How to coach around establishing Aims

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Coaching Skills Series

This is one of many articles I intend to post this year considering the range of principles, skills and experiences you’ll need to be an effective coaching manager for the people in your team.

Here we consider how to help the people you coach create a useful aim or goal to guide their decisions. Next time we’ll look at how to refine such goals in light of the current situation.

How to coach around establishing Aims

Coaching Skills TargetsRemember, Before you start your coaching conversation by establishing Aims (or goals if you prefer) you’ll need to establish the situation or problem for discussion.

Then you can ask:

In relation to your issue:

  • What are you trying to achieve long term?
  • How much personal influence do you have over that?
  • What first steps could you take?
  • Are they challenging but achievable?
  • How will you know if you’ve succeeded?
  • What timeframe is involved?

Encourage the coachee

Bear in mind that you are not asking these questions to find out the answers, you’re asking them to encourage the coachee to think. To think, at this stage, about the future. How the situation will be when a problem has been solved, a skill developed, a chance taken or whatever.

It’s important to recognize that a coaching session must not turn into an interrogation. Use these coaching questions to start a dialogue, but don’t feel you have to use them all, or in the same order they appear here. It is also useful if you can develop your own way of asking the same sorts of questions, so that they sound more like you.

There has been a lot of debate amongst those of us involved in coaching skills about the wisdom of starting a coaching conversation by establishing aims or goals. Some argue that it is not possible to think clearly about a desired state before exploring how things stand at the present time. I disagree because I feel that by establishing aims at the outset we are putting a beacon in place that the coachee can move towards during and after the coaching session. My experience suggests that people make better decisions and wiser choices when they are clear about what they are trying to achieve and why.

The different types of aim

Asking these aims questions also enables the coachee to become clear about the different types of aim they may be thinking about and how they interrelate as shown below:

Dreams‘Why’The inspiration
Performance Goals‘What’The specification
Processes‘How’The mechanism

I use the word dream to describe any aim which lacks detail. ‘To be the best widget manufacturer in the world’ is a dream level aim, but so is ‘I wish I was more confident’. It doesn’t always have to be something grand, just the rationale for wanting to improve things or move forward in the first place. Setting performance goals puts detail on the dream such as ‘To have 35% of the widget market with a gross margin of 10%’ or, ‘to be fully confident in speaking at the AGM by next June’.

It is important to have all three levels clear in our minds if our goals to be achieved. The aims questions provide clarity around dreams and performance goals and the Way Forward questions that come at the end of the coaching ARROW finalise the process steps

Coaching Questions

Other useful questions you can experiment with at the Aims stage include:

  • What would need to happen in this session for you to consider it time well spent?
  • What would you like to be different when you leave this session?
  • What would you like to happen that is not happening now?
  • How can you communicate your Aims in a compelling way?


Matt Somers

Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the UK’s leading trainer of managers as coaches. His coaching skills training programmes, books, articles and seminars have helped thousands of managers achieve outstanding results through their people.

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