One of the Most Effective Coaching Models
Coaching as a professional practice uses different techniques and tools that allow the coach to effectively partner with the coachee to achieve desired outcomes. During a coaching session, a coach uses the tool that best corresponds to the coachee’s situation and learning style. One of the most effective and useful tools is the GROW Model. This model was created mainly for businesses to enhance performance through coaching sessions. However, it is commonly used in any desired goals.
In this article, I will discuss the following:
GROW model brief history
GROW in details
Benefits of GROW
Limitations of GROW
The Beginning of GROW Model
The GROW Model was introduced in 1992 by John Whitmore in his famous book, Coaching for Performance. As a result, many believe that he is the developer of this model. However, as Whitmore states, the model was the result of team effort from him and business coaches Graham Alexander and Max Landsberg and others say Alan Fine. All three coaches have published coaching books in which the GROW model was discussed. However, it is Whitmore that is most associated with the model. He is considered a pioneer in executive and performance coaching.
The GROW model is based mainly on Timothy Gallwey book, Inner Game. Gallwey was a tennis coach who introduced a revolutionary way to increase sport performance. He, as many sports coaches do, gave instructions to the players such as “keep an eye on the ball.” He later discovered that such instructions have short-term effect and sooner than later the player stops “keeping an eye on the ball.” Then, he tried something different. He asked the players to say “bounce” when the ball is bounced and “hit” when the player hit the ball. Based on his experiment and observation, Gallwey realized that ‘command and control’ does not work. Instead, he worked with tennis players to shift their focus to what they want to achieve without giving instructions.
The work of Gallwey created a transformation not only in sports but in business too. Gallwey’s method introduced a new concept in which desired performance is best achieved not through instructions. Instead, players (or employees) should be given the opportunity to ‘think’ for themselves and reach their ‘own’ conclusions. Through this ‘thinking’ process, the person removes obstacles, or as Gallwey called it ‘interferences’, to reach the highest possible performance and potential. Based on this, the GROW model was introduced as a series of questions that lead to increase performance and achieve goals.
Each letter in GROW stands for a word that represents a step forward in the coaching process. It should be mentioned that there are other representations to GROW. However, in this article, I will use the book Coaching for Performance by Sir John Whitmore as my main reference. In the following section, I will discuss each one in details.
G = Goal Setting
Almost all coaching sessions start with identifying the goal. This helps determine the flow of the conversation and keeps it focused. This step is crucial; otherwise, the coaching session might turn into a casual conversation between two people. In the coaching session, the coachee determines the final goal to be achieved. However, in every session, there is a specific goal.
Example of Goal Setting questions:
What would you to achieve from this session?
During this one hour, what would you like to reach?
What end results would you like to have?
What outcomes are you looking for?
How does that look like?
How motivated are you to achieve this?
Such questions are vital. They help set expectations from both sides, coach and coachee. Also, it allows the coachee to evaluate the coaching session based on what has been agreed upon. Although, it should be mentioned that in some cases and due to deep conversations, a coachee might decide to alter, change, or replace a goal. In this case, the coach will start again with identifying the goal.
According to Whitmore, there are four types of goals. It starts from the big picture and breaking it down to small goals. The coachee might not start with the big goal as some coachee might not be clear of the ‘big’ goal. However, a coach will work to create a link between all four types of goals in order to ensure that this is truly the desired outcome and to create stronger motivation to achieve.
The types of goals (as mentioned in Coaching for Performance):
This goal corresponds to a person’s meaning and purpose in life. It is the ultimate goal that one aspires to achieve. It is a goal for the long-term future. It could also be a person’s vision on where he wants to reach in life. It could be related to career, family, business, relationship, or even spiritual aspect of life. This type of goal might not be clear to most people. Some might not have consciously determined the type of life they would like to have. Yet, once it is clear, it answers the “big why?” question, which is a drive of motivation to continue.
This end goal as the name suggests is the “final objective” that the coachee would like to achieve. As Whitmore states the end goal is “concrete manifestation of a dream.” In this goal, the question to be answered is ‘what.’ This type of goal has more details on what exactly the coachee wants to achieve. It is also considered an inspiring goal that is to be achieved in the long term.
The performance goals are the goals that contribute to achieving the end goal. Compared to the two previous goals, performance goals are measurable and, therefore, are easier to commit to. In addition, the dream and end goals could be considered ‘out of a person’s control’ since anything could happen. The performance goals are ‘tangible milestones’ that include a series of actions that answer to the questions “what will you deliver?”
