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Don't make a mountain out of a molehill

Justin Shelley Leadership & Life Coach.

There is a common misconception that the process of setting goals is a pointless tick box exercise performed every 6 to 12 months by individuals who work for large organisations and who pay lip service to the annual HR process that ideally links to an organisation’s overall corporate strategy.

For someone who has worked in the financial services industry for almost 20 years, before becoming a coach I would have previously agreed wholeheartedly with this suggestion. Yet I still spent 20 years ticking the goal setting and undertaking the end of year performance review process box to play the corporate game.

It wasn’t until I began working with my first coach that I began to understand how setting goals in the right way really does work, and how this kind of goal setting is nothing like the goal setting I had become used to working in my day job at the bank.

What are goals?

There are many different definitions of goals out there. However, this is the definition that I like to use with my clients when defining goals:

“A goal is an idea, intention or desire that a person or a group of people envision, plan and commit to achieve. It is the intention and energy behind the goal that provides the motivation in order to attain those goals.”

Goals, therefore, represent the decisions we make and the commitments we take to attain our goals, intentions and desires. This may include breaking old patterns of behaviour, creating new habits and committing to breaking through fear or procrastination to achieve the goals.

The overall goal and objective – the initial coaching conversation

When meeting a client for the first time, both the client and coach must have clarity regarding the overall goal and purpose that the client requires coaching for. Without obtaining this clarity, neither the coach nor client will know where they are going, or what the client is trying to achieve overall.

Time spent with the client before any coaching has started is crucial, both to determine their overall coaching goal and to make sure the client and coach are a good match and are comfortable with each other.

Coaches understand the value of setting goals with clients. The client’s goals should be motivating, realistic and most importantly they should be positive while taking clients towards the changes they most desire.

The coaching agreement: What’s the goal for today?

As an ICF accredited coach, like all ICF coaches. I am bound to a code of ethics that are defined by the ICF to ensure that all clients receive the most value and benefit within their coaching session.

At the beginning of each coaching session, an ICF coach will obtain clarity from their clients to ensure the goal, objective and outcome of the coaching session is clear for both the client and the coach.

They do this by clarifying five important questions to determine the goal of the session:

  1. What would the client like to work on in the session today?

  2. What goal would the client like to achieve by the end of the session?

  3. How will the coach and client know they have been successful at the end of the session?

  4. Why is achieving the goal important to the client?

  5. What does the client need to address or resolve to achieve the desired goal?

A common misconception about Life/Executive or any kind of coaching is that the coach will tell a client what to do. The reality is entirely contrary. It is the coaches’ job to guide the client through the process of identifying the correct direction of travel.

To be clear, the client decides the goals, not the coach.

Goal Setting (AIM SMART)

During the coaching session, there will be various points when the client will determine specific actions that make up the overall goal of the session. A common mistake that some people make with goals is that they are sometimes too big, or unattainable.

The iPEC coaching framework uses a goal setting process called AIM SMART which allows clients to set the “right” goals, and then develop action plans to achieve them.

When a client sets a goal, they must AIM towards working on a realistic goal, splitting goals down into achievable chunks so that goals do not appear like huge mountains in front of the client.

Once a client has identified a goal the client would use AIM to identify:

  • A – Acceptable – what is the minimum you can do?

  • I – Ideal – what is the maximum you can do?

  • M – Middle – what is in the middle, a realistic stretch?

For context, a simple example of AIM in practice might be the number of hours of research a client might commit to each week for a particular goal: Acceptable 2 hours (minimum); Ideal 4 hours (maximum); Middle 3 hour (medium).

What these steps allow a client to do is to create an achievable boundary for their goal. This is important because if a client sets the goal too high, the client is likely to become disappointed if the high goal is not achieved within the agreed timeframe. The AIM process provides some bandwidth, so even if the minimum is achieved, the goal has still been met.

Once the AIM process has been set, the next step is to ensure the goal is a SMART goal, so the client knows exactly what they are going to do and is provided with a checklist to ensure the goal is achievable within the desired timeframe.

To make the goal SMART, the client is asked to clarify the following by the coach:

S – Specific – What exactly is the very first step of the action/learning/goal identified?

M – Measurable – What is the measure of success for what has been identified as specific?

A – Achievable – Is the initial step of the goal achievable?

R – Reasonable – How reasonable is it that the specific goal can be done at this time?

T – Time Orientated – By when, exactly, will the client complete the first step of the goal?

Other factors to consider might be time constraints, resources and any obstacles that might get in the way of the goal.

The final step of the AIM SMART process is to ask the client to design accountability regarding the goal. I talked about accountability in my November blog post. This involves asking the client how the coach can hold the client accountable to the goal.

Put simply, when designing accountability, the coach will ask the client:

  • What are you agreeing to do?

  • When are you going to do it by?

  • How will I know when you’ve done it?

These three simple but powerful questions are the key and the glue that keeps the coaching relationship moving forward. Accountability, therefore, provides a structure to the ongoing coaching and helps to keep clients on track with their end goals.

Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill

Finally, the key to creating achievable goals is to ensure you are clear about what you are setting out to achieve, that you keep your goals achievable, positive, and ensure that you are stretching yourself enough so that you do not snap or overcommit.

Splitting down goals into smaller chunks and taking baby steps as opposed to huge leaps is advisable. There is nothing worse than setting yourself a goal and then coming away from the coaching session feeling fearful or resentful about the amount of work and effort you have signed yourself up for.

I hope that exploring the topic of setting goals has provided you with some insight into its application to coaching. If this has prompted any thought or questions and you would like to get in touch, I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.


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