EMCC Ireland
Annual Conference:
A Rich Perspective on
Goals in Coaching
David Megginson
Emeritus Professor of HRD, Sheffield Hallam University, UK
Goals are pervasive in Western
Plato said (in The
Republic) ‘What goals
must we pursue in order
to be as happy as we
can be?’
… and he didn’t seem to
wonder about what life
would be like without
Sequence of goal setting
• When do you set goals?
• 1 of 4: Whitmore (2002) best set at the start.
• 3 of 6: Grant (2011) emphasises self-regulation and has
developed a model, REGROW, where goals are only set after
stages of Review and Evaluation.
• 4 of 7: Kilburg (2000) places goals as the fourth of a sevenstage approach, which he describes as a fluid process,
explaining that “sometimes the shift [to goals] is not clear and
we just progressively deepen the discussion about a particular
topic” (p. 82).
• 5 of 9: Egan’s (2008) skilled helper model have goals or the
change agenda as the fifth stage of a nine-stage process
(Connor and Pokora, 2007).
• 5 of 7: Pemberton (2006) saves goals (or Targeting as she calls
it) for the fifth of her seven stage STARTED model.
• 5 of 5: Peseschkian’s Positive Psychotherapy (PPT), with its
focus on the patient’s strengths and capacity to help themself
(Peseschkian & Tritt, 1998) involves five stages, with goals
being the last. In this final stage, the patient is asked, “What
would you like to do, when no more problems are left to
solve?” (Peseschkian & Tritt, 1998, p. 98).
Grant’s (2007) goal dimensions
Proximal (close)
or Distal (distant)
or Abstract
or Avoidance
or Learning
So, what kind of goals do you set?
Grant, A.M. (2007). When own goals are a winner. Coaching at Work,
2(2), 32-35.
Themes in goal pursuit
Which of these themes matters most to you?
(Extracted from 10 contemporary texts on coaching)
1. Clientcenteredness
2. Alignment
3. Ownership
4. Personal meaning
5. Holism
6. Clarity
7. Control
8. Positivity
9. Challenge
Factors influencing progress
towards goals in our own practice
• Motivation (How important is it to you?)
• Contextual awareness (How accurate is your picture
of external factors that may help or hinder
• Ownership (Who shares this goal and has a stake in
its outcome?)
• Clarity (Are you able to envision the outcome?)
• Measurability (Will you be able to assess the
• Stability (Is it a fixed or moving target?)
• Link to personal values (Is it aligned with an inner
“sense of rightness”?)
• Previous experience of goal pursuit (Have you had
success with goal setting in the past?)
Ordóñez et al. Critique
• The problem of specificity
• The risks of challenge
• The drawbacks of competitive
• Threats to motivation
• How do you counteract the dangers?
• Ordóñez, L.D., Schweitzer, M.E., Galinsky, A.E., Bazerman, M.H.
(2009). Goals gone wild: The systemic side effects of
overprescribing goal setting, Academy of Management
Perspectives, February,6-16
Ordóñez et al.
Ten questions to assess goals
• 1. Are the goals too specific?
• 2. Are the goals too challenging? (Especially, are the penalties
for failure high?)
• 3. Who sets the goals? (How engaged is the goal holder? Who
owns them?)
• 4. Is the time horizon appropriate?
• 5. How might goals influence risk taking? (What does an
acceptable level of risk look like?)
• 6. How might goals motivate unethical behaviour?
• 7. Can goals be idiosyncratically tailored for individual abilities
and circumstances while preserving fairness?
• 8. How will goals influence organisational culture? (Would team
goals be more effective than individual goals?)
• 9. Does the goal tap into intrinsic motivation?
• 10. What type of goal (performance or learning) is most
appropriate in this context?
Qualitative study –
disadvantages of goals
Which of these downsides of goals matter to you and
From Susan David, David Clutterbuck & David Megginson. 2013. Beyond
goals. Aldershot, Gower.
Narrowing focus
Superficial issues
Loss of present moment awareness
Unconsidered routine
Protecting the coach
Emergent nature of goals
Overloaded with goals
Undue pressure from goals
Conflict in who sets goals
Coaching Goal Orientation Questionnaire*
Item Question
I set goals with my coachees at the start of a coaching assignment.
At the start of a coaching assignment we set goals for the whole
In subsequent coaching sessions we refer back to the goals set at the
We determine when to finish a coaching assignment by checking
whether goals have been achieved.
The goals help us to decide whether the coaching is appropriately
Goals remain the same throughout the coaching assignment.
We set goals for each coaching session.
The goals are central to deciding the effectiveness of the coaching.
We have purposeful conversations without setting goals. (Reverse
*Cronbach’s alpha = .819
Average Goal Orientation Scores by Region*
*t(185) = 4.856, p<.001
Goal orientation by region
Why are US coaches more goal
oriented than European ones?
1. US coaches are more knowledgeable
than Europeans
2. Goals are a feature of US culture more
than European culture
3. US coaches are more experienced
than European ones
Average Goal Orientation Scores by
*F(2) = 4.118, p = 0.18
Effect of education on goal setting
Why does coach education make
coaches more goal oriented
1. Long courses socialise coaches into
goal setting; tutors are carriers of the
coaching meme
2. Goal setting is good practice and
coaches learn how it helps
3. Education helps coaches to be aware
of and to name what they are doing
Average Goal Orientation scores
by Experience and by Region
*US: (r(141) = -.008, p=.923)
Euro: (r(35) = -.432, p=.010)
US and European differences
Why do European coaches become
less goal oriented with experience of
coaching, while US ones don’t?
1. Goals are more deeply embedded in
US than in Europe
2. Coaching is a newer profession in
Europe than in US and Europe will
resemble US more with experience
3. Europeans recognise the dark side of
goals, and become wise in using them
Mean Goal Orientation scores
according to “Surprise” responses
*F(4) = 4.174, p= .003
How do you account for the relationship
between surprise and goal orientation?
1. Setting goals makes you rigid and more
susceptible to (uncomfortable) surprise
2. Setting goals is creative and generates
more (engaging) surprises in the
3. Setting goals prevents the evolution of new
kinds of (developmental) question from