Charlie HR: The company that encourages staff to be brutally honest

Charlie HR: The company that encourages staff to be brutally honest

Being brutally honest to a colleague is akin to a nightmare for most Brits: but that’s exactly what is starting to happen at Charlie HR.

The concept is called ‘radical candour’. It was invented by Kim Scott, a former employee at Google and Apple. She describes it to BuzzFeed: “You have to care personally and challenge directly.”

Being direct and not caring personally is “obnoxious aggression”. Scott explains: “If someone says: ‘I’m going to be honest with you’, they’re often about to be obnoxiously aggressive.”

But this isn’t the problem. The problem is “ruinous empathy”; failing to have the required courage to say what you think. Scott says: “Ruinous empathy is almost always the problem, everywhere. In every country in the world!”

She gives an example of great radical candour. Sheryl Sandberg, who was Google’s Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at the time, told Scott after a presentation to Google CEO Eric Schmidt: “I felt like the meeting had gone very well, and I was expecting a high five from Sheryl.”

“Sheryl said: ‘You said “um” a lot in there’. And I brushed it off – I thought, if that’s all I did wrong, who cares? And she stopped and said: ‘I can see I’m going to need to be more direct with you. When you say “um” every third word, it makes you sound stupid’.

“A lot of people would have said that was mean. But, in fact, it was the kindest thing she could have done for me at that moment. I was in my mid-thirties – why had no one ever told me I had that problem? It’s like going through your whole career with spinach in your teeth.”

One meeting at Charlie HR, witnessed by BuzzFeed, starts with the company’s Chief Operating Officer, Ben Gateley, said: “I’ll go first. I had some frank feedback from [CEO Rob O’Donovan] that I’d been defensive in a few situations where I was challenged. It was really good to have that flagged to me.”

O’Donovan went next: “I had feedback berating me for sending really long emails. Sorry. I’ll try and be clearer and more concise.”

Chris Butcher, Lead Software Engineer, said: “I got some pretty savage feedback,” he says. “I’m paraphrasing here, but I’ve been told that what I say is quite s*** and I should stop moping around like a big goth.” Everyone laughed, but not because it wasn’t true.

Butcher told BuzzFeed after the meeting: “I’m not usually a mopey goth. But I have been the last couple of weeks.”

The feedback isn’t hard to take, either: “I Iove it! I like it to be raw. The more outlandish it is, and the more passion and strength of feeling there is behind it, the better. For me it shows that the person…trusts me with handling it, and…hasn’t left anything unsaid by the end of it. Imagine if you could run your personal relationships like that? Imagine if you could say to your girlfriend: ‘I f****** hate the way you do that. It’s a real bummer’. You’d feel so good afterwards. I quite like the idea of it being in all aspects of your life.”

O’Donovan said that it was “a bit weird” at first: “People are used to having awkward conversations and not being able to walk past each other in the corridor afterwards. Whereas here it’s like: Bang, we’re happy families again.”

What do you think? Will you be introducing radical candour in your workplace? Let us know in the comments below.  

Comments (2)

  • Big Dog
    Big Dog
    Tue, 10 Jan 2017 4:09pm GMT
    This is inspirational thinking from Charlie HR, and is a fresh and constructive approach to engaging employee's and pushing employee's to realise their potential, whilst also cutting out what can be described as the office cliche's that are often thrown around between colleagues attempting to be politically correct in their criticism, feedback, also not wanting to incur the wrath of an 'old school' HR approach to management for unprofessionalism in the workplace. A bit of Radical Candour would go along way in my workplace.
  • Annie
    Tue, 10 Jan 2017 1:59pm GMT
    I want to work for Charlie HR.
    In my organisation, senior management are constantly quoting "organisational behaviours and values". It is totally disingenuous, and the end result is a lot of unhappy employees griping at the water cooler; whilst the talented leave for a better work environment.

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