Oversee them [the common people] with dignity, and they people will be respectful;
oversee them with filiality and kindness and the people will be dutiful;
oversee them by raising up the accomplished and instructing those who are unable,
and the people will be industrious.
In my opinion that quote of the philosopher describes the management approach of Kim Scott, the former top manager of Google who managed 700 employees. This is how she acts in building the management structure. At the moment, Kim is deservedly the most coveted Silicon Valley coach. Her book ‘Radical candor: Become the Boss Without Losing Humanity’ has become a bestseller.
One must admit that this is not every day routine when you get an interview with the person who led AdSense, YouTube, and Doubleclick Online Sales and Operations at Google, and then joined Apple. Over the course of her career, Kim also was a coach of the Dropbox, Qualtrics, Twitter CEO’s, and other technology companies, she was co-founder and CEO Juice Software, a startup, and led business development at Delta Three and Capital Thinking.
At the very beginning of her career Kim worked as a senior political adviser at the FCC, led a children’s clinic in Kosovo. When she was just 22 years old, she opened a diamond factory in Moscow and was an analyst at the Fund of Soviet Companies.
Certainly, one may have a lot to learn from a person with such life and management experience. Such a person has a completely different viewpoint, different from an ordinary employee, on the things. In my turn, as a journalist, it is very interesting to find out different opinions on topical issues. I was very happy when Kim agreed to talk about her work at Google and about her book.
Kim, what has prompted you to write this book? What were the reasons for writing Radical Candor?
It is really funny because in many ways my business carrier has been a way to subsidize my novel writing habit. So I love to write and that’s the main reason I write. I wrote several novels that never got published. Throughout my whole career I’ve written books.
After I had worked at Google for about 5 years. I released the thing that made me get up in the morning, the thing that I love about my work was not “cost per click” or the business goals but it was building the team and management, the human side of the work. That was prompted me to go to the Apple and start this class called “Managing in Apple” because Apple had decided that they going to throw all the other management training. It is really hard to train managers, they wanted to start with a blank piece of paper.
It was very interesting to me to see how Apple differed from google and also to spend all my time thinking about management. As I was developing this course in Apple, a friend of mine in Google became the CEO of Twitter. He asked me if I would come and help them design a course called “Management in Twitter”. And managing in the Twitter looked pretty much the same as managing at Apple, or managing at Google or managing a farm. No matter what you are doing, weather it hi-tech or low-tech, the fundamental aspects of management are about humanity, human relationships.
And became a couch for the CEO of Twitter, CEO of DropBox when I left Apple. I have decided that I write a book and coach at the same time. Even it was fun to coach CEO’s the advice I give to CEO’s is very much the same as the advice I give to brand new manager, because no matter who you are in company and no matter what industry you are in, management is about getting small group of people or big group of people to work together to achieve a goal. It is the same. That’s kind of what prompted me to write a book.
You have created a tool for managers and termed it «Radical Candor» Do I understand that we are talking about a certain form of management? If yes, how different is this form of management from all other existing ones and why is it functional in the 21st century?
It is a great question, thank you. I think for a lot of human history we accomplished our great collective goals through terrible brutality. Then the industrial revolution came and we replaced brutality with bureaucracy. It was much better but still not very inspiring. And I think in today’s economy thanks to the internet, or communication tools, collaboration tools we can now replace bureaucracy with human relationships as the way to get things done together. I think in the current moment especially in the technology industry we can see the following: the technology industry is sort of lead the way to this new kind of management that is not command and control, but more collaborative, it is not the top-down bureaucratic command-and-control system, it is a hierarchy where is optimize for collaboration not for domination. So there is a great recognition that if you create that kind of environment in which everyone can bring their best selves to the work you can get better work as a collective, and you going to be happier as the individuals.
So I think the manager in today’s economy has three jobs:
- To create the culture of feedback;
- To build cohesive team;
- To get things done.
