Measures of Success in Agenda Setting

September 28, 2017 by Coach Training EDU

“Measures of Success in Agenda Setting” has to be one of the most thrilling blog titles to date… Joking aside, the title is here intentionally. In the International Coach Federation’s expectations for higher-level coaching, there is a great deal of focus on making sure coaching session agendas have solid measures of success. But how do coaches find those elusive measures of success?

Agenda Topic vs. Outcome

I am someone particularly qualified to talk about this topic since I spent about 2 years in the jungle of agenda setting before making this discovery: There is actually a difference between an agenda topic and agenda outcome. The story is that the organization I was coaching under used a variation of the GROWTH Model. In this model (as well as most other coaching models), there was a distinction made between identifying the topic the client would like to talk about and what he or she was wanting from the call – the outcome. Without understanding the distinction, I gave it a try in my first few coaching sessions:

  • Coach – “Hey Client! What would you like to talk about today?”
  • Client – “I would like to talk about how to study better.”
  • Coach – “What would you like to take away from our session?”
  • Client – “I would like to have a conversation about how to study better.”
  • Coach – “Oh…yeah…you just said that didn’t you?”
  • Client – (“Um…who is this guy and why is he coaching me?”)

Such riveting conversations were! Clearly, after a few tries, I realized one of two things was happening:

  1. Something was wrong with my understanding of the topic and outcome.


2. Something was wrong with the model.

I went with the most obvious reason: B. Clearly, something was wrong with the model, and it took two years of experience to realize that something was just not right about my agenda setting, leading me back to the original question: “What is the difference between topic and outcome?” One stormy night in my jungle of confusion, lightning struck my brain and I finally got it. So with all the over-dramatic buildup out of the way, here is the basic distinction:

  • Agenda Topic – This is the category the client would like to talk about. The deeper a coach goes into meaning with the topic, the better.
  • Agenda Outcome – This is the helpful/practical thing the client would like to have in hand after talking about the topic with the coach. The more a coach helps a client make this outcome measurable, the better.

Coaching for Measures of Success

Here is an example of topic vs. outcome:

Topic: The client would like to know how to prepare for her college application. After the coach asks 2-3 questions about the importance and biggest challenges associated with this topic, the client identifies that she needs to better prepare for the essay writing process in college applications. So the topic for this session is: “Preparing for College Application Essays”

Outcome: How will we know this conversation is helpful? That’s the question, or at least literally one question a coach might ask here. The outcome for this topic could be: “I want to identify when to start.” “I need to have a system in place to make sure the essays are strong enough.” “I want a plan for when to have each batch of 10 essays done for the 30 applications.” Or any number of other outcomes that the coach and client may settle on.

The important thing is this: The coach helps the client identify a relevanttopic to talk about, then the coach helps the client decide on a practical outcome to target. When a session has a clear outcome, it will have a client-created measure of success: “I need _____ by the end of this session.”

Making Measures of Success More Measurable

It is a firm belief of those who work with Academic Life Coaching and Coach Training EDU that the more time that is spent effectively exploring an agenda, the more powerful and targeted the coaching session will be. When helping a client identify an outcome for the topic, it is important to not just accept the first thing that comes to mind without digging a little deeper.

For instance, if a student would like to spend time discussing their SAT preparation (topic), and by the end of the session they want “a plan,” an effective coach will ask just a little more about that plan:

  • What are you looking for in this plan?
  • How will you know we have built a workable plan today?
  • What timeframe should this plan focus on?

These questions make the idea of “plan” more measurable so that the topic of “SAT Preparation” can be addressed in a much more targeted way.

As we step out of the jungle and back into the light of day, here are some questions you can consider as part of your agenda-setting:

  • How concrete are the words of this topic and outcome?
  • How many steps is the client after?
  • What would make this basic outcome unsuccessful for this client? Successful?
  • How much can this client personally address this outcome, or is it dependent on others?
  • How will we know when we have arrived at the destination for this session?

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