Setting goals in coaching

If you've ever trained in coaching skills or studied and qualified as a coach the chances are you will have learned the GROW model.  Developed by the late John Whitmore, the model was introduced as a means to grow people, performance and purpose.  The model is NOT what coaching is.  It's a methodology or approach with a structure that enables the coach to help someone define what they want to achieve and help them get there.

G is for GOALS, R is for REALITY, O is for OPTIONS and W is for WILL (what will you do?).

Goal setting is in the hands of the coachee and they must set them. It may be that the coach needs to elicit the goal through questions such as "what would you like to work on today?" or "what would you like to get out of this session?" or "what would be the most helpful thing for you to take away today?"

There is a difference between end goals and performance goals.  An end goal is the final objective and is usually something not completely in one's control.  A performance goal is something at a measurable level that gives one a good chance of achieving the end goal and is largely in one's control.  This gives the coachee the best opportunity for success and maximises ownership.

With ownership comes motivation, underscored by choice and responsibility.  So a good coach always supports and helps the coachee decide and articulate their own goals. With out goals there is no plan or route to success and some might say without goals coaching can't really happen. At the start of the coaching relationship goal setting involves identifying long term goals as well as session goals.

Good goals are SMART.  Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound.

Goals are positively stated so it is clear what is wanted (stated negatively only tells you what is not wanted - pointless and ineffective).  Even if a goal starts off as a negative statement, it needs to be turned into a positive one. 

Goals provide a stretch because if they are not challenging enough there is no motivation (and if too challenging that takes the person into the "panic zone").  Goals are, it goes without saying, ethical.

"If we do not change direction, we are liable to end up where we are headed" (Chapter 3, Coaching for Performance)

Before I begin to work with a new coachee I send them some information and a template to complete which invites them to think about and note down their challenges and also their goals.  This does not have to be perfect or even fully formed.  It's a way to help the person start thinking and formulating ideas about their future desired state and scope out what they want to work on in our coaching sessions.  It also provides me with some initial thoughts from the client, of course, and it's a way to get the first session conversation going - we have a "agenda" to work to. 

By listening actively and asking clean questions I use the first session to help the client identify an end goal.  Then performance goals can follow.  Every session can be used to work on performance goals in bite sized pieces - but the overall outcome is still there - the end goal.  This sounds like a perfect process and it's not.  Stuff happens!  People bring new issues and challenges that crop up into the coaching space; things change, people are people - they get way laid, they lose momentum, motivation can slip - life happens.  Goals can be adjusted, revised, amended.  What is important is that as the coach I continue to hold an outcome for the coachee through all of this.  

GROW doesn't happen in a straight line.  I am not 'on a mission' if I use GROW to take someone through each stage in a religious, timed order!  It's more like a cycle.  Actions can occur in REALITY for example,  and if you rush into O too quickly, the chances are the story has not fully been told about R.  The OPTIONS stage is not about finding a "right" answer either, and is rather a chance to create a big list of alternative ideas.  Coachees can become resistant and bring up complications at this stage.  

I have met and trained many managers who use GROW in an internal performance management context as a coaching approach.  GROW is a useful model to have in the "tool kit" for a lot of people therefore.  But I don't use it in my practice automatically, and I am of course an external coach, and I focus on non directive approaches.  And if you read his book, Whitmore talks more broadly than using it for performance; he addresses coaching for purpose and coaching for meaning, exploring the growing need in work forces for self actualisation, finding meaning and purpose, for example.  What I do take from him is the undeniable fact that goal setting makes coaching work, brings the benefits of awareness and personal responsibility, and practised and used well, helps the coach support the individual in their achievement.