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Setting quality goals that work for you

Chess pieces - a pawn dreaming of being a king as a metaphor for setting quality goals

A big part of coaching discussions concerns setting goals and objectives and then moving towards them. For example, the “G” in the GROW process model (frequently used in business coaching discussions) is all about setting a goal. The “O” in the ROSA process model (developed by the World Coaching Organization, WCO) is all about setting objectives. This makes sense when you consider that the essence of coaching is “change” – and change doesn’t happen without a goal in mind!

So if we agree that goals and objectives are so central to making change happen, what can we do to maximise the odds that the goals we want for ourselves are actually achieved? We could start by agreeing what goals and objectives are.

According to Wikipedia, a goal is a desired result you want to achieve and is typically broad and long-term. Objectives can also be seen as goals, but for the purposes of this discussion we could define objectives as the specific, measurable actions you have agreed to take in order to achieve the overall goal. For instance, if your overall goal is to become a significant influencer in the personal development industry by 2030, one objective might be to establish yourself as successful coach by the end of 2021.

Setting quality goals

One example of a quality goal is a “moonshot”. Moonshots are the domain of “X” company, a division of Google. They are also the focus of Singularity University (Peter Diamandis) and the OpenExo organisation (Salim Ismail). All three of these organisations exist to support individuals and businesses to create impossible value, built on the reality of exponential technologies powering new and emerging business models.

A moonshot allows you to dream. To visualise a future where you have achieved something you now consider possible, but somehow scary. In our coaching terms, we also call this a “Guru Objective”. While you don’t yet know how to achieve this goal, by visualising it and naming it, you are on the path to turning it into reality.

You can define your own moonshot by considering these 5 questions:

  1. What drives you to develop and grow and create new things? (your Life Purpose)

  2. What huge problems can you identify that could form the basis of something your life purpose calls out to?

  3. What exponential technologies could you utilise to create a new business to address this huge problem?

  4. What radical solutions could you conceive, given[PH3] [GH4] these emerging technologies?

  5. What is your moonshot goal, filtered from these solutions? What would you like to have achieved in this 3-5-10 year horizon? Think big and scary – a stretch goal that you believe is possible but that some part of you might find a bit scary.

Setting quality objectives

Your objectives are concrete milestones towards achieving your goals. Milestones, by their more concrete nature, tend to have 12-month or less horizons: what concrete, measurable outcomes do you intend to achieve?

  • These might form the basis for a series of tasks or activities that you would plan as a project.

  • or they might form the basis for a habit or routine that will achieve a concrete objective through a lifestyle change (e.g. Sleep, Presence, Activity, Creativity, Eating, Emotional intelligence)

I’m sure you are familiar with SMART objectives, but quality objectives are so much more than just “smart”.

Let’s use a metaphor here: Imagine you have decided to give up on public transport and buy a car. What do you look for? If you’re like me, you’re interested in the trimmings, the entertainment system, cruise control, leather seats, the colour and look of the car, the things that make you feel great as you drive to work and home.

But what about the basics? What are the basic things that your car must also have to be even worth considering as a car? If you start to list those things, I’m pretty sure you’ll list things like an engine, brakes, seats, a steering wheel, lights… all the basics that you need so you can be sure that you can drive from A to B in a way that you know will get you there. In other words, as described in Wikipedia in their definition of quality, the basics plus the trimmings are what the car must have to be “suitable for its intended purpose (basics) while satisfying customer expectations (trimmings)”.

So now back to objectives and goals: What are those basic elements that need to be in place when we look at objectives, that make them quality objectives, suitable for their intended purpose?

Task: Think of an objective that you have reached either alone or together with your team. List down all the factors that made you successful in achieving that objective.

One of the most famous theories on goal-setting is the one from Edwin Locke. Locke has reviewed over a decade of research of laboratory and field studies on the effects of goal setting and performance. He distinguished 5 core characteristics of a good goal:

  • Clarity: Be clear and specific of what the positive change or desired improvement is. Set a measurable target, a KPI, to be achieved at a defined date. A clear, measurable goal with a specific timeline for completion is more achievable than one that is poorly defined. For example, using our metaphor, when asked about your goal you could say that you are saving money for a car, and when I ask you what kind of car you might say “Anything that runs” (not specific at all) vs. “I want to have 50 000€ saved by the end of next year to be able to buy a Tesla”. Ideally this target will not only tell you if you have reached the goal but will also help you gauge your progress along the way. You could also consider a measurement framework to help shape the goal such as SMART goals, or the less well-known META+ framework used by WCO (Measurable, Emotional, Timed, Achievable and positive). In summary, clarity and specificity means that you’ll be able to “tick the box” when it is done.