This is the last type but considered the first step to achieve the dream goal. The process goals are the “actions” to be taken to achieve the performance goals, which achieve the end goal to reach the dream goal. The process goals contain the steps to be taken to achieve the short-term goal. There are different ways to create a process goal. One of which is using the SMART way. SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable or Achievable, Realistic or Relevant, and Timeframe.
Importance of Goal Setting
This part of a coaching session might take time; however, it is crucial that the goal is clearly stated by the coachee in order for the coach to proceed in a successful session. This is because goals allow to make decisions on the actions and steps to be taken. In addition, goal setting is important because:
The goal setting gives clarity of what to be achieved in details. When the goal is determined, the coachee can clearly states what he wants. As a result, it is easier to decide on the actions to be taken to achieve the goal.
Setting the goal increases responsibility and commitment to achieve it. The coachee is more likely to be keen to take the actions required. Moreover, if there are setbacks or failures, the coachee is more likely to take responsibility and continues to proceed to achieve the desired goal.
A coachee with clear goals is a focused person. This means that external distractions such as other people, situations, and/or events will not prevent moving forward. In addition, the coachee is able to eliminate actions that will waste time and effort.
One of the key factors of goal setting is motivation. Determining the goals and discussing them in details create a sense of motivation for the coachee. In fact, goals should be challenging enough in order for the coachee to be inspired to achieve them.
R = Reality
Once the goal is clearly determined, the next step is to examine the current reality of the coachee. The coach partners with the coachee by asking questions that help evaluate the current situation and look into external and internal factors. Although both factors are important to look into, it is the internal factors that create the ‘real’ transformation. Thus, the questions in this part dig deep in to the coachee’s thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and behavior. It allows the coachee to be aware of what is going on internally that might be considered an obstacle towards achieving the goals. The coachee reality is objective. This means that the perception of reality depends on how the situation is perceived. Through questions, the reality will be ‘clear’ to the coachee and how to benefit from the current ‘reality’ to achieve the desired outcomes.
Analyzing the reality might be difficult to the coachee because he will be revealing sensitive information. Thus, it is important that the coach asks the right type of questions. “Why” questions should be avoided since it indicates judgement. Instead the coach should ask the questions that allow the coachee to provide detailed information without feeling being attacked or judged. When a person feels judged, he automatically becomes defensive. The brain will search for excuses and justifications. This blocks a true analysis of the current reality, which in return blocks reaching creative solutions and alternatives.
Moreover, the reality questions aim to raise the coachee’s awareness. Thus, a coach should not rush to the next steps without taking the time to fully analyze this part. The questions should be specific in order to receive descriptive and detailed answers. In this part, the coachee might go into silence, which is important as he might be thinking deeply to find the ‘real’ answers. The coach should respect this silence and allow the coachee to respond on his own pace. At the same time, a coach should be aware that the coachee is not ‘running away’ from the answers. There should be a balance between following the coachee’s ‘agenda’ and ‘preferences.’
Example of Reality questions:
What is the happening right now?
On a scale from 1 to 10, where are you from your goal?
What actions did you do? What were their effects?
What is the real issue here?
What are you most/least confident about?
O = Options
This step helps the coachee maximize the number of options available. The option questions help the coachee explore a variety of options that were not considered previously. The goal is for the coachee to create a long list of possibilities. In the beginning of this step, it is essential that the coachee lists as many options as possible. The evaluation of each option is to be conducted later. Now, it is exploring all possible and ‘impossible’ options.
As the coachee is listing the options, the coach asks questions to initiate creativity. In this step, the coachee shifts the thinking process beyond of what is ‘normal’ and ‘typical.’ The questions help the coachee think ‘outside of the box.’ Thus, the coach can use different ways to trigger creative thinking such as brainstorming and role playing. Such ways will help the coachee to explore options that might not have been considered previously.
Once the options are listed, the coach and coachee work together to evaluate each one. The coachee can order the options from least to most favorite. Or, some options could be eliminated from the list. In many cases, analyzing the options inspires the coachee to generate a new option that could be a combination of two or three of the already listed options. In this step, the coachee is motivated since actions that lead to achieving the goal are becoming clear and defined.
Example of Options questions:
What ideas do you have?
What alternatives do you have?
What has worked in the past?
What if you were the manager?
What if you were in charge?
What if you had all the money you needed?
What if there were no obstacles?
How could you do that?
What are different ways you can implement this?
