April 8, 2020

How Advisors Can Modify Their Approach to Increase the Impact and Value of Goal Setting as a Motivational Strategy

Why Aren’t Your Clients Following Your Advice?

Far too often, we assume that the reason someone hasn’t made a change is because they don’t recognize it’s an issue, or they don’t know how to solve the problem. We also quite often assume that once we arm them with this knowledge, they will change their behaviour.

But think about it for a minute, how often does that actually happen? From hand washing to on-farm biosecurity – we know we should be doing these things and generally how to do them (if the COVID-19 situation won’t improve hand washing I don’t know what will!), but yet there are many that routinely choose not to (gross!).

So, is knowledge the key barrier to adoption among your clients? Probably not, and as a result we are often providing information when it’s not needed. Yes, knowledge of what to do and how to do it is important, but this only gets us so far. Providing information when it’s not needed is just nagging!


It’s Not About Information, It’s About Motivation.

You can’t force people to do something, they must find their own motivation to do it. This can come from the classic carrot and stick approach, to having a passion for it. Motivation may also come from:

  • An attempt to avoid guilt or shame for not doing it
  • To fit in with social norms
  • Because they appreciate the value of something even though they don’t want to do it
  • It might align with their worldview


So What’s the Key to Motivation?

Okay, so we’ve established that knowledge isn’t everything and that motivating people to use the information they have is the challenge. Our job now is to explore the specific factors that drive our client to change. In other words, what makes them tick? What is their mindset?

Mindset is made up of and influenced by a whole host of factors, from social influences, to underlying personal beliefs, attitudes, opinions, and preferences (and yes, knowledge!). Here is a great article from Benefit Mindset, by Ash Buchanan, on the Nature of Mindsets. What is clear from the figure they developed below is that, when it comes to behaviour change, mindset is king. If we can understand our clients mindset, we can start to motivate!


Understanding Mindset Starts With Your Ears

So, if knowledge is just one piece, and mindset is the key to motivation, we must stop telling and start listening. We must take the time to ask open-ended questions, which ask the individual to describe their own attitudes, beliefs, and concerns about the issue. It also means asking more broadly about their goals, priorities, wants, needs, and challenges.

Similar to how we revert to giving advice (making the often-incorrect assumption that information is needed), we often assume we know the drivers of our clients. This is why it’s critical to take the time to talk to your clients (about personal and professional matters) – it gives you a better understanding of what makes them tick, and helps build your relationship in the meantime. Those who are most successful at motivating change often have close relationships; they have built a rapport, trust, and a mutual understanding that you are working together.


Goal Setting to Get Them Moving

There are many different approaches to motivating change – too many to review here. Some techniques focus on normalizing concerns (making sure people know their experiences, concerns, and struggles are normal, not abnormal) and highlighting discrepancies (identifying areas where an individual’s behaviour does not line up with their goals and aspirations).

But a common approach is to collaboratively set goals with your client. If, through open conversation, you can better understand their long-term goals, and perceptions about the problem you aim to address, you’re in a better position as an advisor to help.

Take some time to sit down and properly think through these goals. We want them to serve as a driver and benchmark improvement. Most importantly, we need them to be SMART:




Results oriented


We all know that unrealistic goals just increases the likelihood for discouragement or perceived failure (think of your last New Year’s resolution!). The S.M.A.R.T. approach is all about setting focused, actionable goals to motivate someone towards progress and success.

Discuss goals with your client in the current reality/context, and clarify and articulate the specific options. Now plan a specific change or series of changes that will help achieve that goal. What are the indicators you will use to determine success? How and when will they be measured? What are some small realistic goals or milestones that will indicate you’re on the right track? Use these answers to come up with a plan then act, observe, reflect, and repeat. Remember the saying, a goal without a plan is just a wish!


Take a Step Back

Motivating change is not easy, the playbook is complex, and just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, you’re presented with a new challenge. Take time to think about your own approach to client motivation. Are you asking the right questions? Are you listening to understand and then respond? Motivation takes time and commitment, and it may require a change in your own mindset for you to ultimately have influence. But stick with it, the end results for you and your clients are worth it!

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Agricultural Communications &
Epidemiological Research

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