Managers are many things. They are employees, employers, supervisors, teammates, and coaches.
They answer to their superiors, partners, and clients, but most of all, they are responsible for the productivity and loyalty of their team.
A true leader is a coach that is invested in their employees’ growth and success.
Following the GROW coaching model can give leaders a blueprint on the best coaching strategies for their team. Coaching is one of the most important management skills you can ever master.
This model is a staple on most Coaching Skills Training Courses so let’s a take a closer look at what it is.
Developed by business coaches Graham Alexander, Alan Fine, and Sir John Whitmore back in the 1980s; the GROW acronym stands for:
• Options or Obstacles
• Will or Way Forward
The GROW model is a type of blueprint akin to making plans for a trip.
The goal is the first step which allows you to plan; the second step, the reality, alerts you to your current situation; the third step, the options, and obstacles, help you consider how to ultimately get where you are going promptly and easily; and the final step, the will, helps you prepare a course to stay on the journey no matter what comes your way.
G – Goal
The GROW model is most suited to goal-directed performance management, so it’s no wonder that it is covered during most Leadership Development Training programmes. With this, it’s fitting that the end goal is discussed first.
When discussing a person’s goal, it must be seen as persuasive, personal and pervading. By this, I mean the goal should be something that stretches a person’s capabilities, so they see it as a challenge that will make them feel they have accomplished something.
If you start off with something simple, like ‘getting to work on time, everyday’ then the person can see how achieving that goal will help them become more productive, but the GROW process can also be seen as assisting someone in a much bigger enterprise, like ‘becoming senior manager within two years.’
The main way to get buy-in from someone when it comes to goals is to get themselves to come up with the answers, rather than being directed, so some examples of questions that would help in this arena would include:
• What results are you trying to achieve?
• What’s not going according to how you would like it?
• What do you want to achieve?
• What will that get you? What’s the reason for achieving it?
• What excites you most about that goal?
• How will you measure the results?
• What milestones can you set yourself on the journey?
• How will you measure success on the way?
• What kind of skills will you develop when you are achieving this goal?
• How will you know you’ve achieved the goal?
• What kind of person will this help you become?
• Why is that so important to you?
Notice that the questions are designed to get the other person focusing on the future.
Each goal they set should help them accomplish something of value for themselves. It should be something clear and challenging.
‘Losing 1lb per week for 8 weeks’ could be a goal someone will set themselves. However, what will be the purpose of the goal? What would that achieve for them?
‘Being able to fit into my suit for my daughter’s wedding’ could be a more purposeful goal for a father. That would be attainable, challenging and motivating as well.
In a work’s setting, the person may want to have a senior position in the company.
‘Becoming marketing director by the end of next year’ could be seen as challenging but achievable if the settings are correct. But why would the person want to achieve that goal? What value would it be for the department and company? Is it something that is possible to achieve in the current hierarchal system?
Setting a goal should be challenging for the person and helping them to develop their character and persona. If not, what is the point of working to achieve it?
One thing to emphasise: Make the goal specific and measurable.
If the goal was to ‘lose weight’ or ‘be more professional’, it would be difficult to measure and wouldn’t be a big driving force behind any changes that need to be made.
R – Current Reality
Here, we diagnose the gap between where we are now and where we want to be. It needs to be seen as a stretching gap, challenging the person to put some effort into achieving it, but it shouldn’t be overwhelming.
If someone has only been in the business for six months, achieving the role of marketing director by year’s end may be a step too far. The reality must be seen in conjunction with the goal, and sometimes coaches will concentrate on the reality before setting a goal for the individual to achieve. If you’ve never run more than 50 metres, competing at a marathon in 3 months may be out of reach.
Here are some questions that will help you when determining the reality for the coachee:
• What’s happening right now for you?
• How do you feel about that?
• What makes you feel you need to improve/get better/change?
• What concerns or issues do you have presently?
• What do you see as the biggest change that needs to be made?
• On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate yourself now?
• What current training needs do you have?
• On the same scale, what do you think you can achieve?
• If things don’t change for you, how would that make you feel?
• What’s good about your current situation? Anything?
• What are the key drivers that are making you think of changing?
• Do you know others who have achieved a goal like yours?
• What could you learn from them?
What you’re trying to achieve here is a feeling of cognitive dissonance between where the person is now and where they want to be. The greater the pain or discomfort with the current situation, the bigger the drive to achieve the result.
How would the father feel if he wasn’t able to get into his suit? What would a new suit cost if he had to quickly go out and buy or hire one? By building reasons for the person to change, they start to see the emotional connection between the changes required from the current circumstances and the result they are looking for.
No-one will change if they are comfortable in their current circumstances. Effectively, there is no need to change. There needs to be some gains in changing, or some pains associated with not changing. Hence the clarity between today’s results and what the person will achieve with the future results.
O – Options & Obstacles
So, we know what the person wants to achieve and the current reality they are facing.
Objectively, if there were no barriers or obstacles between current and desired circumstances, the person wouldn’t need coaching because they would easily be able to achieve results.
The gap between now and then will determine the obstacles that will be faced. Some will be external (some being influenceable and under the control of the coachee, some not) and internal (motivation levels, reasons for changing, attitudes, belief systems, internal rules, etc).
