Setting performance goals: difficulties and how to overcome it.

Develop & Achieve Performance Goals

Develop & Achieve Goals with Empowered Coaching

In my previous post, I have talked about setting goals in general and looked into SMART framework and goal conflict too. Now I’d like to discuss developing performance related goals in coaching, difficulties you may come across with and how to overcome those.

Cognitive behavioural coaching is known for being a collaborative solutions-focused and goal-oriented activity and as Grant (2012) has wisely admitted goals as ‘internal representations of desired states or outcomes’ are central to coaching. Goal theory suggests that people will work harder and use more resources when the goal is harder to achieve and the harder the goal the higher the level of performance. Goal setting has been shown to improve performance in 90% of the relevant studies. Bandura (1977) has also argued that performance accomplishments on difficult tasks, tasks attempted without external assistance, and tasks accomplished with only occasional failures carry greater efficacy value. Therefore goals that harder to accomplish not only increase your performance but also improve your self-efficacy (your belief in the ability to succeed in a specific situation). Performance accomplishments have proved to be the most influential source of efficacy information because they are based on one’s own mastery experiences.
There are two types of goals in performance management – learning and performance ones. Learning goals focus on developing knowledge, skills and abilities in order to increase competence while performance goals aim to demonstrate competence focus on task execution and are typically expressed as being competitive.

Performance goals tend to focus your attention on issues of personal ability and competence. An example of a performance goal in executive or workplace coaching might be ‘to be the very best sales manager and get a promotion’. Performance goals can be very powerful motivators, especially where the individual experiences success early in the goal-attainment process as it also increases self-efficacy drastically.

However, on the other hand performance goals can in fact impede performance. The difficulty of establishing a performance goal can be resolved by used some of the following techniques or asking some of the questions below:

  • Use SMART goals technique – is it specific / measurable / relevant or realistic / achievable / time-limited? If the goals is not realistic – there is no hope and you are most likely setting yourselves to fail, but if the goal is not challenging there is no motivation. In most cases we struggle to achieve our goals not because of our efforts but because how it is structured.
  • Aim for a goal which is inspirational to you, positively framed and challenging – a real stretch to achieve the best you can. When the goal is stated positively you are more likely to resonate with it and internalise the things you want to be able to do rather than the things you want to avoid.
  • Whose goal is it? The value of choice, responsibility and ownership in terms of self-motivation should never be underestimated.
  • Assess your intrinsic motivation levels towards personal behavioural change via some motivational interviewing (MI) techniques. Ask yourself – how much are you willing to invest in that process? On the scale of 0-10, how ready are you? You can use full RICs scale too – how Ready  you are?; how Important the goal is to you?; how Confident you are that you can achieve this goal? Rate on the scale of 1-10.
  • Ambivalence is seen as a natural part of the change process and resistance is the heart of change (Passmore and Whybrow, 2008). If you are ambivalent about making the first step towards achieving your goal and also showing some resistance, you can assess at what stage of the change cycle you are right now. See diagram below.change-cycle
  • Have you got the right support to achieve your goal both at work and/or home?
  • Have you got the rights skills and knowledge to achieve this goal?
  • How high / low is your self-efficacy in terms of this goal?
  • Is there is psychologist block or negative self-talk impeding the goal? A coach can use one of the cognitive models such as ABCDEF or two step PITs/PETs to challenge  these blocks and help you develop more healthy and rational self-talk and effective new beliefs.

This list is not exhaustive and the coach should always adapt the style and techniques that are most appropriate for you at this point of time.


Bandura, A., (1977), Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioural change.  Abstract. Psychological Review, Vol 84 (2), Mar 1977, 191-215,

Grant, A., (2012), An integrated model of goal-focused coaching: An evidence-based framework for teaching and practice, International Coaching Psychology Review, Vol. 7 No. 2 September 2012.
Passmore, J. and Whybrow, A., (2008), Motivational Interviewing. A specific approach for coaching psychologists in Palmer, S. and Whybrow, A., (2008), Handbook of coaching Psychology.  A guide for practitioners, London and New York: Routledge.
Whitmore, J., (2002), Coaching for Performance. GROWing People, Performance and Purpose, Third Edition, London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.


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