Coaching

by Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird

The GROW coaching process

Some people have a preference for structure and would feel a little lost without it; others prefer the perceived freedom of working without structure.

Where do you sit?

We would argue that structure can really help people to feel more confident as it gives them a sequence that will lead to an output for each coaching session.

There are many coaching models that can be used to bring structure and sequence to your coaching. We have chosen to illustrate the GROW model here because it is simple, powerful and well proven. It is the most widely used business coaching model and grew out of studies of how successful people seemed to be able to move situations forward, particularly in the context of face-to-face meetings.

It was first created by Graham Alexander in the mid-80s and was subsequently refined and published by John Whitmore in his book Coaching for Performace (1992) .

The GROW model is easy to apply in practice and it ensures that you cover all of the important bases in your coaching conversations. It is flexible, easy to follow and can structure either a short or longer coaching interaction.

Goal setting

What do you want? Identify short-term and long-term goals, and the goal for the coaching session. Make sure they are all SMART.

Reality

What is happening right now? Focus on the current situation – current challenges, performance and strategy.

Options

What could we do to achieve the short/long-term goal? Brainstorm to explore alternative strategies or specific courses of action.

Will

Now let’s decide. What is to be done as a result of the exploration of options? When will it be done and by whom. Explore the will to do it (motivation). This is an opportunity to investigate obstacles and ways of overcoming them.

Let’s look at each stage of GROW in a little more detail.

Goals

Goals are particularly important in a coaching relationship. Goals give us direction and clarity, and assist in developing and engaging motivation.

Studies have shown that people with clear, written goals are far more likely to achieve them than those who don’t have them. Goals give specific focus to the coaching and align the coachee’s mind with what, specifically, they want to achieve.

Here are some important tips for goals in the context of coaching.

  • Ensure you take time to set long-term goals for the coaching, and short-term goals for the session itself. This helps set expectations and keeps coaching sessions on track.
  • For individual coaching sessions, you can ask ‘What specifically do you want to get from the next 45 minutes in relation to your goals?’
  • For long-term goals be sure to look for shorter-term performance goals. These are the milestones that give a sense of achievement along the way and help the coachee to see that they are on track for the long-term objective.
  • Ensure that your goals are SMART (see the table below).
  • Build a compelling vision of what success will look, sound and feel like. Help the coachee see, hear and/or feel it for themselves. This is a technique that top sports people use to engage motivation and maximise their performance.
  • Make sure that the goals you set are towards something that you want rather than away from something that you do not want. Rather than a goal such as ‘To reduce customer complaints’, set a goal along the lines of ‘To achieve a 95 per cent or better rating on our customer service questionnaire’. The first focuses the mind on complaints whereas the latter focuses on achieving a level of satisfaction. When the coachee comes up with an ‘away-from’ goal, such as ‘I want less of ...’, then you can turn this into a ‘towards’ goal by asking: ‘If that is what you don’t want, what specifically do you want instead?’

We have mentioned the importance of setting SMART goals. Here is a reminder of SMART and some specific tips on each stage.

Specific

Be very specific with the goal. Use figures or specific behaviours and set specific standards or qualities that you are seeking to achieve wherever possible.

Measurable

Ensure that you think about and include measures of success in the goal. You must be able to answer the question, ‘How will you know when you have achieved this goal?’ Measures should be tangible and objective wherever possible. Even qualitative behaviours can have measures against them. Take the time to be specific on these measures.

Ambitious

Goals are most motivational when there is an element of stretch or challenge to them. Setting a goal that is easily achievable may not encourage someone to deliver of their best.

Realistic

While goals should have an element of stretch, they do need to be realistic. One facet of this is to ensure that any goal is in the control of the individual to achieve. Setting goals that rely on other people can be demotivating and lead to a focus on elements beyond the coachee’s control or influence.

Time-bound

Be specific when setting deadlines. Rather than set a goal to be achieved ‘by the middle of next year’, be as specific as ‘by 30 July 2008’. This ensures that the brain is focused on a specific, rather than relative, deadline.

There is more on goals in the topic on Goal Setting

Reality

Reality is about objective, descriptive facts and current reality. Before you can move a situation forward it really helps to get very clear on what, specifically, is happening now. Often, this is the time that you surface limiting assumptions and beliefs that the other person is holding, which might limit their performance and sense of choice.

In your questions around reality, you might make a lot of use of the word ‘specifically’ to bring clarity and awareness to the other person. Look to find out what is working at present, what has been tried, what the result (specifically) has been, and so on. Be wary of generalisations about what is happening currently. Watch for words like ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘all’ and other words that tend to accompany global generalisations.

It is important to retain your objectivity as you are looking for what can be learned from the current situation. As soon as you judge, the learning available to the coachee is diminished and the other person might be tempted to justify what has happened and what they have done, rather than to think about it as feedback and learning.

You rarely get out of a problem with the same thinking that got you into it in the first place.

Anon

Options

If you always do what you have always done, then you will always get what you have always got.

Anon

Both of these truisms help illustrate the importance of options in coaching. You need to assist the other person in coming up with alternatives – different possible courses of action that can move them forward towards their goal.

Increasing choice is a key principle in coaching, so you have to help create the environment where this can happen. Choice often evolves from a creative environment so here are some Dos and Don’ts that might help.

Do

  • Use brainstorming to help the other person come up with new ideas.
  • Ask questions, such as ‘What else can you do?’
  • Expand the coachee’s thinking with your questions: for example, ‘What if you could start again?’, ‘What if money was no object?’, ‘If you already had X, what would then be possible?’, ‘How would your hero or heroine tackle it?’
  • Suspend judgement of the options until you have them all out – often one seemingly unlikely option can give rise to a very practical but creative thought!
  • Feel able to offer suggestions as well, but make sure you ask permission first and help the coachee come up with as many options as possible before you offer yours.

Don’t

  • Settle for one or two options – these are not likely to be the most creative.
  • Offer your suggestions until the coachee has come up with as many as they can.

Once you have elicited the options, you can then encourage the coachee to start evaluating them and thinking about which would be the best to progress with.

Will

This final stage of GROW is about a ‘call to action’. It’s about both making a decision and committing to action. Remember, these two things are different – decisions can be easy to make, but you need to ensure that action will be taken.

In this phase, you are helping the other person construct a clear plan of action. This needs to include specific dates and measures. Once you have this you need to probe for possible barriers – what could prevent these actions being taken and what is the other person going to do to overcome those barriers?

A lot of people have good intentions for action but can get sidetracked or waylaid by circumstances when they get back to their desks – email, telephone and any number of other priorities can stand in the way of action following a coaching session.

Finally, you need to probe for their motivation – how sure are they that they will take the actions? By being explicit at this stage you take away excuses and raise responsibility and accountability in the other person.

It is surprising how much activity coachee’s do just before a coaching session to complete the tasks they were set. The knowledge that those tasks will be scrutinised is itself a powerful motivator.

How can the GROW model be used?

The GROW model can be used:

  • For coaching after a person has attended a training course to help embed learning and transfer it to the workplace
  • Before sales calls
  • At the end of an accompanied visit
  • As part of a telephone coaching session
  • During a performance management review
  • During a team meeting
  • As an initial coaching session or relationship meeting
  • In the ‘quick win’ coaching session.

Here are some key principles that underpin the GROW model.

  • Build rapport first.
  • Be open and honest as the coach.
  • Discuss the other person’s needs.
  • Discuss your needs.
  • Elicit needs rather than impose them.
  • Discuss how you can best work together.
  • Work towards a win-win situation.

In the page on questioning skills, we list a number of powerful coaching questions for each part of the GROW model (see Questioning and challenging).