Effective Goal Setting –
10 Great Tips

Effective goal setting is an essential skill for achieving success. If you are being coached or are coaching others goal setting should form not only an integral part of your coaching sessions it should become commonplace in your life.

Solo Build It!

Although setting effective goals isn’t something you are likely to do for your coachee (unless you are in a work environment where you may set goals for your direct reports), it is likely that you will need to help your coachee in this process. Having a good understanding of the role of goal setting within coaching and what makes an effective goal is therefore essential to being a good coach.

What is a goal?

A goal is a target to aim for, something which you do not already have but when achieved will enhance your life in some way. It may be something you want to have (a new house, a holiday), be (a more confident person, a healthier person) or do (change career, learn a new skill).

Succeeding at a goal provides enormous motivation for achieving even more.

You may already set yourself goals either at work or in your personal life.

Why are goals important in coaching?

Goals set by the coachee define what they want to achieve, both in the bigger picture of life and also in the coaching session itself. Goals may be long, medium or short term goals or a combination of all three and will help to determine what actions the coachee will take.


A coachee may have a long term goal of running a marathon in two year’s time. Their medium term goal may be to run a half marathon in one year’s time, and their short term goal may be to run a 5k race in 3 months. With these in mind this person may set a goal for their coaching session of putting together a weekly training schedule that will help them achieve these goals.

Effective goals include

  • those that are owned and committed to by the coachee and not imposed by others. This may be difficult in the work setting where certain objectives have to be achieved however the greater the ownership by the coachee the more likely they will be attained. In the work setting the overall goal may be set by the organisation but scope given to the employee as to how they will achieve it.
  • ones based on an individual’s values…i.e. those things that are most important to them.
  • SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Limited. An example of a SMART goal for a coaching session would be ‘By the end of the coaching session to have identified 3 actions I can take by the end of the week to help me feel more organised’
  • written in the present tense e.g. I am fit and go to the gym for an hour 3 days each week. This phrasing isn’t always appropriate but can be a powerful way of focusing the mindset on action and achievement.

Do we always get what we set out to achieve?

Most of us will start out with great intentions but often fall at the first hurdle. There are often good reasons for this however following these steps will enhance your own success at achieving your goals and also maximise the benefit of your coaching sessions:

10 Tips for effective goal setting

  1. Consider the priority areas of your life are – which areas are you least satisfied with which you would like to address first? This area you choose does have to be important to you or else you will struggle to make changes.
  2. Write down what you want to achieve. Remember a goal is something that you want to be, want to have or want to do. Writing goals down can greatly increase your success at achieving them.
  3. Ask yourself whether you truly ‘own’ this goal – is this what you want to achieve or is it something you feel you ought to achieve. Only those goals which you are committed to are you likely to reach.
  4. Ensure your goal is specific E.g. does it read more like ‘I want to be confident’ or‘I want to be confident at making speeches?’
  5. Ensure your goal is measurable. How will you know when you have been successful? E.g. ‘I want to be able to run 2 miles without stopping’ rather than ‘I want get fit’
  6. Identify what you need to do to reach goal. Write down specific actions to help you. E.g. ‘Go out for a 20 minute run 4 times a week’
  7. How realistic is your goal? We all feel good when we have achieved a goal which stretches us beyond our usual limits however trying to achieve a goal that just isn’t realistic does nothing for our motivation. A great coach can help you really stretch yourself beyond your perceived limits of what you believe is realistic.
  8. Put a timescale on your goal. Putting a deadline on your goal and milestones along the way gives you a specific point in time to aim for. E.g. ‘I want my business to be up and running by end of December’
  9. Visualise what it is like when you have achieved your goal and try stating your goal in the present e.g. ‘My business is up and running and I have 10 clients.’ By having a compelling vision will help you automatically take the right actions and seize those opportunities that will help you to achieve your goals. Act as though you have already achieved the goal. E.g. start acting as though you are that confident person
  10. Set goals for your coaching sessions. You can achieve far more from your coaching sessions if you start out with a goal e.g. 'By the end of the session I want to have identified my first two steps to getting fitter' 

Useful Resources

How To Set And Achieve A Goal takes you through much more than I can write on my website. You also get 9 worksheets (either paper or on your computer) to make any dreamer become a doer.

Goals On Track is a great piece of goal setting software to help you stay focused throughout the day.

Goal Mapping: How to Turn Your Dreams into Realities by Brian Mayne (Paperback - 19 Jan 2006) 

Goal Setting: How to Create an Action Plan and Achieve Your Goals (Worksmart) by Michael S Dobson (Paperback - 1 April 2008)

See Also:-

Coaching Skills
Effective Listening Skills
Challenging Skills
Scaling Techniques In Coaching

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