“Clarity” questions to consider:

How do I know when I’ve achieved what you want?

How can I measure success?


  • Challenge: A good goal needs to be challenging to be motivating, but not too challenging, since too big a challenge becomes overwhelming and de-motivating. Locke found that over 90% of the time, goals that were specific and challenging, but not overly challenging, led to higher performance when compared to easy goals or goals that were too generic such as a goal to “do your best”. For example, an objective may be...

...too easy: save €200 to buy a bicycle in 12 months

...too challenging: save €150,000 to buy a new Maserati in 12 months

...just right: save €50,000 to buy a reasonably new Tesla in 12 months

You should have a voice in your head that questions whether this objective is achievable, but a few other voices that also believe in it at least at some level.

“Challenge” questions to consider:

On a scale of 0-10, how challenging is this goal for me?

Do I believe it is possible for me to achieve this goal?

Does this goal scare me a little, pushing me outside my comfort zone?

  • Commitment: Without commitment there is no energy to move us forward. Your decision to commit to a goal is at the same time both a rational and an emotional decision. Rational commitment is based on rewards and other concrete incentives whereas emotional commitment is based on your feelings, your values, your life purpose.When you commit to a goal or objective, the emotions from that decision become the “fuel” to drive you forward in a similar way to the fuel you use in your car. In order to commit to a goal you must be able to accept it as meaningful to you.

Task: Think of a time when you were set a goal by someone else. How did you feel?

“Commitment” questions to consider:

How would achieving this goal feel to me?

If I had a magic wand, what would I ask for?

What would achieving my goal mean for my life?

  • Simplicity (task complexity): If a goal is especially complex, make sure you give yourself enough time to overcome the learning curve involved in completing the task. In other words, if a goal is really tough, make sure you give yourself some padding to give you the best chance at succeeding. Highly complicated goals can be de-motivating and overwhelming. Consider breaking down complex objectives into concrete milestones.

“Simplicity” questions to consider:

How can I simplify the goal or objective into simpler milestones or baby objectives?

  • Feedback: In order to stay motivated when working towards a goal you must receive feedback along the journey. This is why process goals are so much more effective than performance goals! Because you get constant feedback. Either you did save the money towards your new car or you didn’t. Feedback can come in different forms, from process KPIs (How much money have I saved this month?), from peers or supporters (What do you think of this idea to save money?), from customers (Does this product help improve your life?) etc. One form of feedback worth considering is to find and enlist an “accountability partner” – someone who can support you along the journey, to help you test ideas and thoughts and to provide support in those tricky moments. This could be a family member, work colleague, coach, personal friend – someone you trust and respect.

“Feedback” questions to consider:

What can I measure to track progress towards achieving my goal?

Who can I enlist to give subjective feedback regarding my goal?

Who is my accountability partner to help me stay focused on achieving this goal?

These five characteristics - clarity, challenge, commitment, feedback and simplicity – are the basic quality attributes for goals and objectives that will get you from the start of your transformation journey to when you have achieved your goal. As with the basic elements of a car that you need to get from A to B, if any one of those is missing, then you will probably get stuck on the road somewhere.

Of course, there are other elements that you can add on top of it all to make you succeed even better – if you want to drive the Tesla of goal setting – but these basics should be there for things to work at all.

When goal setting is done correctly, it can be a powerful tool for boosting motivation and productivity. Even if you don’t reach 100% on your objective, goal-setting theory states that you will perform much better than if you make a non-specific, easy goal.

Task: Is there an example you can think of a plan or an idea that has never been formulated into a specific goal or a set of actions? What has been missing?

Is there a well formulated goal that you have reached? How was that like?

If you’re interested in learning more about objective and goal setting, please feel free to join us at our next (free) online workshop “Living and working with Goals” on 10th February 2021.


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