27 January 2024

Organizational Coaching requires specific techniques, as goals are not freely chosen.


Coaching aims to help a client (coachee) achieve one (or more) goals. The common assumption is that such goals are freely chosen by the coachee. However, there are situations where this condition is not entirely or only partially true.

One such situation is when the goal is decided by the organization to which the coachee belongs. A typical example is business objectives, but there could also be other types of goals, for example, in the healthcare sector, the military, etc.

In this situation, it is crucial to answer the following questions.

  • What is the purpose of goals set by the organisations?
  • What reference theories help us understand how to manage goals set by the organisation and not freely chosen by the coachee?
  • What are the technical and process consequences of coaching?

What is the purpose of goals set by the organisations?

We can distinguish three main functions in the definitions of non-freely chosen goals.

  • An informative function.
  • A structural function.
  • A performance function.

The informative function aims to instruct on what to do.

For example, developing a specific project within certain deadlines as a goal can be considered informative. The goal might only serve to inform about the client's expectations.

In this case, the goal is structured in such a way as to be clear and measurable, meaning the assigned individual must understand it, and it must be possible to say whether it has been achieved or not.

The structural function and other goals contribute to achieving a higher-order result.

For example, if each individual is given the goal of performing a particular task according to specific deadlines, such activities could constitute the development of a broader project.

The performance function aims to increase the subject's performance.

In this case, the goal is structured to achieve better performance than what would have been obtained if the goal had not been defined.

For example, setting the development of a project characterized by particular complexity or innovation elements as a goal could make the goal "challenging" and have the effect of increasing the project group's performance compared to what would have been achieved if the elements of complexity and innovation had not been present. 

How to manage the performance of a non-freely chosen goal in coaching

To manage the performance function, it is essential to use evidence-based, scientific theories that help us understand how to structure performance goals and a set of methods to operationalize, or make operational, these theories in coaching practice.

The evidence-based literature provides some very corroborated theories to rely on.

From these theories, our effort has been to operationalize them in the coaching process.

What reference theories help us understand how to manage goals set by the organisation and not freely chosen by the coachee?

A theory or model is a set of descriptive, predictive, interpretive, and operational hypotheses of a given phenomenon in a given context. Kurt Lewin said that there is nothing more practical than a good theory.

We posed the following research questions to the evidence-based and peer-reviewed scientific literature related to organizational psychology and human resource management:

  1. How do the required performances and expected results act as a motivating factor for the individual?
  2. How can goals be structured actually to achieve better performance?
  3. What precautions must be taken to avoid the risk that poorly set goals generate counterproductive behaviours and effects?

The result of our research was as follows.

  1. To answer the first question regarding motivating factors, we will refer to the Expectancy Theory.
  2. Regarding the second question about performance, we will adopt the Goal Setting Theory.
  3. Finally, regarding the third question about the precautions to take, we will refer to the scientific literature produced on the subject by Locke, Latham, Ordonez, and other researchers.

How to operationalize these models in coaching

The models mentioned above have been "operationalized" in coaching, meaning we have created techniques to use these powerful descriptive and predictive tools within the coach-coachee sessions.

A detailed description of the models, the details of the techniques to use them in coaching, and a step-by-step guide are available by accessing the online course.


To manage the performance function of a goal that is not freely chosen, we need evidence-based scientific theories to operationalize in coaching. The Expectancy Theory, the Goal Setting Theory, and the scientific literature on the topic have provided us with the models to manage these goals within a coaching process.

Note on Gender Bias

Gender-specific terms may be used throughout the reading to ease the text flow. Whenever a gender-specific term is used, it should be understood as referring to all genders unless explicitly stated.

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram