SPIRO: A New (To You) Goal-Setting Model

Look up at a Spiral Staircase for SPIRO Goal-Setting Model

When clients seek out a coach they're looking for change, and this is a powerful driving force in human nature. If your clients COULD do it on their own—they would have. Instead they are looking to you for help. And that's where the SPIRO goal-setting model comes in.

As coaches, one of the ways we can make a difference is to help our clients set effective goals. We need to make sure our clients' goals are achievable. And we also help clients figure out whether their goals are what they really want, see where they're getting in their own way, set specific actions to move them forwards, hold them accountable and more. And the SPIRO goal-setting model/acronym can be a useful framework to help us do this.

Who invented the SPIRO Model?

The SPIRO model was created by J.E. Jones and published in a handbook for Group Facilitators in 1972. But it's hard to find out much more about it.

While most of you will have heard of SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Time-Bound (you may also like our NAIL That Goal Smart Goal-Setting Tool here), I had never heard of SPIRO until recently. This is perhaps because the SMART acronym superseded it when it came along 9 years later (Wikipedia states that the first known reference to SMART is in 1981). However I still found SPIRO interesting.

Here's what the SPIRO Goal-Setting Model stands for

  • Specificity: We all know that the more specific our goals are, the easier they are to achieve. Be sure the goal is stated in CONCRETE terms.
  • Performance: What are the looked-for results? What are you trying to accomplish? In coaching we might ask what are the "outcomes" you are looking for? What will come out once you achieve this goal? (For less-tangible goals we could also include here, "How do you want to feel?")
  • Involvement: What is the extent of YOUR activity in this goal? What is your involvement? What will you do to achieve this goal?
  • Realism: This is not just about whether it's possible in the time-frame, but also does it fit into our life-style and current commitments? Can this goal be achieved given both the resources available and constraints?
  • Observability: This ties in neatly to the question, "How will you know you've achieved it?" a key coaching question when helping a client set goals. Also, how will you know progress is being made? Observability is similar to the M for Measurable in SMART. But observability asks the more creative and right-brained question of what we will be be able to SEE or observe.

When should we use the SPIRO Goal-Setting Model?

SPIRO is useful for group goals eg. in the corporate environment. Specifically the "Involvement" piece which helps everyone who has a stake in the goal be really clear about their individual involvement towards the collective or group goal. That makes it a great leadership tool—to help get everyone on board with a goal.

In addition, the SPIRO Goal-Setting Model is helpful in creating learning objectives for training and workshops.

Here are some questions to consider when creating learning objectives with SPIRO:

  • What Specifically do we want people to learn?
  • What are we trying to Perform (or accomplish)? What are the required results - what is the X, Y and Z they will be able to do after this training/workshop?
  • What is their Involvement? What is MY Involvement as the instructor?
  • Is it Realistic in the time allowed? Is it Realistic with the resources available and constraints given?
  • And finally, Observability. How will we know the learning has been a success? What will we be able to Observe or see?

Lastly, I think the SPIRO Goal-Setting Model comes in useful for less tangible goals. Not only is SPIRO more "inspirational", but I think the questions about Performance—what we want to accomplish, our Involvement and Observability lead us to evaluating the goal from a more right-brained and feeling place than the left-brained action-oriented, measurable and time-bound SMART Goals acronym.


I (generally) prefer the SMART acronym: It's clearer what each part means, it's better known and even has a clever pun—in that setting a SMART Goal is, well, smart!

But I also love that spiro means "I breathe" in Latin. And this forms the basis of words like inspire and spirit!

So, I'm definitely going to be trying out the SPIRO Goal-Setting model when a softer or more spiritual approach is needed. And when I'm creating my new online courses!

Let me know what you think by commenting below:
How and where might you use SPIRO instead of SMART?

Love Goal-Setting? Check out our Goal-Setting Toolkit!

If you liked this article about the SPIRO Goal-Setting Model, you may also like:

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 Kindness.com. 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 Spiral Staircase for SPIRO Goal Setting Model by fda54 via Pixabay


  1. John Milham

    Love the fundamental concept and new focus and will definitely "borrow" this in my coaching. One thought was changing Observable to Accountable SPIRA and just to get fancy I would add an "L" to make SPIRAL calling it L for Lets celebrate - identifying rewards for achieving milestones on the action plan (yes a bit corny but!)

    • Emma-Louise

      Thanks John! I like the L for let's celebrate - yes, it's a bit corny, but good! You really got me thinking! And I'm not sure about losing the O for Observability though... For me, this is a key part of the model and I prefer it to the M - Measurable in SMART goal-setting. It could also be O for outcomes. I think this "O" really focuses our minds on what the underlying reasons are behind the goals, what will we see, how will we be different, what will come out (outcome). HOWEVER, I do like the A for accountability - especially followed by the L! Perhaps the A could be used to ask, "How will I know you've done that?" which could give an observable outcome... Warmly, Emma-Louise

    • TL James

      I love your article. It appears to be simpler that SMART. I would LOVE to add the L... I am all about celebrating big and SMALL wins. If action was taken, it needs to be celebrated.

  2. Tony James

    Hi Emma-Louise, I am new to this site and so glad I found it! It's good to see a 'new'model (Spiro/Spiral) and I like the idea of using the 'A' because another English word from the Latin root is:
    as‧pire [intransitive]
    "to desire and work towards achieving something important" which really sums up active goal achieving.

    PS, thank you for these topics, looking forward to trawling through the archive articles!

    • Emma-Louise

      Thanks Tony! Glad you enjoyed the article - and thank-you for your thoughtful comments. I'm sure John will be pleased to hear you like his suggestion...
      Warmly, Emma-Louise

    • Coach Carla

      Great article! Hummmm glad you explain the Latin meaning, think I would definitely touch on the performance element however on the whole SMART feels SMARTER to me.


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