Building trust in HR: A radical candor approach
Gali Newman, HR Director at Rakuten Viber
When Gali Newman joined the Israeli site at Rakuten Viber two and a half years ago, one of her key objectives was – along with her colleagues abroad – to create a strong sense of trust between HR and employees. She believed that it was critical for both employees and managers to feel that the HR team was on their side and looking out for their interests, in addition to serving company goals and benchmarks.
“People sometimes perceive HR as some inaccessible function that sits in management, or see us as in-house event planners,” she says. “In some companies, people don’t even know who their HR contact is, or what they do. I wanted to create a different dynamic at Viber, I wanted to create personal relationships. I wanted employees and managers to feel that their HR contact was there for them, was someone they could reach out to for advice, or as a bouncing board when they didn’t want to talk to their direct manager or a colleague. And of course, to give them the confidence that the conversation would always remain discreet.”
Relationships built on trust
Newman and her team set about achieving that goal by proactively reaching out to everyone in the company and initiating regular one-on-one conversations. She set up weekly meetings with every manager in the company and even carved out time for off-site interactions. “Different settings can create better ways to engage and let you see people in a new context. Sometimes I had more meaningful conversations with managers out of the office, where I was able to speak directly, be collaborative. “It takes time to build a relationship, but it’s worth it, and I don’t think there are short-cuts for this,” she says.
And it paid off. Initially, the HR team initiated the conversations, but over time, managers began contacting the HR team to ask for advice and assistance. Newman and her team are now filling a central role for both managers and employees in the company, who see them as a resource they can consult to solve problems. “We all have conflicts that we need to talk out. You need someone who can hear you reflect, and help you solve your interpersonal issues,” she explains.
Not all of the consultations are about conflict. Employees often reach out to Newman and her team after seeing a job opening. They want to talk about their growth plan, to make sure that they’re positioned for development. “They know we’re there to help,” she says. “It’s an open conversation.”
Newman also strove to ensure that managers were aligned with HR business goals like recruiting and training and built management training based on principles from Radical Candor to achieve those goals. “Radical doesn’t mean that you have to be mean. It’s based on people knowing that you have their best interest in mind, and then you can tell them what you think,” she explains.
“The key was for the managers to feel that we understand their dilemmas, their challenges, and frustrations, and are trying to help them solve a problem. I’m not always neutral, I often take a stand, tell people what I think, what I would do to fix things. Due to the strong relationships I’ve created, I can now come to a manager and say ‘I expect more of you’. That can sound tough, but when they know that I understand where they want to be, what they want to accomplish, and there is trust, they can hear what I have to say.”
Realizing that it was often difficult for managers to be candid in performance reviews, she also relied heavily on Radical Candor when developing a company policy in that area. The company now conducts mandatory training twice a year before performance reviews to ensure that the meetings are productive. Managers are also asked to share their experiences, what worked, what didn’t, so others can learn from them. “We work on it a lot,” she says. “They have to learn how to give feedback, it’s like a muscle that you have to develop.”
The principle she drills into the managers is that it’s OK for employees to be upset after a review, but it’s not OK for them to be surprised. When managers understand how to give constructive feedback on a regular basis, they can work on growth. It isn’t always easy, especially among people who have good working relationships and have known each other for a long time. “It can be harder with someone you’ve known for five years, but if you need someone to do a better job, you have to say it. You have to say, ‘I need you to do this faster and better.”
Newman believes that in the long run, Radical Candor leads both to better results and better relationships. “Sometimes you know that you are not doing a good enough job, but if your manager says ‘Oh, it’s fine, it’s like it doesn’t matter. But if they say, ‘You need to do this and that, and I will guide you’, you feel like someone sees you and cares about what you’re doing, that your work matters. We see in employee surveys that it makes a real difference.”