And at the center of all these is the relationship that the manager has with each who direct reports. If you think that you can do these three things, if you think that you can create a culture of feedback, build a cohesive team, and get things done without a relationship you are kidding yourself. I think that it’s true that brutality, command, and control in the short term can get results, but they work especially well for the baboon group. And we are as human beings can do better than baboons.
So the idea of ‘Radical candor’ is to describe the relationship between employees and their bosses. There are 2 key things: you have to care about people at a personal level, not as just professionals, but to care personally. At the same time you have to challenge directly. You can’t say bad things behind the people’s backs when there is a problem or when there is a wonderful thing to celebrate. You have to say it directly, to challenge directly. So care personally and challenge directly.
When we speak of ‘Radical Candor’ as a certain form of management, do these principles work only in the American environment? Was it tested on other territories, since every place is different in terms of the mentality, culture, and effectiveness of management settled in throughout of the history?
In my experience, the ‘Radical candor’ works everywhere in the world. In fact, my first lesson in ‘Radical candor’ happened in Moscow. Early in my career, I went to work in Moscow from 1990 till 1994. My job was to build a diamond cutter factory and to hire a number of workers. I was 22 and I thought that it would be easy, because I had dollars and at that moment the ruble was falling terribly. I thought that it was the whole management, that this is just about paying people. And I had money so I thought that it would be easy but I was wrong.
When I tried to hire these Russian diamond cutters and I offer them this big salary, I thought that they would say “yes” but they didn’t. What they wanted was a picnic. So we went to have a picnic and everybody had a bottle of vodka and I released by the end of the picnic that what they wanted was to know that I care about them personally. Things were going uncertain in Russia at that time, it was 1992, the Soviet Union just fall apart. What they really wanted to know was that I would care about them if the things became unstable, I will take care of them and their families.
So the one thing that I could do is not to pay them, one thing that I could do is to give a damn.
All of a sudden this was the moment in my career when I thought that management is actually very interesting, it’s not boring, it’s not just about money, but human relationships. I have found that this was translated all over the world. I worked in Russian, in Kosovo, in Israel, in Japan, In China.
What you think about what ‘Radical candor’ is, it is about caring personally and challenging directly, it’s about love and truth. Love and truth are the most important in every culture in the world. It may sound very different from one culture versus another. So ‘Radical candor’ gets measured not the speaker’s mouth, but the listener’s ear. That means you have to adjust how you are talking depending on what culture you are in. For example, ‘Radical candor’ sounds very different in Tokyo than it does in Tel-Aviv. For example, before my team in Tokyo I called it ‘Polite persistence’ because they thought about challenging directly as persistence and caring personality as being polite. But if I call it ‘Polite persistence’ in Israel the team would dismiss the idea as being patronizing.
From 2004 to 2010, you had worked for Google managing 100 people, later you have managed 700 people. What positions did you hold at Google during this period, and how your promotions did look like through your career at Google?
When I got to Google I was leading the AdSense sales and operation team. When we acquired YouTube, I was managing sales and operation ream if it too. And then we acquired DoubleClick, so I was management sales and operation of AdSense, YouTube, and DoubleClick. That was how the team grew. I was really proud that we scaled well. The way we scaled was not just adding people, we actually even grew internationally, but in the North American team for example, we stayed the same size even as benefit grew tenfold.
In 2004 the AdSense team was about 90 people, and in 2010
it was still about 90 people but we were making 10 times more money. The important thing about that is not just it was a more profitable business but we able to keep the boring work away which is automatic, so the team could work on the most interesting things. Sometimes a smaller team can get more than the bigger team. Sometime when the team becomes too big there is also a handshake problem. When you have 2 people there is one handshake, but when there are a lot of people the number of handshakes is huge. And it grows exponentially with the size of the team to me knowing how important it is to treat people well and to give these human relationships, so there is a lot of value to keep teams small when you can. A small team can have dipper relationships.
