Why Radical Candor Is the Key to Improving Ethics in Sales

How being unapologetically honest can help your sales team thrive.
November 02, 2017

As much as it might hurt to admit, ethics appear to be lacking in the workplace. In a 2016 EY survey of more than 2,800 business executives worldwide, 42 percent said they were able to justify acting unethically in order to meet company financial targets. That statistic isn’t encouraging—especially considering that, according to a 2015 Mintel survey, 56 percent of consumers stop buying from companies they believe are unethical.

It’s clear that ethical practices are necessary for doing business. So to help foster ethical sales behavior, our team at Sapper Consulting has implemented radical candor, a technique founded by author, CEO and CEO coach Kim Scott. Radical candor uses unapologetically honest feedback that helps our employees grow while holding them accountable.

Adopting radical candor doesn’t mean employees can just say whatever they want, however. Here’s how to implement it properly to keep your sales team—and your whole workforce—honest:

1. Don’t hesitate or hold back.

Giving feedback immediately increases accountability by eliminating variables that could affect the feedback. The longer you wait, the less fresh the experience is.

If, for example, an employee gets defensive during a leadership meeting, don’t wait to address it. Pull the employee aside after the meeting and say, “You came off as too defensive, which made your ideas less credible.” By immediately addressing it, your feedback avoids being informed by other circumstances.

We don’t necessarily need to win big every time; we just want to focus on not losing.

This works well for encouraging ethical sales behavior, too. If you hear a salesman lying to a potential customer on a call, pull the individual aside afterward and address the issue directly. Offer to help the employee rework his pitch to eliminate the problems.

2. Keep feedback specific and actionable.

Don’t sugarcoat anything. If you know someone is acting unethically, take him aside immediately and address it as bluntly as possible. Acknowledge that you know about the behavior, and let the employee respond. Determine the best way to hold him accountable, and create a plan to monitor the behavior.

Radical candor is the most effective tool for weeding out unethical employees. By consistently giving and receiving feedback, you can easily see how employees respond to your addressing unethical behavior. Rather than evaluating employees quarterly or annually, radical candor allows you to quickly improve your organization’s talent and morale.

3. Set clear expectations.

Explain that to avoid unethical sales tactics, you’ll provide everyone with consistent, in-the-moment feedback. Acknowledge that the feedback will be blunt and that it might sting initially. Make sure your employees know this technique is being implemented widely.

Reassure employees by encouraging them to practice two-way radical candor with you and other supervisors. This levels the playing field and reaffirms your intent to promote professional development and improve the company.

At Sapper, we ask, “Is this helping us win or not lose?” This mantra guides most of our key decisions, and we expect employees to link all decisions back to it. We don’t necessarily need to win big every time; we just want to focus on not losing.

4. Include everyone.

Implementing radical candor can be jarring for leaders, as it requires them to realign their priorities. Schedule a meeting with your leadership team before meeting with your other employees. Emphasize that feedback is just as important as retention and sales, and say you’ll be monitoring and tracking it as such. Tracking feedback as a metric helps reduce its personal nature.

Encourage your leaders to express their objections. You’ll likely hear many objections centered on intent: “Encouraging more honest and direct feedback sounds like an easy way for employees to be catty," for example. Assure them that’s not the goal.

Once your team has asked questions, provide an implementation plan for each department. Your implementation plan can be short, but it should set parameters to make the philosophy stick. For example, require leadership to practice radical candor with each employee at least once a week, including asking for feedback.

While unethical sales practices seem to become more common, it might seem difficult to determine where your team falls on the spectrum. But implementing radical candor will help your company culture shift to one of honesty and keep your team on an ethical path to success.

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