Using the GROW Model: Coaching in Organizations

Although a few people have the initiative and support they need to take themselves to the top of their game, most people need a lot of help. A coaching culture empowers authentic, strong leadership at all levels of the organization. Whether an organization uses external or internal professional coaches, or develops peer coaching relationships within the organization, a coaching culture helps people bring their heart and soul to work.

Coaches hold people accountable for the actions they say are important to them. Organizations that establish coaching cultures encourage 360º connections where people seek out coaching relationships in all directions. They proactively coach their peers, direct reports, bosses, customers and even family members.

The GROW model1, as described by John Whitmore, author of Coaching for Performance, provides a simple process for encouraging learning, action and growth.

GOAL setting for the session as well as short and long term.

REALITY checking to explore the current situation.

OPTIONS and alternative strategies or courses of action.

WAY FORWARD: what is to be done, when, by whom and the will to do it. 

The GROW model provides a memorable structure for helping people establish goals and create action plans. The model is a structure that supports individuals and groups in identifying what matters and moving forward into action. It may sound counter-intuitive to start with the goal instead of the reality, but opening with what people want provides direction and clarity. Even when people come into the session with a lot of clarity about their goal, exploring the broader goal, or deepening the awareness of related goals moves the group forward.

The purpose of the Reality stage is to empathically uncover the emotions and motivation connected to the desired change. With that awareness, the process helps people self-connect, go deeper and understand the nuances of their motivation. Traditionally, the Reality stage is used to help people identify weaknesses, barriers, resistance and budget constraints, but the flip side is even more important. Identifying the group’s strengths; including their relevant experience, access to resources and past successes, all support movement toward the desired future. To uncover the real situation, we connect with people’s feelings and values so that we get to the heart of the matter.

In the Options stage of the model, we support people as they brainstorm strategies to meet their needs. This is the rowdy, outrageous, fun phase where anything goes. Letting the imagination run wild awakens creativity and gives people a range of options to choose from. We get out the magic wand and give people full permission to dream. A coach shared the following: “Sometimes the accountants in the group roll their eyes if I say, ‘Imagine you have an unlimited budget,’ but invariably this exploration helps people identify new possibilities, and then they can fi nd much less expensive ways to get what they really want.” Flinging the doors wide open taps the group’s resourcefulness. Likewise, we can also ask, “So how would you do this if you had no budget and very little time?” to help the group find less costly alternatives.

After generating a wide range of options, we move into the Way Forward phase and help the group create compelling action plans. This is where the rubber meets the road. We find out what people will actually do and when they’re going to do it. In this phase, we ask for commitments and build in accountability structures by asking three simple questions: What will you do? When will you do it? How will you track your progress?

 If we spend a lot of time in the Goal stage and even more time in the Reality stage, the Options stage goes relatively quickly and people are bursting with ideas. The Way Forward stage is very short because people are fully engaged and have the vision and drive to take ownership of the action plan. The more time spent at the Goal and Reality stages, the easier it is to find the Options and Way Forward.

If we see hesitation in the Way Forward stage of the model, where people are reluctant to commit to action steps, that’s usually because we haven’t spent enough time in the Goal or Reality stages to identify the vision or what people really care about. If the action plan doesn’t materialize, or if the commitment level is below a 7 on a scale of 1-10, we can revisit the goal to make it more compelling or replace it with another goal that people can readily commit to implementing. So the GROW model is not always linear—sometimes we circle back to clarify the goals or expand the reality.

Although GROW is one of the earliest coaching models, it’s still widely used in organizations and by coaches and clients who value structure and clarity.

1. Whitmore, J. (2010). Coaching for Performance, Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Excerpt from Coaching for Transformation by Lasley, Kellogg, Michaels and Brown. 

For more articles like this, go to the