W = Will
The final step in GROW is will. In this step, the coachee decides on the actions to be taken based on what was discussed in the previous steps. It is important in this step that the coachee shows motivation. This will increase commitment to execute the agreed action plan. The series of questions under this step revolves around two stages: accountability and follow-up & feedback.
The success of the coaching session depends heavily on the coachee’s sense of accountability. This is because the level of commitment increases the possibility of execution, which in return endorse the impact and effectiveness of the coaching sessions. To increase accountability, the coach asks specific questions about the required and agreed actions. The answers should be clear and measurable. It is highly recommended that this part is documented and shared between the coach and coachee in order to be reviewed and followed up later.
Example of Will - Accountability questions:
What will you do?
When will you do it?
How do you know you completed the action?
How will this cation serve your goal?
What support do you need?
What obstacles you might face?
How committed are you to this action (on a scale of 1 to 10)?
How do can increase your commitment level to 10?
Follow-Up and Feedback
For the follow-up and feedback part to occur effectively, the relationship between the coach and coachee should be established based on trust and safety. The coachee should feel safe to provide authentic and real information during the feedback phase. Thus, there is no judgement or blame. Through feedback questions, the coachee will state his input on the actions. This is a valuable learning practice for the coachee. In this part, he will be able to analyze the situation and be responsible for the actions or lack of actions taken.
In his book, Coaching for Performance, Whitmore mentions five levels of feedback:
Example of Will - Feedback questions:
What did you learn?
What could you do differently?
How will you use this in the future?
The Benefits of GROW Model
The GROW model is beneficial in coaching sessions focused on goals and performance. The GROW model can help the coachee determine the goal and the ways to achieve it through a series of questions. It is also useful in problem solving, making decisions, and learning new skills. Here is a list of some of the benefits of GROW:
Increases responsibility and accountability
Enhances performance (at work and in general)
Focuses on the coachee
Achieves one’s potential
Expands opportunities and ways to achieve the desired outcomes
Enhances work environment
Helps solve problems and achieve goals
As with every model, the GROW model has some limitations. GROW is intended for coachee who has some sort of idea of their goals. They might be unclear about the details but, in general, they have a picture or an idea of where they want to be. Thus, GROW might not be the best model to use for coachee who is confused or unclear about their desires and goals in life. Such coachee needs more work to determine their life purpose, vision, and goals. Another limitation is that GROW does not lead to behavior change. It is a powerful tool for change in workplace such as increase performance; however, some argue that it does not results in ‘real’ transformation.
Despite the mentioned limitations, Whitmore believes that the GROW model is effective and can lead to long term changes. He also sates that “any dictator can use the GROW model.” The value and impact of the GROW model “has little value without the context of awareness and responsibility and the intention and skill to generate them through active listening and powerful questions.” In other words, why and how the model is used directly affect the results.
In his book, Whitmore stresses the importance of raising awareness and responsibility in the coachee. It is in fact, these two are fundamental principles of coaching. The ICF consider raising awareness as one of the coaching competencies. Awareness enables the coachee to understand, to focus, and to control. It is the ability to identify external and internal challenges and opportunities. It paves the way to clarity and therefore wiser decisions and actions.
Adjacent to awareness is responsibility. Through coaching, the coachee has a higher sense of responsibility. The coachee understands the choices to make to enhance the situation and achieve the goals. These choices are not limited to external factors; on the contrary, they are more focused on internal factors such as thoughts, feelings, and behavior. With the increase in responsibility, the coachee is more confident and committed to accomplish and achieve the agreed actions and goals.
Once awareness and responsibility are combined in a coaching session through using GROW, the following positive results occur at the workplace (and even at a personal level):
Greater internal collaboration
Better work-life balance
Finally, the GROW model is a framework that help the coach conduct a successful coaching session. It is aimed to “unlock potentials” as Whitmore states. Thus, the focus should be on the coachee and not implementing the model. The coach should be flexible in using GROW. This means that in some cases, the coach might need to go back a step or two. For example, as options are being explored, the coachee realizes that the goal needs alteration. This is normal and actually beneficial. This indicates that the coachee was able to dig deep beyond what is there on the surface.
The GROW model is one of the powerful and popular coaching models. It is considered simple yet effective way to help coachee achieve desired goals, whether they are big dreams or minor steps towards an anticipated outcome. Understanding the model and the series of questions under each step can help the coach conduct successful and effective sessions. It leads to raising awareness and responsibility in the coachee. However, the coachee remains the focal point of any coaching session rather than implementing the model.