Five top coaching lessons from Gousto’s C-Suite

Dominic Sando
Gousto Engineering & Data
4 min readMar 25, 2021

Tom Wallis, Gousto’s CMO, recounts one of his favourite growth moments:

Right after every meeting when I started my first job, my manager used to give me feedback. People would start filing out of the room, but behind me, I’d hear a quiet voice — “Tom, do you mind just staying back a minute?” I’d immediately start sweating, nervous about what I did wrong.

But my manager would calmly go through the things I did well and didn’t do well in the meeting. “Your introduction was great, but one person left without the right level of context.” Or “That person didn’t agree with you, here’s how you might have leant into that conversation successfully”. It was stressful, but I never learnt so much so fast.

Tom finished by stating again how important actionable feedback is, and how important it is to give feedback as soon as you can to the event in which you’re feeding back on.

His example was just one of the many gems we heard from Gousto’s C-Suite back in February. We had organised workshops with all managers to discuss coaching and personal development best-practice after releasing our PDP playbook. And in each of these workshops, we invited one of Gousto’s C-suite to share their top lessons on the subject. I was lucky enough to host these workshops and furiously took notes all the way through.

Those lessons were so excellent that I had to share them more widely. Read on to hear one big takeaway from each leader, written as close to verbatim as I could make them.

Shaun — CTO. Be vulnerable, and encourage others to be vulnerable too.

I believe that 80% of what we learn in life are via trying new things and failing. And the ability to embrace and be okay with failure is essential for continued growth. But junior people are often not comfortable with vulnerability. Acknowledging you haven’t thought of everything is scary, and therefore they can close and defend their actions rather than open up for feedback.

Set a tone that it is okay to be vulnerable. Open up and share the challenges you are struggling with. And encourage people to get comfortable sharing things they could have done better. When you build psychological safety, your coaching conversations become 10x better.

Sally — CPO. Lean in to give challenging feedback.

Early in my career, there were people on my team who’d tell me, “Sally, I am ready to be promoted this year”. They had unrealistic expectations, but I was uncomfortable giving them hard feedback at the time. When I look back seven years later, I see they’re still doing the same job, with the same title. Seven years on, still nobody has told them why they aren’t ready.

Giving hard feedback is one of the most powerful gifts you can give. It’s uncomfortable, it’s awkward, but it’s so essential to help someone grow. Most people stick with the things they’ve been doing for years because of inertia. Be that lightning bolt that sparks them back into activity.

Charles — EVP Ops. You are always on a learning curve.

You are always on a learning curve — no matter who you are or what you do. I’ve been fortunate to have a line manager (Timo) who challenges me every single day of the week. It can feel critical at times if you take it at face value. But if you look for the positive reasons behind it, you find that Timo gives feedback to help you to make your life easier and better. If you learn one little thing every day of your life, you will grow exponentially and be more fulfilled in future.

Help your team realise that they are always on a development journey, no matter how good they feel they are at their job. Fostering this growth culture means that people on your team will never settle and always push themselves to get better.

Jim Buckle — CFO. Remember, it’s a *personal* + *development* plan.

First, never forget the personal in a personal development plan. When you’re doing your PDP, it’s your plan. And when working with direct reports, it’s their plan. Don’t make assumptions about what they need most — without first understanding their career and life goals.

Second, it’s a development plan. It’s not a promotion plan or salary improvement plan. If you assume your report has only these goals, you’ll narrow down their thinking immediately. Encourage them to start from where they want to get to in the long-term and the experiences and skills they want to develop. Ultimately, they may want to focus on what it takes to get promoted, but let their thinking guide you both there.

Recognise that personal development and career development are two intersecting circles of focus. Understand which circle you’re choosing to spend time in and why. And ultimately, it’s up to a person to decide.

Understand where to focus your conversations

Tom — CMO. Wildcard — five extra top tips

Tom shared so many golden nuggets I felt I couldn’t just share one. So here are five great ones ;)

  1. Do your own PDP and get coaching yourself so you can live the challenges. So many managers don’t. How can you guide others effectively if you don’t know what good looks like for yourself?
  2. When first approaching coaching, use the first meeting to set the context for the whole process. Don’t just launch in. Build a shared understanding of how and why it is beneficial for your coaches.
  3. Quickly hand responsibility for the sessions to your coachee. They should own their development, not you.
  4. Write it all down. Writing makes development real and tangible, and 10x more likely that it will happen
  5. Use 121s as a way to reinforce personal development focus areas continually. Don’t just wait every six weeks. I use every other 121 to check in with top development areas and schedule it into the meeting agenda