Coaching Your Direct Reports

Ido Cohen

Head of Product at Permutive



There are different ways to approach coaching depending on what you are trying to achieve. I approach coaching by looking at my reports as products. I don’t buy or sell them but I build them. I opted for this approach because it is focused on outcomes and it helps my reports arriving where they want to be.

Many managers across the industry are focused on outputs when coaching. They would advise their reports to take more courses or improve on some skills. They would do so without being driven by clear goals where their reports want to be. As product people, we like to think about what we want to achieve before we build something. I look through the same lens when I coach my reports.

Actions taken

Their personal vision
I would initiate my coaching by inquiring about my report’s personal vision. I would ask them where they want to be ten years from now and what do they want to do in this company or at some other place in ten years. Not surprisingly, I would get a lot of don’t-knows and would encourage them to take some time and think it through.

How to get there
Once they would come up with a goal (a head of HR, for example), we would focus on developing a plan. It is not going to happen just because a person wants to be something in ten years. But once you have a clear goal, you can start with the planning.
A plan would detail skills and competencies your reports should master to be able to attain their goals. We would chat every three to six months about the goal itself to make sure that we are charting the right course. People would often slightly meander but still gravitating toward the same goal.
Moreover, I never say no. My reports would switch all time, from engineering to product and vice versa making the most of it in their new roles. If a person wants to change their role and we don’t provide them an opportunity, they will find it somewhere else.

The coaching itself can take different forms and shapes. First, the level of coaching I would provide depends on the level of seniority. Junior reports need more support and a more instructional approach while senior people prefer to maintain their autonomy in this respect.
My coaching efforts are divided into two parts: skill-building and personal coaching. Personal coaching can be summed up as coaching them on how to establish and maintain trustful relationships with other people or more bluntly, how not to be uncomfortable being stuck on a ten hours-long flight with me.

Lessons learned

  • Coaching other people is one of the most responsible things most managers would ever do. You will be responsible for the growth and happiness of another human being who, by a mere chance, happens to be your report. I worked at places where I met managers who were biased and non-emphatic and were reproducing their prejudices when coaching other people.
  • Be passionate about people, not only about work and products around you. Provide guidelines and support but don’t try to embed your ego in other people’s plans.

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Ido Cohen

Head of Product at Permutive

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