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 it's 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 help create better workplaces by the end of these 30 minutes and so for the audience who's just joining 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 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 wound 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 backstabbing 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 or 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 involved 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 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 it 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 maybe you're like i think you could do better here or i could do better and so it's a really great book okay so that's radical candor and now tell us about just 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 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 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 in the supreme court here it's like it's unfair to 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 i had caused harm i had been biased at times in my career i had never intentionally caused harm but 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 there was a lot i call it 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 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 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 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 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 so i can offer some simple definitions for bias is sort of not meaning it's like a brain hiccup whereas prejudice is a consciously held belief usually reflecting some kind of stereotype so 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 how to say 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 eye 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 uh they're going to look in the mirror and say yeah you know they're going to like what they see so and so and 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 id 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 i learned about this actually from my daughter when she was in third grade she was getting bullied on the on the playground and i was encouraging her as often often adults do to kids in this situation to use an i statement i feel sad when you bla bla bla bla 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 a you state why are you talking to me like that if if you want to sort of de-escalate or you can't talk to me like that but a you statement now all of a sudden you're not in a 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 um i have a quick screen share oh yeah please do i love it this is people reporting again we all face this on a daily basis of okay biased someone doesn't mean it what do you do so they're asking it okay i'll let you review it because this i think is really good so bias is 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 in its 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 and 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 sort of it you know 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 like i had to 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 gas lighting by saying this is not right you know and so for example in the case of bias aileen lee who's 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 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 left and it happened once it happened twice it happened a third time and finally the the 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 saying he didn't think it was fair he didn't like her 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 i'm thinking back to my own daily business matters and you just find yourself in situations that somebody you're not sure what to do so i think back to the the screen share you shared kind of same cave 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 and it statement i mean these are really good practical things that we can all do we can all do in the next meetings we have today which we really appreciate kim yeah and one of the i started a company uh around just work with trier brian 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 if you 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 just or an employee experience bias or prejudice or bullying like how often is this kind of once a year or much more frequently than i mean in the case of bias it's probably once a meeting is my is my uh under you know that's my experience in fact alan eustace who was an engineering leader i worked with at google used to do used to do the following he'd stand up in front of his whole team in 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 not a white 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 where 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 in in a society that is profoundly biased and if we're going to change it we gotta 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 i've experienced not only bias prejudice and bullying but also discrimination harassment and and physical violations in the workplace um and you know the physical violations far less often you know maybe maybe a couple 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 uh 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 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 you and trier's um 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 this conversation yeah 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 gonna say uh 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 flag which i have here and uh 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 it's inviting the key thing about the 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 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 by 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 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 gonna have to be patient and persistent with it one another by the way because even though i once i realize 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 because i promise you i said something uh we all do so 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 right right 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 their next leadership meeting of around some of this very practical very actionable and you can kind of see having a shared norm shared vocabulary gives people the tools to be able to better handle it when it comes up because 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 they don't and sometimes you kind of get caught in an awkward situation and you're 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 behave and what to do about it and language is very helpful yeah and we're all going to say the wrong thing like it 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 uh 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 now 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 you base camp 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 percent 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 just 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 uh sort of performance management systems that don't give high ratings to people who uh 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 uh alassian 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 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 in ratings and promotions uh at at every stage of the employee life cycle even and and who gets mentored and when you quantify it you begin to notice uh you begin you can't help but notice and and then you got to figure out why it's happening right and and fix it but that has really uh been been helpful then there are also there are also companies that we work with to really put in in place checks and balances because when when when managers and organizations have too much unchecked authority then they often take advantage of that and that's where you begin to see cultures of harassment uh 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 hand shake 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 it that's amazing that's such a great portfolio and and you can just as you're talking about 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 here I've just worked 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 an optimist but I think there are reasons for optimism there 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 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 Tariq 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 there's a bunch of links you can bulk buy copies for your whole team if you want and we have a number of resources on justworktogether .com and I'm at Kimball Scott or you can follow at justworkbook 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