Set Clients up for Success: 25+ Powerful Questions to Ensure Clients Complete their Actions

Businesswoman punching the air representing coaching questions for achieving success

Do you have clients who say they'll commit to an action but then don't do it? It can be frustrating when our clients don't follow through. Especially since taking action—or doing things differently—is a big part of what creates change in our coachee's lives.

So, what do we do when a coachee has said they'll do something, but doesn't follow through?

Well, first and foremost, we need to hold our coachees accountable. Because accountability is part of what people are paying for—and for some coachees it can be a big reason why they hired us.

But one step better than accountability is...

Even better than holding people accountable when they don't complete their actions is: setting our clients up for success in the first place.

This means ensuring the actions a coachee commits to are 100% doable.

In fact, helping clients create an action plan that truly works for them, that they can easily complete gets people into a rhythm of getting things done. One action leads to the next, and the next and the next... It helps our clients move forwards and makes them feel good creating a virtuous circle.

So, how do we set our clients up for success?

First, we've hopefully done our "Goal Ecology" with the client. That means we've reviewed our coachee's goals to ensure they fit their current lifestyle—and that they align with the coachees' values and priorities. Because, when a client is consistently not completing their actions, it's usually because it's an unrealistic goal—or a goal that is not truly theirs.

Then, once we know the client's goals are what they truly want, we work on creating an action plan.

And an extremely important part of that is to spend time exploring what obstacles there are to action completion and success.

It's much better to spend time up front ensuring our coachees' actions are easy to complete, than spending the time holding our clients "accountable" and figuring out what went wrong afterwards!

And this is how we set our coachees up to succeed!

Did you know the SMART Acronym can be helpful for action-setting too?

The SMART acronym (usually used in goal-setting) can also help when creating an action plan with a client. Consider if your coachee's actions are:

  • Specific: the more specific an action is, the easier it is to get started—and finish.
  • Measurable: how will the client know their action is complete? How will they prove it?
  • Actionable: here we mean is the client able to action the item themselves? Are they dependent on others in any way? Do they have the A - Agency to get this done?
  • Realistic: given the client's lifestyle, current plans, career, family responsibilities etc. is this action realistic?
  • Timebound: and of course any good action needs a date to be completed by.

Learn all about SMART for Coaches here >>

So, how do we create an easily achievable action plan with our clients?

Well, here's a simple process that starts with a barometer/scoring question:

  1. Ask: "How would you score your level of commitment to completing this action, on a scale of 0 to 10?" (where 0 is 'absolutely not' and 10 is 'totally committed')
  2. If their Commitment Score is 8 or more, it is very likely your client will complete this action. Optionally you can ask something like:
    • What could you do that would make that score a 10?
  3. But if their Commitment Score is less than 8, ask them:
    • What's getting in the way? (use the questions below for additional ideas and work with them to address the obstacle/s)
    • Once you've adjusted the action plan, ask again for their commitment score.
    • Repeat until the score is 8 or more.

Here are 10 questions to help your clients complete their actions and avoid obstacles

A really great first question to help clients complete their actions is:

  • When specifically do you plan on getting this action done?

TIP: It can be helpful to diarise an action—to create an entry in their calendar or daytimer. Because the more specific we can make the date and time, the easier it is to clarify any obstacles—and the more likely our coachee will complete it.

And you can also ask:

  • Where will you complete this action? (if it's useful, get them to describe the location in more detail.)

Now your client can begin to picture themselves completing the action...

And here are 10+ Questions to Identify Obstacles:

  1. What knowledge/information do you need before you can get started?
  2. What are the obvious things that could get in the way of you getting this done?
  3. What other obstacles do you expect to meet?
  4. How might you get yourself off track?
  5. What will you find (most) difficult about these actions? And what can we do about that?
  6. How will you get in your own way? How might you sabotage yourself?
  7. Who might impact your ability to complete this action?
  8. What else could get in the way of you completing that action?
  9. What other problems might there be? And what else? Keep asking, "And what else?" until you get no new answers.
  10. If we were to meet next week and you had not completed this action, what would be the reason? And what can we do about that?

When we come across an obstacle to our coachees' success we have 2 key approaches:

1) Coach our clients so that those obstacles are removed.

2) Adjust the action itself so it's smaller, more exciting or easier to complete.

How can your coachee adjust the action itself so that those obstacles are no longer a barrier?

For example, if a coachee is spending the weekend at a child's soccer tournament (which makes it hard for them to find time to work on their action), perhaps the action needs to shift to a later (or even an earlier!) date.

Some areas of an action that could be changed include:

  • The timescale of the action.
  • The amount of time they commit.
  • Chunking the action down into smaller steps.
  • Teasing out and specifying some pre-actions that make the "main" action easier or more pleasant to complete.

IMPORTANT: And of course remember, that sometimes it's the GOAL that needs to change!

Finally here are 15+ questions to make the action easier or more likely to get completed

  1. What are the outcomes you're looking for from this action and/or goal? What's the specific result you want, and how does this help you?
  2. What needs to happen or be in place before you start this action? What is the very first thing you'll need to get started?
  3. How could you break this action down into smaller, easier steps? Eg. Choose a fixed amount of time to spend on it.
  4. How could you make this action more interesting or even exciting to complete?
  5. If the action is dull, boring or unpleasant try asking:
    • Given that this action is dull/boring/unpleasant, how can you make this action bearable or a little more enjoyable?
    • How could you reward yourself when you're done?
  6. What would be a reasonable timescale or deadline? What's a deadline you could easily achieve?
  7. What support do you need? And how could you get that support?
  8. Who else could you share this action with for additional accountability?
  9. What 3 things could you do to support yourself and make sure this gets done?
  10. Where could you go or be that would make completing this action easier?
  11. What other activities or commitments (if any) are you willing to let go of to achieve your action?
  12. Suppose your unconscious mind could give you a signal to remember to complete your action. What would that be?

And connecting a coachee with their feelings is another powerful technique:

  1. How will you feel while doing this action?
  2. How will you feel once this action is complete?
  3. And how will you feel if you don't complete this action?

Lastly, for fun (and this question can also be very enlightening):

  • If your life depended on it, how would you make sure this action got done?


There are many, many strategies to help our clients achieve their goals and complete their actions.

What we've focused on here is removing obstacles to success and amending the action or goal so that it's more achievable. This is the bread and butter of action-planning.

Getting super-focused on outcomes (the results they want) and connecting a client with their feelings are like the jam on top—making the whole action experience more delicious for everyone...

Ultimately, we want to set our coachees up for success by creating an action plan that is so clear (specific), easy, exciting and meaningful that they just can't wait to get started!

Why not check out our Vision & Goal-Setting Toolkit to help clients set SMART, exciting, meaningful goals—and action plans?

Emma-Louise Elsey Headshot

Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

Image of Happy East Indian client in a suit punching the air by freepik


  1. Libby Scanlan

    Thanks for so generously sharing this material-I find your approach very accessible and practical.

    • Emma-Louise

      Hi Libby, thank-you for taking the time to comment! And I'm so glad you found this approach and coaching questions helpful 🙂 Warmly, Emma-Louise


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