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Rocket GTM 🚀 - How to give feedback
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(Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes)
The DESC Framework
Scaling a startup requires one thing. Feedback. Lots of it. And fast. Why is it so important? Well, startups operate differently. Normal companies ship slow and get it right the first time, startups ship fast and iterate as they go.
When iteration is at the heart of everything you do, you need good feedback loops. You can't improve each iteration if there's no new information to work on.
It's the same for people. Your team simply won't know how to do everything that's required of them because of the extreme ambiguity your startup will face. The speed and quality of your feedback loops will have a direct correlation with your ability to grow fast.
Clearly, if you want to succeed, feedback is not a nice-to-have, it's a must-have. Feedback must be given with the intention of helping someone improve, otherwise it's just criticism.
"Giving feedback without the intention of helping someone get better is called just being an a**hole"
Because of feedback's ability to kill or drive performance, it makes sense to do it properly. The DESC Framework is a quick and easy framework that can help you give better feedback.
The Three Realities
There are three realities to every situation you'll encounter.
Intent - only known by person receiving feedback
Behavior - known by everyone involved
Outcome - only known by the person giving feedback
Feedback must be grounded in objective reality. AKA, facts. The person giving feedback can never know someone's intent and knowing it adds little value anyway. Commenting on why you think someone did something detracts from what's important. The behavior itself and the outcome it had.
Ground your feedback in the reality of what you know, don't try to assume the reality of someone else.
With that being said, let's explore The DESC Framework.
The DESC Framework
Describe - the situation
Express - the impact it had
Specify - what you want to change
Commit - on a solution together
To demonstrate The DESC Framework we'll take an example between two housemates, Jack and Jill.
⭐️ Jack is about to leave his apartment for work, but he can't find his keys. He asks Jill if she's seen his keys? Jill interpreted the conversation badly as she felt he came across rude, demanding, and accusatory. They've been off with each other for two days until finally Jill plucks up the courage to give Jack some feedback so they can resolve the situation.
Two days after Jack and Jill had their argument, they sat down at the dinner table and decided to discuss what happened. Jill wanted to give Jack some feedback.
Following The DESC Framework, Jill must first describe what happened objectively. Pure facts, no opinion. She shouldn't let subjectivity or emotion enter at this stage.
This part is easy. You just need to describe what happened. If there is disagreement about what happened then you probably said something subjective.
❌ Subjective description: (Jill) "You burst into the living room in a terrible mood demanding me to find your keys"
✅ Objective description: (Jill) "You entered the living room at 8am, and with a raised voice said 'for goodness sake, where are my keys."
In the subjective description Jill describes the event by labelling Jack's emotions. "Terrible mood' and "demanding" are subjective ways to describe Jack's behavior. In the objective description there are pure facts. Nothing can be contested because it was described exactly as it happened.
If a sales rep missed quota you shouldn't label the them as 'lazy' or 'not trying hard enough'.
Simply lay out the facts:
"You missed quota three months in a row"
"Reps who hit quota average 100 cold calls per day"
"You have averaged 50 cold calls per day this month"
Here, there are no judgements being made. No accusations. Just facts.
Now Jill has objectively described the situation she can express the impact it had on her. As explained above with 'Intent - Behavior - Outcome', people often get this part wrong. Instead of expressing the outcome, they express the other person's intent. This is a big error. When you incorrectly claim to know someone's intention it can be misconstrued as an accusation and solicit a defensive response.
❌ Assumed intent: (Jill) "You think I'm your butler and expect me to know where your things are all the time."
✅ Factual outcome: (Jill) "When you ask me where your things are in a raised voice and without saying 'hello' first it feels demanding."
In the first example Jack's initial reaction will likely be to defend himself because he feels his intentions are being questioned. In the second example, it's easier for Jack to detach himself from the situation because his intentions aren't in question.
He can be sorry that his behavior had a negative outcome, while being comforted that he was well intended. Most negative behaviors don't start with negative intention.
💡 Do not assume intent. Focus on the outcome.
Now your Jack knows what happened and the impact his behavior had. It's time for Jill to specify what she'd like to happen in the future.
Jill may want to feel like she's being spoken to with respect, or for her friends to show an interest in her before asking for something. These are outcomes.
Note, these are not behaviors. Jill isn't specifying a desired behavior, but rather a desired outcome.
💡 Specify the expected outcome, not the expected behavior.
If your sales rep misses quota, it's your job as their manager to clarify their objectives and define the expectations, but it's your sales rep's responsibility to know what to do. That's why you hired them after all!
💡 Giving feedback doesn't mean you have to provide the solution.
Often, because feedback is given with the intention to help someone improve, people are compelled to offer a solution at the same time. This should be avoided. Especially in a startup. Your job is not to have all the answers.
If you're a writer and you ask your Mother to read your book. Your Mother can tell you if the rhythm and pacing feels jarring to her, but she can't tell you how to fix it.
If you have the answer it can be beneficial to share. But this can be detrimental in a startup. You need people who can problem solve autonomously and come to the desired outcomes on their own.
Feedback is there to guide, not to solve.
Up until now, the feedback session has been one sided. The final step of The DESC Framework is to get commitment on next steps.
The 'together' part is important here. When people are involved in the creation of a plan, they are far more likely to be happy executing it.
Have you ever noticed how much better your dinner tastes when you made it yourself? This is the Betty Crocker Effect.
Betty Crocker, maker of pre-made cake mix, found that their pre-made cake mix was too easy! They decided to remove the powdered egg from the cake mix. Bakers had to mix cake mix and egg together. The extra effort actually increased people's satisfaction with their product because they had a vested interest in it!
Jill should ask Jack to come up with a plan to have a better outcome in the future. Jack might respond with something like:
"I will make an effort to speak to you in a less demanding voice. I'd also like you to stop borrowing my keys because it's hard for me to know where you leave them. To avoid sharing keys, how about we buy a spare set?"
You've now objectively and collectively mastered feedback.
Wrapping it up 🌯
Feedback should be given with the intent to help someone improve, but it's not your responsibility to provide the solution. Base your feedback loops in objective reality. Facts. Avoid commenting on intentions, focus on specifying a desired outcome, and ask for their input in committing to a better behavior.
Mastering feedback can be a powerful lever to growth.
How do you structure feedback?
Reply, and let me know.