Managers are many things — leaders, mentors, strategists, administrators, and of course, coaches. As coaches, managers provide guidance to their teams and encourage employees to push past their comfort zones, learn new skills, and reach the next level in their careers.
That said, every employee has different needs and a unique career journey, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to coaching. The GROW model takes the guesswork out of coaching and breaks it down into four easy-to-follow steps.
In this article, we explain what the GROW coaching model is as well as how you can use this framework to guide effective coaching conversations with your employees. We’ll also share examples and best practices so you can help your teams achieve their short- and long-term goals.
What is the GROW coaching model?
Created by executive coaching thought leader Sir John Whitmore in the 1980s, the GROW model is a coaching framework designed for solving problems, setting goals, and improving individual performance. The acronym GROW stands for:
Goal, or what an individual is looking to achieve
Reality, or the facts of the current situation
Options/Obstacles, or all the different ways you can address the situation
Will/Way forward, or how you will choose to act
By following these steps sequentially, managers will better understand what their employees are hoping to achieve and how to get them there. GROW acts as a roadmap for employee growth. It gives managers the ability to coach with intention so their teams can attain personal and professional success.
The four phases of the GROW model
Ready to start using the GROW coaching model? Here’s a closer look at each step, sample questions you can ask your employees, and an example of how to use this model to unlock better coaching and employee outcomes.
The first step is for managers to understand what their employees want, or what their goals for the future are. Consider using the SMART goal-setting framework to establish effective, clear goals for employees to work towards. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
Now, let’s share an example conversation you might have with a direct report.
During a development conversation, your employee shares that she wants to get promoted during next year’s review cycle, which is several months away. As her manager, you’re excited she is ready to take the next step in her career, but you know she’ll need to work hard for the next few months to make this promotion a reality. Now that you know her goal, you can be a better career coach and advocate to your employee in the coming months.
Questions to ask during the Goal phase:
What are you looking to achieve?
What does success look like for you in the short term? Long term?
What would you like to be doing more or less of?
What would you say is your biggest priority at the moment?
Before you start devising an action plan, you’ll want to know as much as possible about an employee’s current situation. Use open-ended questions to ask your direct report about their experience, what they’ve done so far, and how they’re feeling about their circumstances.
For example, if an individual on your team wants to plan an event, have they spoken to your events team? Have they already secured a venue and sent out invitations? Or is this idea still extremely new? Once you better understand the situation, you can share informed recommendations and guidance with your employee.
Revisiting our promotion example from earlier, let’s say you’re a new manager unfamiliar with this individual’s contributions. You can ask her to reflect on her performance over the last year and share her top accomplishments and areas of improvement. This will give you an idea where she falls in your current competency framework, including where she’s exceeding the expectations of her current role and where she still has room to grow.
You’ll also want to understand what barriers prevent your employee from achieving her goal. In this case, you might discover three potential obstacles:
Senior leaders don’t have a clear understanding of your employee’s contributions
Your employee could do a better job of quantifying the business impact of her work
Your employee needs to improve a few hard skills according to your internal competency models
This information will help you with the next two steps of the GROW coaching model.
Questions to ask during the Reality phase:
What is the current situation?
What actions have you taken so far, if any?
Is there anything that could get in the way of you achieving this goal?
Now, it’s time to put your brains together and explore the available options. At this stage, you’ll want to lay out all of the potential solutions and discuss their advantages and disadvantages. Weigh all possible courses of action so that you can choose the best solution to get your employee closer to their goal.
When it comes to our aspiring promotion candidate, you and the employee will want to brainstorm ways to boost the internal visibility of her work, quantify the value of her contributions, and uplevel her skills based on the information you gathered in the Reality stage. You might end up with a list of potential solutions that looks something like this:
Complete an online certification course
Attend a conference
Send out email summaries of recent projects and their performance
Speak up more in team meetings
Schedule skip-level manager meetings to get in front of senior leadership
Volunteer for upcoming high-profile projects
Partner with the Data Team to create a metrics dashboard to help quantify your contributions
You’ll want to discuss which of these ideas is practical, feasible, and most likely to support her success. Once you’ve weighed the pros and cons of each option, it’s time to move on to the final stage of the GROW model.
Questions to ask during the Options/Obstacles phase:
What options do you have?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of these potential solutions?
Is there anything else we haven’t thought of?
Will/Way forward (W)
Lastly, you’ll want to focus on commitment, or how your employee will take action. Now that you’ve outlined all viable options and discussed their strengths and weaknesses, you can pick the most logical path forward and determine the next steps with your employee.
For our eager junior staff member, her finalized action plan and progress milestones might look like:
Present on current projects and results in the department’s monthly meeting
Attend a conference in Q2
Take an online class and receive a skill certification in Q3
Send out monthly emails to the department around the latest project metrics and successes
Together, these items address her current reality, acknowledge the obstacles preventing her from achieving her goal, and define a clear way forward. Your employee now has a detailed understanding of what she needs to do to succeed in her role. As her manager, you know what she needs to do to grow into her next role, giving you the context to guide and coach her along the way.
Questions to ask during the Will/Way Forward phase:
What actions have you decided to take?
How can we break down this solution into manageable steps?
What is a realistic timeline for achieving success?
When should we check back in to discuss progress?
Applying GROW in coaching conversations
Before you dive right into GROW model coaching, here are a few tips and best practices for having effective coaching conversations with your employees:
Practice active listening: While it’s your job as a manager to lead the conversation, let your employees do most of the talking. Switch between asking open-ended, probing, and reflective questions to encourage your team to share their goals and experiences at your company. Give them the floor to share their perspective and motivations.
Set realistic goals: Recommend that employees use the SMART framework when setting their goals. Overly ambiguous or vague goals can leave employees feeling frustrated and disheartened, so be sure you set them up for success from step one.
Tackle one goal at a time: While you may have some employees who want to do everything all at once, ask them to prioritize their goals and focus on realistic and attainable targets. That way, they can direct their time and efforts to whatever goals will have the highest impact on their job satisfaction.
Follow up regularly: The GROW model only works if your employees are motivated to achieve their goal and actually follow the agreed-upon action plan. To help hold individuals accountable, touch base on progress regularly in 1-on-1 meetings or ongoing development conversations. This keeps employee growth top of mind and allows you to provide continuous coaching.
Grow into coaching with Culture Amp
Some managers may find coaching intimidating at first because every employee needs a unique touch. If you’re one of those managers, just channel GROW model coaching and remember how empowering it can be to break down large goals into tangible, actionable steps.
That same strategy of breaking down challenging concepts into digestible knowledge is what powers Culture Amp’s Skills Coach. Skills Coach delivers engaging micro-content directly through Slack, Microsoft Teams, or email to your managers, allowing even the busiest of people leaders the time to learn and grow.
Looking to set up your coaches for success?
Learn how Skills Coach provides digestible training that helps busy managers put their new skills into practice.
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