Issue 43

UTD Coaching News

Do Types of Goals Make a Difference?  A Study of the Relationship Between Goal Orientation and Professional Development Outcomes

by Francine Campone, Ed.D., MCC

In coaching, helping clients establish specific goals is a prerequisite for developing a meaningful coaching strategy and measuring progress and outcomes.  Recent research by Roseanne Scriffignano suggests that the type of goal and degree of goal orientation may also offer information which can be useful in designing the coaching intervention. 

As the author notes in her introduction, there are numerous studies of goal-orientation in diverse settings.  Her study seeks to fill a gap by investigating the potential relationship between goal orientation and professional development in the course of an executive coaching program.   Specifically, Scriffignano’s design sought to identify the relationship between level of leaders’ professional development during executive coaching and two dimensions of goal-orientation: the degree of orientation to goal type and the type of goal orientation. The study involved 110 U.S. corporate leaders in a range of fields including human resources, information technology, finance, sales and client services. 

While the literature review identifies two and three dimensional models of goal orientation, the author chose to focus on a two-dimensional model which differentiates learning goals and performance goals.  Scriffignano characterizes learning goals as directed toward the acquisition of new skills and mastery of new situations, appropriate for individuals in positions which require openness, adaptability and creative problem-solving.  The research she cites suggests that individuals with a strong learning goal orientation tend to believe in their own abilities to grow and change and she suggests that executives in coaching are more likely to be oriented to learning goals.  Performance goals tend to focus on achievements as measured by performance appraisals and comparison with others.  The objective, in other words, is to avoid negative judgments and avoid tasks with the potential to result in such evaluations.    Both goal types are affected by situational factors. 

The participants in the study were leaders who had completed a company-sponsored executive coaching engagement.  Details of the coaching engagements, including duration, coaching styles and techniques were not captured.   Surveys were administered on-line to measure learning and performance goal orientation.  In addition to type of goal orientation, measures identified the degree to which a respondent held that orientation (i.e. weak, neutral or strong).  In addition, participants were asked to identify the focus of their professional development from a drop-down menu of predetermined items and to self-evaluate their pre-and post-coaching levels of effectiveness in their chosen areas. 

The author generated descriptive and correlational statistics to determine the impact of degree of goal orientation.   A slight majority of respondents (54.55 %) showed a predominant learning goal-orientation; the remainder did not show predominance for either learning goal or performance goal orientation.   However, Scriffignano’s findings are consistent with other studies in showing a significant positive correlation between the degree of overall goal orientation among leaders and their level of professional development as measured on the pre-post coaching self reports.

Results for the second question - the relationship between goal orientation type and level of professional development - showed some differences.   Using measures of learning goal type and professional development self-reports, the author found significant positive correlation between a learning goal orientation and levels of professional development.    Performance goal orientation did not similarly correlate with levels of professional development.    The finding that 45% of the respondents did not indicate a predominant orientation toward either learning or performance goals is consistent with prior research indicating that goal orientations are not mutually exclusive and orientation may be to some extent situationally determined.  This result may also suggest that applying goal-orientation assessments with additional dimensions (such as models which include learning mastery, learning avoidance and performance avoidance) may offer additional insights into this group.

The author concludes by noting the implications of the findings.  She underscores the relationship between goal orientation and the types of motivation coaches may need to drive in the goal-setting phase of the coaching engagement.    The type of goal orientation may also be considered with respect to the needs of the client’s specific situation and the organization’s expectations of coaching program purposes and outcomes.    It is important that coaches understand the distinctions between and among the types of goals that clients set and support clients in the development of those most appropriate to the context. 


Roseanne S. Sgriffignano.  Coaching within organizations:  examining the influence of goal orientation in leaders’ professional development.  Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice.  V.4, no. 1;March 2011, 20-31


Francine Campone, Ed.D., MCC coaches mature professionals to reinvent their lives by reinventing their work.  She is a leader in the coaching research community and deeply committed to the development of reflective coaches in practice.  Francine teaches evidence-based coaching and coaching research practices for UTD and enjoys a wonderful life in Denver, Colorado beyond her activities in the coaching field.


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