Enhancing your skills – and those of your mentees – using the GROW model


The use of coaching in the workplace has expanded significantly over the past ten to 15 years. Many managers and staff will have learned some of the basics of coaching on management development courses, even if they haven’t been formally trained as a coach.

This article describes a widely used and simple to implement coaching tool, the GROW model. It covers how it can be applied – both formally and informally – to enhance results and improve other people’s performance.

It can also be used for self-coaching. For example, if you encounter challenges relating to specific tasks that you need to complete. Please note that the purpose of this article is to inform the reader about how to use the GROW model to help achieve goals and/or solve relatively minor problems. It is not a substitute for using an experienced coach to help solve significant problems.

What is the GROW model?

The GROW model was initially developed by Graham Alexander in the 1980s, and its profile in the UK was raised by the work of Sir John Whitmore. It has become widely used by business coaches, primarily because of its effectiveness and ease of use. As with all effective coaching, the GROW model works by the coach asking questions rather than providing answers. This means that the coach does not need to be an expert about the specific topic that the client (or ‘coachee’) needs help with. By using the GROW model effectively, a willing coachee will gain insight towards how to make progress towards achieving their goal
What do you want to achieve?
Where are you now in relation to that?
What are your options to move from where you are now to where you want to be?
What, when, will, way forward
What action will you take, and when?

Let’s look at each of these four points in a little more detail. I will use an example of a colleague struggling to organise a small conference and who is seeking your help, to illustrate how the GROW model works. I will refer to your colleague as the coachee, and you as the coach.

1. Goal

Knowing what you want is an essential aspect of being successful in the vast majority of situations. Businesses have targets, budgets and goals, which are usually expressed in financial terms. Successful sports people know the scores, times, distances or weights they want to achieve. If someone is clear about what they want, they will be able to concentrate their attention on achieving it and will be able to measure whether or not they are on track.

When coaching someone, especially in a formal setting, the kinds of questions you could ask to elicit the goal are as follows:

• What would you like to discuss?
• What would you like to achieve?
• What (outcome) would you like from this session or meeting?
• What would need to happen for you to feel this time was really well spent?
• What would you like to be different when you leave this session?

More specifically, for your colleague who is organising a small conference, some possible questions are:

• When does the conference take place?
• How many people would you like to attend?
• What is the budget for the event?

2. Reality

These questions relate to what stage the coachee is currently at as they continue towards their goal. The benefits of the coachee and the coach knowing this are:

• It can help both parties get a sense of whether the original goal is realistic and achievable; and
• It can help guide the coach’s thinking about which question(s) to ask next

Some examples of questions that are generally relevant are:

• What is happening at the moment?
• What have you tried so far and what happened?
• Where are you now (in relation to the goal)?

Therefore, potentially relevant questions for your colleague are:

• How many venues have you contacted?
• What is the price of the room hire?
• Do you know who will be speaking?
• Have you contacted the speakers?
• What support, if any, will you need from technical staff?

Depending on the answers to the reality questions, it may be appropriate to change the goal. For example, if the overall budget is £20,000 and the cheapest quote for room hire alone is £21,000, then perhaps the goal needs to be amended.

3. Options

Once the coach and the coachee are aware of the goal and the current situation (and assuming the goal is achievable and realistic) the next step is to ask questions about how to move from reality to goal. At this point, it is important to ask the coachee to come up with their own answers, and to resist any possible temptation to evaluate these, or suggest your own.

Here are some general questions to ask at this stage:

• What could you do to change the situation? At this point, ignore whether it is realistic.
• How could you achieve the goal?
• What alternatives are there to that approach? What else?
• What approach have you known other people to use in a similar situation?
• Who might be able to help?
• I have one or two other possibilities – would you like to hear them? Note to coach – leave this to last, after asking if there are any alternatives.
• What options do you like most – which seem the best?
• What are the pros and cons of each option?
• Please rate the options on a scale of one to ten.
• Which option are you going to take?
• How could you overcome (specific) obstacles?

For the conference organiser, some relevant questions could be:

• Which venue(s) seems to fit the bill? Which one is best?
• Who are your preferred guest speaker(s)?
• Who else could you ask for advice about organising the conference? Who (else) do you know who has organised a similar conference?

4. What, when, way forward?

Once the options have been evaluated, it is simply about what action will be taken, by whom and by when.

Here are some general questions for this section:

• What are the next steps?
• What will you do, precisely?
• By when, exactly?
• What support do you need, if any?
• How and when will you enlist that support?

For the conference organiser, the questions immediately above would probably suffice, although some other possible questions could be:

• Which venue will you book?
• When will you contact the three guest speakers?
This introduction to the use of the GROW model can be applied to help you, or others, to achieve goals and overcome obstacles or minor hurdles along the way. I hope it has sparked your curiosity about how you could use a coaching approach in the workplace.


References and Further Reading

1. Downey, M., Effective Coaching: Lessons from the Coach’s Coach, Texere Publishing, London, 2003.

2. Landsberg, M., The Tao of Coaching: Boost your effectiveness at work by inspiring and developing those around you, HarperCollins (1996), Profile Books, London (2003).

3. Whitmore, J., Coaching for Performance: GROWing Human Potential and Purpose – the Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership (Fourth Edition), Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2009.

Jeremy Lazarus is an Executive Coach and High Performance Sports Coach, and a Certified Master Trainer of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). He spent over 15 years in a business career which included senior management and director roles. In 1999 he ... (Read More)

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