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A common area where new coachees struggle is identifying and developing their client’s goal or outcomes. Within GROW the goal has an important role for the coachee and coach. This article aims to make the goal creation more straightforward and simpler.

Scene setting

People new to coaching often become ‘unstuck’ in being able to create useful and clear goals with their client’s.

As part of any coaching session, understanding what your client wants to achieve from the session (goal) is fundamental to achieving quality outcomes. Not only does it potentially impact the outcomes, but it affects other aspects of the coaching session too:

  • Providing absolute clarity to both coach and client on the purpose of the coaching session.
  • Support the direction of the conversation.
  • Providing a reference point to the conversation enabling the coach to manage it and the structure of it
  • The ability to formulate highly aligned focused questions for the coachee.
  • The quality and relevance of the options or ways forward and their relevance to the goal.
  • If using the GROW model, having a firm and specific goal will reduce the likelihood of too much ‘flitting’ between the different elements of the GROW model. As such it is more fluid and less confusing for the coachee.
  • It becomes more difficult to create strong measures of success with the client because the goal is nebulous.

Achieving clarity and detail

Sometimes the word ‘goal’ is confusing to some. Considering making your language and approach more accessible to your client and their way of speaking and relating, consider changing the language a little to suit them:

  • In terms of outcomes, what do you want to leave the session with…?
  • What do you want to be different in relation to your topic as a result of the coaching today?
  • What would be a successful outcome for you today?
  • How would this coaching be helpful to you today?
  • What would you like to achieve in the next 90 minutes?
  • How would you like to use our time together today?
  • If you could go away from the coaching with one thing today for yourself what would it be?

When the client shares their area of focus the chances are it often won’t be as precise and useful as you need it to be. Sometimes I find there are what I call ‘variables’ in their sentence, words such as improve, develop, confidence, change, better etc.

Whilst these are insightful, the coach needs to tease out more from the client and get more specific with them. Take the word confidence for example. This will mean one thing to you and one to them, what type of confidence are they talking about? Confidence in all situations, with all people or just one or two? Is it about tools to help confidence or how to approach a situation?

It’s ok to challenge the client’s words and language. I often find that they have used certain words but when I play these back to them, they aren’t really sure what they were trying to say!

The coach uses their questions to drill down and get more specific detail such as to ‘identify four techniques and approaches I can use when managing my key stakeholder in the project’.

Whilst goals don’t have to be as ‘tight’ as the setting of SMART objectives, they should have a similar flavour and intent about them.

Repeating the client’s goal back

When you feel you have got the goal, before moving on, stop and check back in with the client. Repeat the goal to them. ‘So, what I understand your goal to be is… is this correct?’ Whilst this is a closed question it is perfectly valid.

There is something in this process which not only checks your understanding (as well as demonstrating your listening), but also the replaying of the goal reactivates that part of the brain it came from originally to test if it is what they meant. Hopefully the coachee will agree and you can move on. If not then the you return to the goal until you get agreement.

‘Presentation’ of goals – symptom or cause?

Occasionally clients will present you with symptoms of the issue or the topic. Here they often tell you what they think you want to hear, rather than really what is going on for them. This is presented to you as a possible goal. The temptation for the coach is to jump onto this and look to turn that into a more formal goal. What often ends up happening is the coach ends up coaching the person and unwittingly putting a ‘sticking plaster’ over the situation. This is more of a temporary fix, rather than properly resolving it for the client.

Coaches should listen to what they are hearing. Ask sufficient questions to clarify the situation and issue. Then look to determine if what they are hearing the symptom or the cause? It is the cause which should be the focal point of the goal, to make the development or change more meaningful and permanent.

For example, if the client brings the area of wanting to improve relationships with senior managers. It might be that they have had an experience in the past which made them less confident or assertive. It might be worth exploring this latter area initially before trying to identify new ways forward for the client. Asking questions around how much is this the symptom of something? Is there something lying at the heart of what’s happening to them?

Give goal creation time

Don’t feel afraid to spend quality time on developing your client’s goal.

New coaches can often rush through the goal phase only to then find they have not properly established it. This then comes back to bite them later on in the session!

If you aren’t fully clear, understanding or can properly define the goal then don’t move on to the next part of the session until you are. If it takes 20 minutes to clarify and bottom out, then so be it. Better to have a quality goal than an unfocused conversation.

It’s important for the coach too

A strong goal allows the coach to direct and focus their questions more accurately. The goal also allows the coach to manage the conversation. If the person goes ‘off piste’ the coach can listen to here enough information before challenging – help me to understand here how doe this relate to your goal? If it doesn’t the coach can bring them back to the purpose of the session. The coach is allowed to manage the conversation and test the coachee’s thinking.

Without a clear goal, the client will go off on various tangents. It also makes the identification of relevant options more difficult.

Clear specific goals allow the coach to also create measurables with coachee.

It is vital that the coach helps the client identify and develop a clear goal to enable a purposeful and relevant conversation to take place. Developing the goal takes time and practice. They key is persistence.

If you would like to further your coaching development, bring in coaching to your organisation or require supervision, contact Abintus today.