Developing goals: SMART framework, function of goals in coaching and possible goal conflicts.

Develop & Achieve Goals with Empowered Coaching

“When I want to, I perform better than when I have  to. I  want to for me, I have  to for you. Self-motivation is a matter of choice”. John Whitmore.

A goal is a desired result or possible outcome that a person or a system envisions, plans and commits to achieve: a personal or organisational desired end-point in some sort of assumed development. Explicit, specific goals lead to a greater likelihood of success. Studies have found that developing goals helps a person to enhance motivation  and remain focused on tasks or particular issues that need addressing both personal and/or work-related. The development of goals is an important aspect of overall coaching, time and life self-management. Being goal-less is likely to lead to a feeling of under achievement and being adrift in this world.
Whitmore (2002) also suggested we should always aim for a goal which is inspirational to you, positively framed and challenging – a real stretch to achieve the best you can. Setting goals that are SMART gives you more focused, realistic plan to work towards and achieve desired outcome. SMART framework can be used to define short term and long term goals although it is useful to review long term goal regularly to ensure it is achieved. Neenan and Palmer (2012) observed that when the goal is stated positively a coachee is more likely to resonate with it and internalise the things they want to be able to do rather than the things they want to avoid. We can envisage more easily to ‘move towards something or what we want to do’ than ‘running away from or what we don’t want to do’. For example – ‘I want to stop being stressed’ (vs ‘I would like to be calmer’.
Grant (2012) has wisely admitted goals as ‘internal representations of desired states or outcomes’ are central to coaching. In coaching, coach needs to encourage the coachee to distinguish between realistic goals and unrealistic ones and between goals that are self-defeating and self-enhancing. Unrealistic and self-defeating goals are likely to set you  to fail and bring your self-esteem, confidence and self-efficacy (your belief in the ability to succeed in a specific situation) down alongside with your motivation which in turn reinforces any self-doubting beliefs if there are any such as ‘I’ll never get it right’ or ‘I’m hopeless’. In most cases we struggle to achieve our goals not because of our efforts but because how it is structured or framed.

Goal conflict is a situation in which desired end states or preferred outcomes appear to be incompatible so our goals are not met which can cause great strain on our emotional well-being. When setting a goal we want to achieve we thrive to accomplish this by using all means to get to this point. A goal conflict is the existence of two or more competing goals leading to the cause of conflict in an individual’s mind set. It occurs when two or more motives block each other. Goal conflict occurs in the following situations:

  •    The goal is not congruent with who you are and your values.
  •    The goal might not be yours.
  •    The goal might interfere with another goal you wish to attain.
  •    Goal is not SMART.
  •    You have low self-efficacy.
  •    You are simply not ready to change.

SMART goal-setting process is an acronym that stands for:

S – Specific. For us to achieve a goal it must be clear, focused and self-defined. This is arguably the most important part of establishing or evaluating the goal. The less specific the goal, the more difficult it is to establish how long should it take to achieve it or to measure success. You should also consider who else is involved or can be affected by your goal, what you want to accomplish, where if applicable (location), when (as in what time frame) and why (what is the reason).

M – Measurable. How is the goal measured and how do we determine success. In other words what will you see, hear or feel when you have achieved your goal? The key to goal measurement that it accurately reflects success.

A – Attainable or achievable. Goals must be realistic so they can be reached, otherwise a coachee will most definitely be disappointed with themselves during the process and it will impact their self-esteem and motivation.

R – Relevant or realistic. Is this goal relevant to a your reality?

T- Time bound or tangible. What kind of time frame should be used? A goal should have a deadline. Without a clear time frame, there is no sense of urgency to achieve a goal and it would be difficult to measure success.

Here’s an example of a possible coaching dialogue to set SMART goal:

Coach: What do you want to achieve? What is the aim for this session?

Coachee: I want to earn more money.

(Coach explains briefly what SMART goal is).

Coach: What does that look like to earn more money?

Coachee: Well I would like to be promoted to a head of sales and earn £100k a year.

Coach: How would you like to achieve it? What steps do you need to take?

Coachee: My boss told me if I sign two big contacts then I can get a promotion.

Coach: Is this achievable?

Coachee: Well, it will be hard work but I’ve done it before. I have all the resources to get it done.

Coach: When do you need to sign these contract by to get promoted?

Coachee: I have by the end of the year to do it so I have 3 months left.

Coach: So, based on what we have just discussed, how can you rephrase your goal to make it SMART?

Coachee: I need to sign 2 big contract (how? specific) in 3 months’ time (deadline – time limited) in order to get promoted to head of sales (what are you trying to achieve?) and earn £100k (measure of success).

To conclude, specific and ambitious goals lead to a higher level of performance than easy or general goals, therefore aiming high results in better results.  When the goal is stated positively,  you are more likely to internalise, encode and rehearse the things you want to be doing or being able to do rather than the ones you  want to avoid or stop.


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.

Nenan, M., and Palmer, S., (2012), Cognitive Behavioural Coaching in Practice. An Evidence Based Approach, East Sussex: Routledge.


Palmer, S. and Cooper, C., (2015), How to deal with stress, Hong Kong and Croydon: Kogan Page Limited.


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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