Managing People

What Is the GROW Coaching Model?

June 10, 2023
November 7, 2023
Michelle Villegas Threadgould
Lattice Team

If you’re looking to cultivate a culture of growth at your organization, the GROW Coaching Model can help. The name is an acronym for the four steps: Goal, Reality, Obstacles (or Options), and Way Forward (or Will). This coaching framework goes beyond traditional mentoring and helps managers formulate the right coaching questions, goal-setting, and action plans alongside their direct reports. Team members can then develop agency, solve problems, and formulate answers on their own.

Below are tips for fostering productive GROW coaching sessions and enabling managers and team members to assess their current situation while accelerating meaningful change throughout your organization.

Key Takeaways:

  • The GROW Model is a four-step system for setting and achieving goals.
  • The model is often used by executive coaches working with entrepreneurs and managers.
  • Under GROW, mentors ask questions and help their mentees discover solutions on their own.

What does the GROW Model stand for?

First described by executive coach John Whitmore in his 1992 book Coaching for Performance, the GROW Model is a four-step system for setting and achieving goals. Whitmore, alongside his colleagues at Performance Consultants, developed the GROW Model as a methodology that improved workers’ performance, increased their learning and engagement, and helped team members find a sense of purpose in their work. 

Today, the coaching framework is often used by executive coaches working with entrepreneurs and managers setting goals with their direct reports. Experts say that this model has found such widespread adoption not only due to its flexibility but also because of how well it centers on the person being coached.

Each of the four GROW Model steps is done in sequence, with the mentor asking questions and reflecting back their mentee’s answers. Let’s take a closer look at each step.

  1. Goal: Establish what your team is working toward. In the spirit of the GROW Model, your goals should be SMART, meaning they are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. It’s helpful for managers and their direct reports to construct goals together to build trust, increase collaboration, and develop autonomy and personal investment in your business results.

    You could be working toward a difficult goal like improving client retention rates by 12%. Or, if you’re trying to increase efficiency across teams, you could have a soft goal like improving cross-departmental communication. But even your soft goal should be measurable. For example, you can improve communication by reducing time spent in meetings by x%, or you can accelerate the time to bring a product to market by x amount, year-over-year.
  1. Reality: This step requires an honest assessment between managers and their direct reports of where you are as a team and as a company in relation to your goal. If your goal is to send out a customer newsletter this quarter, do you need to establish executive buy-in, do you have marketing automation in place, and are your sales and GTM leaders aligned on this goal? By reflecting on your current reality, your team can create realistic timelines of when you can accomplish your goals, look into blockers, and develop the best path forward.

  2. Obstacles/Options: Speaking of blockers, it’s important for your team members to think through what can get in the way of achieving your goals, and if there are better options for achieving your company-wide initiatives. Who are all the stakeholders needed to be involved in a project, how will your team be sourcing the information to complete the task at hand, and are there any dependencies in order to get something over the finish line? Additionally, is there a more manageable project that accomplishes the same goal in less time?

    Enabling team members to brainstorm potential obstacles and come to their managers with solutions helps build confidence in your team members. Meanwhile, they develop the ability to execute similar projects efficiently in the future.

  3. Way Forward/Will: After team leads and their direct reports have mapped out their goals, assessed the reality of the situation, and determined potential obstacles, they’ve reached the final step of the GROW Coaching Model. Managers and individual contributors (ICs) can develop action plans and the steps they need to take to wrap up a project. From here, team members can get organized, create their project plan, tag or loop in relevant stakeholders, and start building. By thinking through the why, how, and what-ifs, your team members can focus on accomplishing their goals and be aware of obstacles that may come their way.

Why is the GROW Model popular?

The GROW Coaching Model is actionable and adaptable in a time of constant change, which is one of the reasons it is still prominent today.

In their article The Leader as Coach, Herminia Ibarra and Anne Scoular explained how managers can use a coaching mindset to respond to the current moment and partner more effectively with their direct reports. “To cope with this new reality, companies are moving away from traditional command-and-control practices and toward something very different: a model in which managers give support and guidance rather than instructions, and employees learn how to adapt to constantly changing environments in ways that unleash fresh energy, innovation, and commitment.” The GROW Model is one such supportive coaching framework.

"You start with goals, and then you get to a reality check. Where are you now, where do you want to be?"

As Jeffrey Hull, executive director of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School affiliate, said, “The GROW Model provides a very practical approach for coaches to move quickly into action with clients by identifying where they want to get to, and then quickly establishing: What were the obstacles? What is the reality? What are the options?” 

A clinical instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, Hull has twenty years of experience partnering with C-suite executives on high-performance leadership, change management, and organizational strategy. When asked about the GROW Model, Hull continued, “You start with goals, and then you get to a reality check. Where are you now, where do you want to be? And then, if you're a good coach, you're creating a container in which you're using your intuition, you're listening and motivating the client to get in touch with their own internal motivation.”

The GROW Model gives team members and managers the ability to problem-solve without looking at an external person to lead them. Instead, your team members see themselves as leaders. At the same time, the framework gives team members something to focus on, it helps clear away distractions, and it’s an effective coaching tool for personal development. 

