The GROW process for coaching, problem solving and setting goals
What is the GROW model?
The GROW model is a popular problem solving tool used in coaching. It is a simple and effective way to help people set and achieve goals.
Developed by Sir John Whitmore, Graham Alexander and Alan Fine, and then popularised by Max Landsberg in his book The Tao of Coaching. It has been used extensively ever since, particularly in corporate coaching settings and has become something of the industry standard tool (Passmore 2010).
What does GROW stand for?
GROW is an acronym for a four stage coaching tool, but exactly what the acronym stands for does differ slightly from practitioner to practitioner. Commonly it that stands for:
- Goal – The clearly defined end point
- Reality – The present situation with is challenges and opportunities
- Options (or Obstacles) – Having identified challenges and obstacles, various options can be explored to help achieve the goal
- Will (or Way Forward/Wrap Up) – The Will or Way Forward step is the breaking down of the goal into achievable steps.
How do you use the GROW process?
Here we will look at each of the stages in turn for a more detailed view on how to apply the GROW model:
The first step is used to explore the goal that the individual or team want to achieve. It is important to clearly identify the aim, define the mission and understand what success looks like.
It is worth spending time on this step as the end state needs to be properly honed. The goal is a chance to capture the vision, mission and values of a person. This in turn helps to identify a target that is inspirational, challenging and fits into the bigger picture of a coachee’s life and work.
Here are some example questions that could be used at this stage:
- What do you want to discuss?
- What is the issue?
- What do you want to achieve?
- What does success look like?
- What is your vision for the future?
- How do you really want things to work out?
- Why is this goal important to you?
- What would achieving this aim feel like?
- How would this goal contribute to other aims?
- How will you know when you have achieved your mission?
The next step in the GROW model is looking at the reality of the situation. This involves considering the present with all its challenges and opportunities.
There is an element of looking back to see what has happened in the past and how this has shaped the present. This can mean facing some uncomfortable truths or confronting the brutal facts as Jim Collins puts it in his excellent book Good to Great (Collins, J. 2001).
Here are some potential questions to use at the Reality stage:
- What has happened to bring you to this point?
- What is going on now?
- Who is involved?
- What does the present situation make you feel?
- Is there anything holding you back?
- What are the challenges that you are facing?
- What is the cause of these challenges?
- What assumptions have you made?
At the Reality stage of the GROW model it may also be useful to apply the SWOT analysis which can help identify the key factors relating to the present situation.
Having defined the goal and explored the reality of the situation the next step is the look at various options to help achieve the goal. Sometimes the ‘O’ in the GROW model is used for ‘Obstacles’ as the options can provide different courses of action to overcome the various challenges that have been identified.
Here are some questions to consider at the Options stage:
- What alternative ways could you achieve the goal?
- How can you overcome the obstacles?
- What would you do if resources were not a problem?
- Is there anyone who can help you?
- What are the advantages and dis-advantages of each course of action?
- What would are really wise person do?
- What is the best/most effective option?
Having looked at options and identified the course of action the ‘Will’ or ‘Way Forward’ step of the GROW model is the breaking down of the goal into achievable steps that someone can commit to.
This stage helps to wrap up the session and make sure that, by the end, the coachee has committed to some concrete and achievable actions. These can be pursued and measured between sessions.
Here are some questions to help at this stage:
- What tasks need to be completed to achieve the goal?
- What is your deadline?
- When do you want to achieve each task?
- What is the first step?
- When can you complete this step?
- Who can help?
- Who do you need to speak to?
- What do you need to do differently?
The SMART tool can also be useful to help define these steps.
What are the limitations of the GROW model?
The GROW model is designed to be task focussed and is therefore good in work and sports situations. Its simplicity is a strength but does mean that it is a less holistic model and can miss some of the broader context of change. For example other tools might complement the GROW model when looking at behavioural change, life coaching and career change.
The GROW model, as with any process, is only as good as its application. As Sir John Whitmore stated “even dictators can use GROW!” A coach should ensure that the model is utilised in a subtle way, bringing structure to the coaching session but in an unconscious and natural way. And, as with other coaching models active listening is critical to successful application.
How does the GROW model compare to other tools?
The GROW model is simple and this is one of the reasons that makes it very effective and popular. Even with the differing interpretations of the acronym it provides a relatively easy to remember structure and does not take much knowledge or practice to apply. It can also be used to explore and plan for a large number of different goals.
The simplicity of the model does mean that it lends itself to a quick look at a problem. As mentioned previously, for more depth it is sometimes beneficial to use the GROW model in conjunction with other tools and processes.
The first two stages of the GROW model relate to the Strategic Framing steps (where, what and why) of The Right Questions model. In both tools the aim is to properly understand the problem and situation before assessing options and making a plan. This is also equivalent to the Observe and Orientate stages of the OODA loop.
Anther useful tool to use at the Reality stage is the SWOT methodology; a simple yet effective way at looking at the present situation.
‘Obstacles and Options’ in the GROW process is covered by ‘Which’ in The Right Questions that covers risk as well as courses of action. Here the aim is to look at differing ways to achieve the same goal.
At the Options stage, using tools such as lateral thinking can beneficial to generate new courses of action and the Belbin Team Model can be of great use in working out who might be able to help and how.
The ‘Will’ of the GROW method is primarily covered by the Planning Phase (the when, who and how) of The Right Questions. For more complicated goals traditional Project Management processes may be useful to apply. At a simpler level, using the SMART tool helps to capture the original goal and make sure the next step is an achievable one.
- Colins, J. (2001) Good to Great. New York: Random House Business.
- Passmore, J. (ed) (2010) Excellence in Coaching. 2nd edn. London: Kogan Page.
- Landsberg, M. (2015) The TAO of Coaching. London: Profile Books Ltd.
- Whitmore, J. (2002) Coaching for Performance. London: Nicholas Brealey.