Some questions that may help in your discussions include:
• Do you see any obstacles? Why those in particular?
• What might stop you or get in the way? How can you overcome this?
• How will you know that you’re on track for success?
• How can I help you in moving forward?
• How will you take the first steps to overcoming those obstacles?
• Which ones are within your control?
• Which ones are outside of your control?
• Can you influence any of those uncontrollables?
• What mindset do you need to overcome some of those barriers?
• What else may stop you from achieving your goals?
• What can you do about them?
• Do you think you may need to adjust your goals, based on these barriers?
You’ll see that the obstacles can be discussed in ways that make the person positive about the future changes.
They shouldn’t be used as excuses to get the person to minimise the goal achievement but can be utilised to assist them on the first and next stages of their journey.
Having determined how to negotiate some of the obstacles being faced, we can now look at the different routes available for us to help our coachee achieve their goals.
If there is only one option, then discussions at this point may be short and sweet. However, life isn’t always like that. We can see various options opening for us. The question is therefore, is there an option that will help us achieve our goal quicker, easier, with more confidence? If so, how do I take that option?
Building a series of options allows us to have more control on the direction we take ourselves when moving from current reality to desired state. This part of the GROW coaching process is always looking forward, focusing on what we could do to move towards our goals. It’s normally a key part of a staff appraisal as well.
Here are some questions we could ask when contemplating this part of the process:
• How can we get there? How could you move to a higher number on the scale?
• What other options do you have? What else could you do?
• What are all the possible actions that you can see?
• Are there times when the problem does not occur? What’s different about those situations?
• How have you stopped the problem from completely overwhelming you?
• What has worked for you in the past?
• What are some potential pitfalls?
• What support do you need to make it happen?
• What would have to happen to make it work?
• What option will you choose to act on?
Each of these questions will narrow the focus of the coachee on their journey. They will be able to focus on future opportunities, with confidence that the obstacles they have spoken of can be overcome.
W – Will or Way Forward
Does your team member have the willpower, or the desire, to make a change and choose one of the options you’ve outlined? Spend some time outlining exactly what needs to be done, how it will be done, and when. What is the way forward? What next?
Some interpretations of the GROW model interpret the W as Will or Who, What, When. We see it as the action-oriented pathway on the journey, the moving forward and taking action to accomplish the goals we want. Hence, our preference for Way Forward.
Here, you help your coachee to identify the commitments they need to make for action. They may need support on the way, but the main part of this conversation revolves around how the journey will be fulfilled.
In our earlier examples, we could be asking ‘What do you need to do every day to maintain your weight loss? How will you keep your motivation to achieve it going?”
Or “What skills do you need to develop in order so you can become more visible as the next marketing director? How will you ensure your results are good enough to be in the frame for promotion?”
You’ll see the direction here comes from the coachee. If you have some ideas on what will help them in their progress, you could make some suggestions, but the emphasis should be on how they intend to change and achieve their overall goals.
Some questions at this point could include:
• Can you write out the action plan if necessary?
• What’s the first step you need to take?
• What are the next steps? Do what? When?
• Precisely when will you take them?
• What will you do when you hit any obstacles you mentioned earlier?
• How will you measure your success?
• How will you feel when you have achieved your goal?
• Do you need a mentor or coach on the journey?
• What support will you need?
• What will you do to get the support you need to move along?
• What will achieving this goal help you in the future?
This part of the process is the most satisfying and motivating for the coachee, because they see the actions they are discussing helping them to advance, grow, develop and achieve. Who doesn’t want that!
How will the father feel when they can get into their suit? What impact does the person hope to make when they become marketing director?
Remember. Achieving the overall goal isn’t the most important thing here. .It’s the person you become when you achieve the goal that has the biggest impact.
Managers can help their employees utilise this model effectively with the following steps:
Although it’s an aging model now, the GROW model can still be utilised effectively to assist in the growth and development aspirations of people, in a social setting, at work, in therapy and other circumstances. Tony Robbins states that ‘True Happiness only exists when we are Growing and Developing ourselves’
If that’s true, we can see this model as a key factor in helping us help others to achieve.
Some of the benefits include:
• It helps promote confidence and self-motivation
• It’s a good framework to use when discussing future opportunities
• It helps coaches to have focused discussions with team members
• It requires the coachee to control and drive the conversation
• It encourages people to take personal responsibility for the results they achieve
Using the GROW model can help you as a coach build a strong relationship with your people, allowing the conversation to flow, while tapping into people’s potential to improve and get better over time. See how the model can assist you in turning team members into productive employees.
A good tip to remember when using the GROW Coaching Model is that the steps are there to help the employee realise their potential and future goals. We shouldn’t be instructing our people and telling them what we think is best for them, but to listen, ask open-ended questions and provide unbiased advice to truly benefit the employee.
How do you currently rate your coaching skills?
I’ve created a Coaching Skills Assessment which will audit your current skills against 36 key competencies. Give it a go! You’ll receive a personalised 18-page report on the outcomes and tips to improve.
I’ve also put together 450 Coaching Questions that you can ask as you use the GROW model. Please feel free to download them and use them at will. Coaching plays a pivotal role in the Management Training solutions that we provide whether they be face to face, online or through blended learning options.
Updated on: 28 June, 2022
Originally published: 28 November, 2017
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