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What is the GROW Model in coaching?

The GROW Model is one of the most widely used methods for performance coaching, leadership development and goal setting in the world today. 

First developed in the United Kingdom in the 1980s by John Whitmore with the contribution of his fellow coaches Graham Alexander and Alan Fine, the model was inspired by Timothy Galleway’s ‘The Inner Games’ method which was applied in sports. Through a process of four steps the GROW model helps people not only find solutions to their problems, but also understand their situations and explore their options, at the same time boosts their confidence and self-motivation.

The GROW model of coaching is all about empowering the employee or coachee to make good choices that will benefit your business. Done correctly, it is an effective tool for people to improve themselves, develop better problem-solving skills, become more well-rounded employees, and meet their personal and professional goals.

Central to the idea of the GROW model is the ability to use questions that will lead the employee to formulate and develop their own answers. Thanks to its questioning style, the coach doesn’t have to understand the employee’s dilemma. They simply need to understand how to prompt the employee to get that person thinking on their own.

The model to raise awareness and responsibility

The GROW coaching model is about learning through experience: reflection, insight, making choices and pursuing them. The success of a coaching conversation with the GROW coaching model also depends on the time and energy invested into the process by the coachee.

The power of the GROW coaching model is that it leads to a clearly defined end result through four phases. The coachee is personally active in identifying problems and generating ideas for solutions. This means that anything that comes out of the coaching conversation has a lot of chance to stick.

GROW is an acronym derived from the four words representing the different stages of the conversational process: Goal, Reality, Options and Will (Whitmore, 2017). 

Sir John Whitmore advocated that coaching was all about developing or raising two things in the coachee, their level of awareness and their level of responsibility.

‘If I give you my advice and it fails, you will blame me. I have traded my advice for your responsibility and that is seldom a good deal.’ – Sir John Whitmore.

According to Whitmore, coaching should raise the coachee’s awareness about their situation and should instill a sense of personal responsibility. In other words, a coachee should be supported to view their situation differently so that they realise that they are able to move towards their goals. 

The two intentions of every coaching conversation:

  1. Raising the awareness of the coachee 
  2. Encouraging the coachee to take personal responsibility

How to use the GROW Model

If you’re wondering how to use the GROW coaching model or what GROW model questions to ask during a coaching conversation, you can look into the basics of this coaching model by completing the short course on the GROW model!

The Steps of the GROW Model:

Goal stage: What would you like to achieve?

The first step in the GROW model is the goal. This is where the employee identifies a goal they want to achieve. It may be personal growth or professional development. Encourage the employee to pick goals that are SMART ( specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely). Becoming CEO of the company after six months would not be a SMART goal, but earning a work certification could be.

As a coaching leader, two types of goals are essential:

End goal

The first is a goal that you establish at the start of the coaching process when you start coaching an employee or coachee for the first time, called the ‘end goal’. 

Example questions of the end goal:

  • What would you like to be different as a result of these coaching conversations? 
  • What is it you would like to achieve? 
  • What is your goal?
  • How would this goal benefit you?
  • What about this goal is important to you?

Outcome goal

And the second goal is the outcome goal for each coaching conversation. It is important for coaches to clarify what the coachee would like to achieve during each coaching conversation. It may be helpful to distinguish this goal by calling it an ‘outcome’ of each following coaching conversation. This should be very specific.

Example questions for identifying outcomes for the session:

  • What would you like to achieve within our time together?
  • What is your desired outcome of this conversation?


Formulating it positively

Another thing that’s very important when setting goals, is formulating it POSITIVELY. It is about what the coachee wants to achieve, not what they don’t want.

Remember that what you focus on, increases. So when you focus on NOT doing something, all you think about is that thing. And it will increase, that is how our brains work.
Example: don’t ‘stop procrastinating’, rather ‘achieve a daily discipline’.

Reality stage: What is the current situation (in relation to what you have identified as a goal)? 

In order to help an employee get where they want to go, they need to fully understand their current reality. This is the second phase of the coaching model. Developing a complete awareness of the current situation helps the employee better identify their upcoming journey and any potential roadblocks. For example, if they set a goal to earn a work certification in the next six months, but they are also taking night classes, the reality might be that they have too much on their plate to devote adequate time to prepare for the certification.

Tip: As a novice coach, it may be helpful to focus your attention on listening to understand the person rather than trying to understand the situation in order to offer a solution. This is a common trap as many of us are trained to listen for ‘problems’ to try to identify ‘solutions’. In fact, many novice coaches report that ‘having the answer’ can get in the way of genuine listening

Questions you can ask in this stage include:

  • What is stopping you from reaching this goal?
  • Have you made any progress toward this goal already?
  • What would this goal require of you right now?


Options stage: What options can you think of (that will help you to move closer to your goal or overcome obstacles)?

By now, the coachee’s goals should be clear, and the current reality will have been discussed. There is likely to be a gap between what the coachee hopes to achieve and where they perceive themself to be at present.

The options stage of the coaching conversation examines all the possibilities available that can help the employee work toward their goal. Consider this a brainstorming session between you and the employee to look for open avenues and options for successful completion of the goal. In our example of an employee earning a new certification, options could be postponing night classes, working additional hours, or carving out extra time at home to study.

Questions you can ask in this stage include:

  • What is your next step?
  • What options are at your disposal?
  • Are there pros and cons to each of your options?
  • If you were to advise a friend who faced the same situation, what would you suggest? 
  • How would someone you really admire deal with this situation? 


Will stage: What will you do as a result of this coaching conversation?

This is the last stage of the GROW process. Now that the coachee has selected the options they wish to pursue, it is simply a case of checking for levels of commitment and agreeing an action plan. 

The final step is to get your coachee to commit to specific actions in order to move forward toward their goal. In doing this, you will help them establish their will and boost their motivation.

Useful questions to ask here include:

  • What could you do? What should you do? What will you do? 
  • What is the first step that should be taken? 
  • How will you know that you have succeeded? 
  • What will happen if you achieve this objective? 
  • What will not happen if you achieve this objective? 
  • How committed are you to the actions that you have identified on a scale of 1–10?

Finally, decide on a date when you’ll both review their progress. This will provide some accountability, and allow them to change their approach if the original plan isn’t working.

Concluding remarks

The two most important skills for a coach are the ability to ask good questions and the ability to listen effectively.

Don’t ask closed questions that call for a yes or no answer (such as “Did that cause a problem?”). Instead, ask open ones, like “What effect did that have?”. Be prepared with a list of questions for each stage of the GROW process.

As emphasised above the importance of asking the right questions, you should ask questions without leading and try to get feedback from others while creating a sense of awareness and responsibility.

Use active listening  skills and let your coachee do most of the talking. Remember that silence provides valuable thinking time: you don’t always have to fill silence with the next question.

To summarise, the GROW Model is a simple four-step process that helps you structure coaching and mentoring conversations with team members, employees or coachees.

You can use the model to help them improve performance, and to help them plan for and reach their longer-term career or personal objectives.

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