What do you do when the client just isn’t making progress on their goals?

preparedtostop(This post is Lesson #4 from the book “How to Coach Anyone: Solutions to 68 Common Coaching Situations” produced by Andrea J Lee)

Let’s just say that it’s not all that unusual for clients to stop making progress on their goals. Here are several approaches that can work well…

Instead of pushing harder, take the pressure off and find out why the client isn’t making progress
And don’t accept the first thing the client says. Press for honesty. Press until YOU can get it. Believe it or not, this type of questioning/pressing/evoking IS coaching because it helps the client find out important stuff about themselves and their dynamics. There is ALWAYS a ‘real’ reason that the client isn’t moving forward at the pace they or you expected.

Double or triple the support structure
If you’re only chatting once a week, double it to 2x. Or put the client on IM (instant messenger) so you can support them between calls. Or, over respond to the problem that a single client is having by offering an integrity day type support evening for all clients to participate in.

Change the goal
No, this is not sacrilegious, nor does it mean that the client or coach has failed. It just means that the goal probably isn’t the best one for right now.

So, either pick a totally different goal, or tweak the current one so that IMMEDIATE results are made (like within a day or two of the coaching session). If the client still can’t make progress, then something else is going on (see next strategy).

Abandon all goals, promises, expectations
My best guess is that 20% of people just are not built to set/have goals because they react to them, suffer from performance anxiety, get stuck in pseudo parental push/pull cycles with their coach (“you can’t make me!” etc.,) and so forth. Yet, most clients feel like they should have goals in order to work with a coach.

So, part of what the coach can do at the beginning of the coaching relationship is to have a brief conversation about how well the client works with goals. It’s perfectly acceptable, if not delightful, for the client to have no specific goals/objectives/accountability with their coach.
Instead, the coach and client have very productive/expanding conversations each week. And, more often than not, results occur as a by-product. Wonderful.

Connect the goal to a personal value
Goals seem to be easier to reach when they are an ‘expression’ of ourselves, meaning an expression of our values.

One trick to use with a client is to ask them to make a list of the 5 most important things to them in life itself (aka values, like beauty, discovery, happiness, creativity, love, etc.). Then ask them to make a list of the top 5 goals they have for themselves. Once this is done, ask/help the client to connect one goal to one value.

This will help the client to true/align their goals and values. If they find a value without a corresponding goal, then it’s time to add a goal. If they find a goal without a value, it’s usually a good idea to tweak/change that goal so that it DOES express one of their values. This is a great calibration technique.

Focus on things other than goals
Personal foundation, skills training, personal evolution, sounding board discussions, situational advice, and conceptual discussions are all part of the coaching menu of services and foci. Again, most clients feel that they have to accomplish a specific ‘result’ in order to ‘justify’ coaching and the coaching fee. It’s simply not true. Make sure your potential and current clients understand this.

I hope this was helpful,


4 thoughts on “What do you do when the client just isn’t making progress on their goals?

  1. Great perspective. Lately I have so goal driven that it makes me tired and actually prevent me from making progress. I had a goal of getting up earlier to get more done and it never materialized. Then I realized I thought I should get up earlier, not that I really wanted to in my heart of hearts. When I let the goal go, I started getting up earlier. What is that about?

    1. That is an interesting one Gina. I wonder if the pressure of trying to achieve a goal that you are not really committed to acts a bit like reverse-psychology? “My goal is going to get up early, but I don’t really want that, so I am actually going to fight against it”

      Once you drop the goal and just let your natural patterns take over in this case, without pressure, your body kicked in and got up earlier.

      I find it is such a fine line between setting goals so I actually get what needs to be done done, and setting so many that I just get overwhelmed.

  2. Agreed Jerri. So often I find that the goals I am not achieving are experiencing a disconnect from my values and my core value statement. This has happened enough that checking on my values is one of the first places I go when a goal isn’t working out.

    But it sure can get tough when that goal is also connected to income, then I get stuck in the

    Values — Goal — Income

    trap which pulls me in two different directions.

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