How to Use the GROW Coaching Model

When it comes to implementing the GROW Model, there are a few things you want to keep in mind. Hull said, “What I like about the GROW Model is that it aligns well with the fundamental, scientific basis of all good coaching: which is the self-determination theory. Self-determination theory is an evidence-based approach to motivation.”

He explained, “Good coaching is designed to elicit from the client their way forward. It's not about giving advice, it's not about solving the problem. It's about creating the context in which the client is inspired to find their own way — through whatever is in the way of them getting their goal accomplished.”

There are multiple ways to start implementing the GROW Model and to get comfortable using it:

  1. Partner with people managers to practice the GROW Model. Pick a small, manageable goal, like: “Improve my presentation skills.” Go through each step of the GROW Model with your fellow managers: Goal, Reality, Obstacles (or Options), and Way Forward (or Will). Then review your coaching skills; what felt unnatural, how could you improve, and is there a place where you could be more clear? Where could your coaching mindset or coaching approach improve, and where could you refine your coaching style?
  2. Reflect on your goals for your team members. Think through a few wins/goals for each of your team members to help inform how you present this to your team and in your one-on-ones. This helps you bring ideas to the table and will provide a great starting point for your coaching conversations.
  3. Introduce the GROW Model to your direct reports. To have the best possible coaching process, discuss the basics of the GROW Model with your direct reports in a group setting. Explain how the GROW Model can help with problem-solving, personal development, and achieving attainable goals in shorter time frames. Then, work one-on-one with each of your direct reports and figure out, together, which of their goals they want to achieve using the GROW Coaching Model. 
  4. Check in on progress and track your results. Depending on the timeline you and your direct reports have established, check in with them on a regular cadence to see if obstacles have presented themselves and if their way forward is working. If it’s not, you can suggest creating a new action plan, or help remove blockers from their path. If the GROW Coaching Model helps your team members accomplish their goals, it can become a go-to framework. 

With that in mind, here are some popular use cases in which you can leverage the GROW Model:

Planning Sprints

Whether you’re deploying product features or writing an annual report, your team members are responsible for different pieces of the puzzle and each employee brings their unique skill sets to the table. 

Instead of dictating how to execute a plan, managers can collaborate with their teams to develop a shared understanding of the following:

  • What is the goal?
  • Which part of the project should we tackle first?
  • How can we delegate tasks?
  • What are some potential blockers?

From there, team members can establish project plans, collaborate with relevant stakeholders, communicate their progress, and, if new issues have arisen, propose potential solutions. 

Iterating and Refining Products

When it comes to iterating on products, it’s important that your team is aligned on the ultimate goal and that your product delivers on this goal. This is where the GROW Model can be invaluable; managers and team members reckon with whether or not the product they’re building fulfills the business and customer need, accurately assess where the team is in terms of being able to build it, and identify any issues that may get in the way of delivering new products and features. This helps create accurate timelines and prevents delays while keeping everyone in the loop about where the team is in the process. 

Building Team Member Skill Sets

Personal development often starts with team members asking themselves these three questions:

  • What work do I most enjoy doing?
  • Where am I the strongest?
  • Where could I improve? 

By assessing themselves and hearing critical feedback from managers during the assessment, the process of performance coaching can help the team member grow. From there, managers can work with individual contributors to build individual development plans (IDPs), and both the team member and manager are invested in the team member’s learning and development.

How to Train Managers on Using the GROW Model

Effectively employing the GROW Model involves a mental shift for people managers. Hull explained that the shift requires going from an autocratic style of leadership to a more adaptive, open, and inquisitive approach. 

So how can you help your managers put the GROW Model into practice? Thankfully there are multiple tools to implement the GROW framework and coaching tools for you to utilize. Below are ways you can scale effective coaching and help your managers and ICs develop new skills along the way. 

  • Establish effective manager training. The basic tenets of the best learning and development (L&D) programs include coaching, experiential learning, and career management. For first-time managers, it can be helpful to provide resources on how to manage teams. Developing an educational curriculum that is entertaining and speaks to their biggest challenges is also useful. Bringing in outside educators to teach soft skills, how to think creatively, and how to handle conflict enables managers to ask their toughest questions, get hands-on training, and work with peers facing similar challenges. 
  • Create criteria for better one-on-one meetings. Without an agenda, one-on-ones can be unfulfilling, meandering, and unfocused. Lattice 1:1s enable you to collaborate on meeting agendas and track and resolve action items. You can champion your GROW Model initiatives, set up goals, track performance, and keep a record of feedback. 
  • Track progress through individual development plans. When coaching employees through the GROW Model, managers can also track team members’ personal development with IDPs. Through individual development plans, team members outline their goals, talents, strengths, and motivators, and managers can review their employees’ career development during one-on-ones.

The GROW Model is more than just a catchy acronym — it’s also a user-friendly, thorough framework for defining goals and making plans. Working through the steps of the GROW Model can be an effective tool for bringing clarity to an employee’s goals — as well as creating a practical roadmap for achieving them.

If you want to gain an even deeper understanding of how to grow your employees and discover their strengths, download our ebook The Ultimate Guide to Employee Development