Measuring Goal Attainment in Coaching
Coaches will be familiar with questions about the outcomes of coaching. Indeed, ensuring clarity of expected outcomes is one of the first things a coach discusses with a client.
The International Coach Federation’s core coaching competencies include establishing the coaching agreement, part of setting the foundation for coaching, where coach and client agree not only the process of coaching, but how the client will identify that expected outcomes have been achieved. In other words, coach and client agree on how the client will observe that their coaching goals have been met.
If, as Grant (2006) says, coaching is ‘a goal focused process’, then being able to measure the extent to which coaching helps goal attainment is critical in helping clients and coaches observe their progress. But how does one measure goal attainment? Let us start with a look at what goals are.
What are goals?
Goals can be defined as what an individual consciously does or tries to do in order to arrive at a desired result. And, as people generally try to do what is consistent with their values, goals direct both attention and action. This means that the achievement of goals leads to satisfaction and motivation, while failure to achieve goals can lead to frustration and de-motivation. This, in fact, summarizes Locke and Latham’s Goal Setting Theory.
Further, Locke and Latham suggested that goals need to adhere to certain principles, including 1) clarity – they should be specific 2) challenge – they should stretch the individual out of their comfort zone without being unattainable 3) commitment – the individual should accept ownership of the goal 4) learning oriented – achieving the goals should lead the individual to learning and not only attaining a performance standard 5) deadline – they should be time bound and 6) feedback – the individual should have access to feedback on goal attainment. While the studies that led to these conclusions were based on workplace dynamics, these determinations apply across all spheres of life, as does coaching.
So, how can we measure goal attainment? Below I share three methods.
Measuring Goal Attainment
The first method includes setting goals then conducting an assessment of where the client is to get a baseline goal attainment score. The assessment involves clients rating themselves using a 5-point Likert scale like 1=not successful at all, to 5 = very successful. The average pre-coaching score is achieved by totalling scores for all goals and dividing by the number of goals. A similar exercise is conducted using the same goals and the same Likert scale to assess the client’s situation at various points during and after the coaching intervention, then comparing the average post-coaching with the average pre-coaching scores. Ideally the former should be much better.
The second method is similar to the first, with the addition of a difficulty rating to the goals. The goal attainment score is then derived from multiplying the rating for difficulty with that for achievement. This method is more sensitive to change as a similar achievement score leads to a higher goal attainment score for a more difficult goal. If, for example two tasks are rated 2 and 4 for difficulty, and both are at 3 for achievement, the goal attainment score for the first one will be 6, and for the second one 12, The more difficult goal has a higher weighting on the average goal attainment score.
Methods one and two rely on personal, often individual, goal setting, and unclear goals could lead to difficulty in measuring attainment. This means that spending time on quality control at the goal setting stage is useful, if not critical. Coaches and clients who invest particular effort and time to this stage report higher satisfaction with achieving expected outcomes.
Method three also begins with goal setting, but the goals are set at different levels of abstraction. First the general goal, also referred to as the higher order goal, is articulated, then more specific behaviours or actions or lower order goals that would lead to attaining the general goal are defined. These specific behaviours or actions must be observable and measurable, as well as attainable by the client. Spence (2007) shares the following example:
Higher order goal: become more social. Lower order goal: increase the number of social interactions (e.g. conversations)
An expected outcome is then defined, and this becomes the centre point of the goal attainment scale. Four other levels of attainment are defined: Best expected outcome, more than expected outcome, as well as less than expected outcome and worst expected outcome., leading to a five-point scale, each assigned a numerical value, as follows:
- Best expected outcome (+2)
- More than expected outcome (+1)
- Expected outcome (-0)
- Less than expected outcome (-1)
- Worst expected outcome (-2)
For the client who is looking to become more sociable the expected outcome is to initiate a conversation that is at least 5 mins long with 2 people every day. The more than expected outcome would be to initiate conversation with 3-4 people, and the best outcome to initiate conversation with more than 4 people. 1 person or less would be the less than expected outcome and less than 1 person the worst expected outcome.
In this method data can be collected every day, and not at only fixed points in time. The methodology also encourages involving significant others in the process of setting goals and observing progress, thus helping client with accountability.
The numerical values +2 to -2 are used to conduct statistical treatment of data collected in order to arrive at the goal attainment score. This treatment is considered as one of the disadvantages of this method for those who are not inclined to such number work. However, it is precisely this possibility of statistical treatment, combined with the objectivity of the data collected, that makes this method less prone to the self-rater biases of methods one and two.
The process of setting goals and clarifying how they will be measured is key for the subsequent assessment of goal attainment, a key focus for coaching. Coaches can use different methods to measure goal attainment, depending on how rigorous they would like to be. This article shares 3 methods to choose from. Being able to measure the outcomes of coaching supports the argument that coaching works, and so these methodologies are useful for any coach who needs to demonstrate that they are worth the investment that clients make.
Also, these methodologies are not only useful for coaches, they are valuable for leaders seeking to improve the way they set goals and measure goal attainment and performance for the people they lead.
- Grant, A. M. (2006) in Stober D. and Grant A. M. (Eds) Evidence-Based Coaching Handbook, Wiley, New York.
- Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1984). Goal setting: A motivational technique that works!
- Lunenburg, F. C. (2011). Goal-setting theory of motivation. International journal of management, business, and administration, 15(1), 1-6.
- Spence, G. B. (2007). GAS powered coaching: Goal Attainment Scaling and its use in coaching research and practice. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2(2), 155-167.