The other thing that was really fun about working at Google was the international expansion. We have teams in Russia, Ireland, all over the world. That was where the number of my employees from 100 to 700 came from. The first thing that was interesting is to watch how the ‘Radical candor’ philosophy and culture spread all around the world and all these different offices.
I was really nervous about it because as we were expending globally I was pregnant with tweens. I was expanding myself. So my doctor said I couldn’t travel to these new offices. I wondered how I can make sure that the culture translates. What I learned was that the relationships that I had with my director reports was translated to all these offices, and communicate not only what we had to do but how we want to work together. There was a moment when we decided that we would get every office around the world to create a 5-minute video introducing. So we can all meet each other over videos that were introducing people of the office and also a little bit of culture in all these different offices. It was very heartwarming because we saw that the culture had spread.
Each of these offices all over the world despite different cultures had a real commitment to building relationships, to carrying about each other personally but at the same time to call it bullshit the things that are not working. Culture scale and culture in the company stand from the relationship that the leader has with his direct reports.
In your opinion what is imperfect about this tech giant, what should be changed?
I think obviously no company is perfect. Every company can always improve. I think that one of the big problems, not just in Google but in tech and the world in general, is there is a lot of work place injustice: gender injustice, racial injustice. And we have a long way to go on solving that problem. That is the topic of my next book.
Certainly working at Google means having a good financial income, but in your case did you have non-financial strong motivation, higher idea to keep pushing and working at tech giant?
I would say my experience at Google was one of the best in my career. I don’t have enormous criticism of Google but I think that there is one problem there which is a sort of unconscious bias against women.
And I think also there is unconscious racial bias. It is a very hard problem to solve and there was really a lot of commitment from the leadership to solve this problem but I think there is a still long way to go to solve this problem.
Digital World has interviewed several former Google employees from the US and they noted a number of things that I’ d like to see if they are consistent in your view?
For instance, Daisy Soderbergh-Rivkin says that Google’s policy is not always in line with what Google actually does in fact.
I didn’t see that really often when I was at Google. I tell you a story when I first got to Google, I was really optimistic and idealistic at that time but… there is a story. There were things that really impressed me. Google always puts the user experience over money. For example, I was leading AdSense and we had a customer that had a dictionary site. And there was another dictionary site that was not using AdSense. When you typed a word into Google it would go to another dictionary, not the one that was AdSense customer. And if we had driven traffic to the AdSense customer it would made millions and millions of dollars for Google. And it was also good for the AdSense business. So I went to the person in charge of a link and I said “Switch it, send it to the AdSense customer”. And I got in big trouble. That person explained to me, it was the senior woman at Google at that time, she said “You don’t understand how Google works. We are a principal company, we do not make decisions on money, but what is best for our users”. She explained to me why that site was better for users. It was not much-much better, but it was a little bit better for user experience. This really impressed me. This was a company that wanted to do the right thing and was willing to walk away from money in order to do the right thing.
There was another time in the Google. The US government demanded that we turn over search records for certain people. And Google refused, they said that this is a privacy violation. When that happened Google stock prices fell. We had a company meeting with thousands of people. And CEO stood up and said “I want to talk about this decision of refusing to US government”. Everyone in that room had Google stock, so all these several thousands of people had lost a lot of money as the result of this decision. And everyone in that room stood up and applauded. It was another good example of Google. Not just leadership but everybody in the Google put their principals ahead of money. So Google is not perfect — but I am still very proud of Google and the way the put principals first. Even I haven’t work there for 10 years.
Tyler Breisechar noted that Google not only worked secretly on military projects but that the management has changed. itself has changed. What people are doing in one department is not known to others and employees are not allowed to talk to each other what they are working on anymore which leaves out transparency. In a nutshell it seemed that he was coming to work at one Google that he heard about but in fact it was totally different
I think there were a lot of googlers who are very upset about Google’s decisions to work on that project. I don’t know enough about it to have a strong opinion. But Google is now 80 thousand people, and when you have a company like this you going to have a lot of different opinions about what is right and what is the wrong thing. And I think that Google does a pretty good job being transparent about the decisions that they make. You are going to have some people who not going to like the decision and the right way is to leave if you don’t like it.
