Yeah. And we're all going to say the wrong thing.
Like we are all bound to mess up and I think extending each other some grace, but also part of the grace is the radical candor.
You got to point it out. Yeah. I love that. Okay. So in addition to the book, which has been, you know, so much, you also have a company where you work with organizations and teams to help create this, these just work workplaces.
And so as you've worked with some of these teams and companies that you come in and help create more equitable workplaces, what are, what are some insights you can share?
Give us some examples of where you came into an, into a team and maybe found some bias or prejudice and things that you implemented to help, help get things back on the right track.
Yeah. The bias disruptors tends to be one of the easier things to do actually, because it, it it's, it's really about, it's fast, it's free.
It just takes a little bit of emotional discipline, but teams have been sort of pleasantly surprised.
They approach it with a certain amount of dread and then they're like, oh, it's so much more relaxing to know that we can just point it out and move past it.
The other thing that we've done is we've worked with leaders to write really sort of a code of conduct so that when, when folks notice prejudice, they know what to do about it.
They, they can point to, it is a violation of our code of conduct.
And that sounds kind of easy. It's really actually difficult because are you going to be the kind of organization where, you know, where, where there are known sort of consequences to, to imposing your prejudice on someone else?
Like what is okay to do or say? Is it, and, and organizations have really struggled with this and you see, you know, Basecamp is an example of a company that sort of backed into a very bad code of conduct because they, they, they tried to write it when they were in crisis and they lost 30% of their employees as a result.
So you want to make sure that you're thinking through where that line is between one person's freedom to, to believe what they want, but not to say or do, and it's going to be different from company to company.
So that has, that has proved very helpful at some of the companies.
And then the other thing that we've done around bullying is worked with leaders to create real consequences for bullying, because the problem with bullying is that it's kind of a local maximum.
Bullying usually works for the bully. That's why they do it, but it's bad for the collective efforts of the team.
And if the goal of just work is to create a collaborative work environment, bullying is a disaster and for the collective efforts of the team.
And so you want to make sure that you're teaching people to, to create conversational consequences for bullying, to interrupt it in the moment, but also that you're creating a sort of performance management systems that don't give high ratings to people who, who, who bully.
So you want to create compensation consequences and most importantly, you want to create career consequences.
You want to make sure that you're not promoting your, your people who indulge in bullying.
Atlassian is a good example of a company who, who made a very explicit rule.
We're not going to promote the brilliant jerks. And, and that was really important because there comes a moment in every company's history where the jerks begin to win.
And that's the, that's the moment when the company begins to lose, when the culture begins to deteriorate.
So we've done that. The other thing that we've worked on, when you layer power on top of bias, prejudice, and bullying, you get discrimination, harassment, and physical violations.
So we've worked with organizations to begin to quantify their bias in hiring practices and who, and ratings and promotions at every stage of the employee life cycle, even in, in who gets mentored.
And when you quantify it, you begin to notice, you begin, you can't help but notice, and then you got to figure out why it's happening and fix it.
But that has really been, been helpful.
Then there are also, there are also companies that we work with to really put in place checks and balances, because when, when, when managers in organizations have too much unchecked authority, then they often take advantage of that.
And that's where you begin to see cultures of harassment come into place.
And then last but not least, around sort of creating a culture of consent to prevent physical violations has been really important.
And we've used, actually with a number of leaders, we've used the handshake.
Like we're, some of us are returning to, to, to in-person work and are we going to shake each other's hand?
Are we not? And, and using that to reinforce the idea that it's the, it's the responsibility of the toucher to know whether the person they want to touch wants to be touched.
And if they don't want to be touched, don't touch.
You don't, you're not obligated to shake someone's hand. And if you're not sure, don't touch, don't just stick your hand out, you know, say, are we shaking hands?
You know, are we up? And this has been really refreshing, I think, for a number of teams.
So those are some of the things that, that Trier and I do when we work with leaders, leadership teams.
That's, that's, that's amazing. That's such a great portfolio.
And, and you can just, as you're talking about it, you're like, well, I can't believe that doesn't exist.
And I'm excited for you and all the work you're doing.
And so just as somebody who's written this book, you do a lot, you people, you hear all the good.
I'm sure you hear all the bad, just bad picture of just work.
And now you're working with organizations. I mean, are you optimistic? We have about two minutes left, Kim, but like, are you optimistic for the future or are you pessimistic for the future when it comes to workplace, creating great workplaces?
I'm optimistic. I mean, I'm sort of by personality and optimist, but I, I think there are reasons for optimism.
There's certainly are reasons for pessimism as well.
I'll acknowledge, but the reason why I'm optimistic is that I think that between Me Too and Black Lives Matter, there's so much more awareness.
You know, I said at the beginning, you can't fix problems you refuse to notice.
It's harder than ever to refuse to notice these, these, these problems.
And it also is more likely that people are going to tell their stories and they've done fMRI studies.
And they found that when people tell stories, their brains literally get on the same wavelength.
And so I'm optimistic that as we share stories more openly than we ever have as human beings, that, that we can come together in solidarity and really address some of these, some of these problems.
And it's not, I think also recognizing that gender injustice doesn't occur in a vacuum.
Racial injustice doesn't occur in a vacuum, that we must come together and solve these problems together.
That, that's what gives me reason for hope. Good, good.
Well, I'm so grateful for your book and the work that you and Trier are doing.
I'm very happy to hear that too. I think we all have work to do. And so for the audience who are listening, if they want to learn, if they want to get a copy of your book, what's the best way to do that?
If they want to follow you, tell us how we can do all that.
Tell us the best channels to follow you and how to find your book.
Absolutely. The book is everywhere. So, so you can go to your local bookstore, you can get it on Amazon.
If you go to justworktogether.com, you can, there's a bunch of links, you can bulk buy copies for your whole team if you want.
And, and we have a number of resources on justworktogether.com and I'm at Kimball Scott, or you can follow at Just Work Book.
Thank you so much, Kim. We're out of time.
This was an amazing conversation. All the best to you. Let's all, for everyone listening, let's all go back and create better work environments for all of our teams today.
Thanks so much, Kim. Thank you.