A Goal Setting Model Without An Acronym!

Some coaches like to set goals with their clients at the very start of a coaching programme - personally I prefer to offer the client some quality thinking space, with minimal interruption from me, so we can both see what emerges over time. Naturally this depends on what sort of coaching we're doing; if it's specifically related to career development or performance then "assigned" (written down, agreed and prioritised) goals have their place whereas for leadership coaching the goals tend to take shape as the client's insight grows. And in team meetings and team coaching programmes getting some sense of desired outcomes at the start is, I believe, vital for effective use of time. 

Yet goals are rarely as simple as they sound when written into a nicely pleasing juicy acronym such as SMART. Because to achieve goals we need to consider a much wider number of factors including motivation, context, skill, personalities, other parties, and so forth. 

Locke's goal setting theory suggests that to achieve goals five factors have to be present. These are: Clarity, Challenge, Commitment, Feedback and Task complexity. Many traditional goal setting models are good on getting Clarity, but aren't always so thorough on the rest. We need deeper thinking. 

As I couldn't find a goal setting model that worked for me on the occasions when I need one, I developed this; I call it the Full Circle Model because I hope it's more holistic than usual and also it shows the cyclical nature of goal setting:

I think your brain will love it! Because it invites different areas of the brain to work on visioning, scanning, detail, playing with options, making decisions and feeling appreciative.

Below I've suggested some questions that will help you to elicit deeper thinking for individuals or teams. 

NB: You don't need to use all of the questions - just those that seem appropriate.

If you're doing this exercise for yourself, just replace the 'you' with 'I' or for teams replace you with 'We'. 

1. Create a compelling vision

  • What do you want, and why is this important? 
  • What most motivates you about it? Does it align with your values?
  • What will success in this goal look or feel like to you and others? 
  • What will have changed for the better?

2. See the bigger picture

  • What challenges might you face and how can you overcome or go round them? 
  • What personal strengths and experiences do you already have that you can use? 
  • Who or what else should you consider impact-wise before you commit to this?
  • What are the negative things you’re assuming that may stop you from achieving this goal?
  • What are the positive things you need to assume instead?

3. Consider all the options

  • What are all your options for achieving this goal? 
  • What else? 
  • What are the merits and downsides of each option? 
  • Do you need you to sharpen your skills or knowledge or get more information before you start working on it and if so, how can you do that most efficiently?
  • What might you need to do to mitigate any negative impacts on others?
  • Which one seems the best option now?

4. Make decisions and share your plans

  • So what will you do? 
  • What are your first and subsequent steps? 
  • What resources do you need?
  • What are your timelines? 
  • Who will you tell about this and get regular feedback from?

5. Review results and appreciate the journey

  • How did you do?
  • What have you learned? 
  • How have you changed and grown as a result? 
  • What will you do the same or differently in the future?
  • Who or what would you like to appreciate or thank that’s helped in your journey?
  • What’s the 1 key thing that's left you feeling most proud of yourself?

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The Rationale: Slowing Down Creates Better Thinking

In "Thinking, Fast and Slow" Daniel Kahneman describes two ways that we think. These are “System 1” and “System 2" Thinking. In a nutshell, System 1 deals with intuition, knee-jerk reactions, rapid assessment of shape, size and identity (for an immediate familiarity / safety / trustworthiness assessment) while System 2 deals with reasoning, cognition, and problem solving. Additionally, System 2 divides its operations into two minds: “slow thinking and demanding computation” and “rationality” (not intelligence). 

However, he says, the reflective mind is lazy. So whenever we get a chance to use our System 1, we do so because it’s effortless. This is called Cognitive Ease - when something feels good, true, familiar, and effortless. It doesn’t really require thinking, it’s just intuitive. Kahneman calls System 1 the Mental Shotgun – it’s impossible to aim at a single point with a shotgun because the pellets just scatter. 

I think that some goal setting models can trigger this Mental Shotgun. We ask quick questions, get quick answers, and everyone feels satisfied. But does this really give the best outcomes? In my view, rarely.  It's a bit like agreeing to something when you're under pressure. For example, at the end of meandering meetings when you're almost out of time and someone asks you "So what are your takeways / actions?" You simply trot out an answer to relieve the tension. Until the next one when you realise (and either confess or fudge it) that you didn't actually do anything about it! 

So - when you next set some some goals - why not try setting Full Circle goals? Use it to think about all the complexities, about your real motivation, and importantly, who or what might be impacted by anything you do in pursuance of this goal. In fact there's only one thing worse than un-achieved goals - and that's selfish goals. 

A few words of warning. This is a list of questions to encourage System 2 thinking. If you're a coach or manager and you fire them off in rapid succession you'll dampen thinking down. In fact you may revert them to System 1 thinking. So you could share these questions before you meet, enabling people to think about them independently and then they can focus on the ones that they think are most important. If you don't have time to send them beforehand, ensure that you discuss them without rushing, allowing plenty of time for them to really consider their responses. You don't need to ask them all; but do be sure to cover each area. Don't be tempted to interrupt with another question. Or make helpful suggestions; people need stillness to have movement in their thinking. Allow them real time and real space to think. You could even try waiting for them to ask you when they are ready for another question that will help their thinking. That's advanced System 2 Thinking! Then their goals and their outcomes will be brilliant

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I'd really welcome your comments on here about this post / model / these ideas. Let me know if you try it out, or how you adapt it to suit you or your work. And if you like this post, please feel free to share it.

© Linda Aspey 2015