What was the reason for deciding to leave Google after you have increased company’s profits more than 10 times — up to several billion dollars?
The reason why I decided to leave Google was I realized that what I cared about the most was management. It was not a cost per click. I didn’t find billions of dollars interesting, I found people really interesting.
I started looking around Google if there is a project where I can work that help me to teach all of the managers at Google how to be better managers. And was not a project like that there, but my favorite business professor left Harvard to enjoy the Apple and Steve Jobs started this Apple University and decided to throw away all the managing trainings and start from the blank piece of paper. That was the opportunity I was looking for. I think whenever you change a job you move away from something and you move toward something, mostly I was moving to that job in Apple. But I also was moving away from something, If I will totally candid with you, there was one leader in Google who I didn’t get along with and I was moving away from him. Google later fired him after several people left Goggle because of him. When you leave your job you always running away from something or you running toward something and that is most important to go toward something.
What do you think are the differences between 2010 Google and 2020 Google?
It’s a good question and I don’t really know an answer because I am not there now. But I think managing when it arrived at Google in 2004 was 2 thousand people. And now there are 80 thousand people. Managing 80 thousand people is much harder than 2 thousand of people. All companies as they grow that big struggle. They struggle to keep their culture. From my friends who work there I think that Google struggle very well to keep their culture. I think when company grows there is always a period when the assholes begin to win. That happened to Google and Larry Page did a really good job getting rid of the assholes, he fired them. I applaud him. As company grows the bureaucracy becomes bigger. And I think that Google is fighting that. I am very optimistic that they would win that fight as well. I think that they are aware of it and they a struggling to fix it.
For example, one of the issues was the performance review process at Google. They did a lot of work to do to stream line, to make it take less time for people. I know this because they invited me to come back and talk to people about how to have a faster performance review and at the same time continue to be in the ‘radical candor’ with people. So I left Google but I still love Google and I cheer them from the side lines.
My gratitude goes to Kim for the conversation. It was interesting to look at Google from a new approach. Let me remind you that Kim Scott is the most demanded coach in Silicon Valley, she was a coach with leading technology giants and her method of managing “Radical candor” was certainly reflected in many companies. I did not see lies and hypocrisy in the answers to my questions.
Certainly, there is a stereotype that Americans are capable of answering any questions even in the “hard talk” format, but Kim was not confused by any question. I think that she is really the person who is grateful and faithful to Google. This is the era of 2000, we are dealing with the formation of a company and the formation of a corporate culture, and I do not think that Kim was not sincere in answering these questions.
Summing up the interview, I would say that Kim had a wonderful experience and good memories of working at Google at the stage of its development. Perhaps for personal reasons, Kim did not want to, could not or did not know something to tell more. But watching the reaction to my question about the participation of Google in military projects, the question didn’t bother her at all, and the answer was in the style of “Radical candor”. I admit that innovative companies that enter the market dream of big money, but they are more driven by the idea. But when a company becomes a serious player and occupies a certain market share, then the goals can change, and if the goals change, then most likely the culture and management will change. I admit that such a scenario is possible at the stage of the formation of companies. But Google’s participation in military and government projects suggests that the situation has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. And if you remember, the Internet was not created by civilians.
By all means it is incredibly difficult to get into the essence of the management that Kim is talking about from the short interview. Based on what I heard, this management can adapt to different territories, different cultures and conditions. Besides probably talking about management and benchmarking with different approaches from Kenichi Omae to Donald Trump, the Kremlin School of Negotiations and related management could be an interesting topic for a separate interview. Looking forward I can say that Kim agreed to continue our acquaintance. I think that you can get acquainted with the next interview with Kim Scott soon. And I am certainly grateful to her for that!