The GROW Model for Coaching: What is it? How is it applied in coaching?


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Introduction to the GROW model

Importance of Coaching in Personal and Professional Development

Coaching is without a doubt one of the fastest growing methods used to develop people both personally and professionally. Executed properly, it can have a significant and profound impact on a person psychologically and behaviourally. Coaching brings a structured framework which facilitates progress towards goals and outcomes, whether these are learning or performance outcomes, professional outcomes or more specific career related goals.

Overview of the GROW Model

The GROW Model was first published by Sir John Whitmore in 1992 and is an acronym which represents 4 stages of a coaching process, Goals, Reality, Options, Way forward. This model due to its simplicity has become one of the most commonly used methods within coaching. 


Understanding the GROW Model

Definition and Origins of the GROW Model

To apply the GROW model within your coaching practice it is important to understand what the different stages of the process refer to. There are 4 stages which follow a sequence that can be repeated as the coaching evolves.

The Four Stages of the GROW Model

  1. Goal Setting

Setting Clear and Specific Goals

The letter G in the model, represents the goal setting stage. This stage is all about getting clear on goals and setting goals which are specific and measurable.  Goal setting theory underpins this stage of the model which recognises the importance of goal setting and motivation on task performance (Locke and Latham, 1990

Establishing SMART Goals

A further acronym which is also commonly used at this stage of the GROW Model is SMART goals. SMART goals are goals which are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound.  The research that underpins SMART goals again draws on the work of psychologists Locke and Latham in the 1970’s. This research suggests that the more specific we are when we set goals, the more likely we are to be successful in achieving them. 


  1. Reality Check

Assessing the Current Situation

The second stage of the GROW Model is represented by the letter R, which refers to ‘reality check’. This stage is all about exploring where the current reality is. This is about examining the starting point, and establishing a benchmark. This becomes valuable when measuring progress and being able to explore how to move forward from the current reality.

Identifying Obstacles and Challenges

It is important when establishing the current reality of a situation to be honest and realistic about the obstacles and challenges that may exist that could interfere with progress.  


  1. Options Generation

Exploring Different Paths and Possibilities

The third stage of the GROW Model is represented by O, which is about generating options. Having established a goal, and explored the current reality, the next step is to generate options. What are the possibilities and options for achieving the goal, how can you remove the obstacles and deal with the challenges. 

Encouraging Creativity and Brainstorming

The options stage of the GROW model is all about brainstorming ideas and being creative. This is a very empowering stage which explores and opens up possibilities for moving forward and closer to your goals.


  1. Way Forward

Developing Action Plans

The W stage of the model, refers to making a Way Forward. This is about generating and committing to a plan.  Creating an action plan makes the process more tangible and concrete and starts to bring some accountability to the process.  

Defining Strategies and Tactics for Success

This stage of the process is about defining a strategy for success, and creating a tangible plan to realise the goal.  The previous stages have created a foundation for this stage. The goal has been established at stage 1, stage 2 explored the current reality and established the start point, stage 3 explored the available options for achieving the goal and uncovered any obstacles and now at stage 4 this is about creating the strategy and plan for making the goal a reality.


Applying the GROW Model in Coaching Sessions

Establishing a Coaching Relationship

When applying the GROW model within your coaching practice there are several factors to consider which relate to the coaching relationship.

  1. Building Rapport and Trust

To be effective in coaching, the coach needs to establish trust and rapport. These are core characteristics and have long been recognised as fundamental to coaching success in the coaching research literature (Skiffington and Zeus, 2001; Bush, 2004; Sztucinski, 2001; Guthrie, 1999; Kilburg, 2000; Caprioni, 2001; Kappenberg, 2008). Building rapport is the start of the coaching relationship which helps put the coachee at ease and supports the process of building trust. Establishing trust is one of the core foundations within coaching, which facilitates openness. 

  1. Setting Expectations and Boundaries

A further important aspect to consider in terms of effective coaching is setting expectations and boundaries (Crane, 2001).  This removes uncertainty and creates a strong layer of professionalism, which avoids assumptions and creates clarity about what coaching is and importantly what it is NOT. Establishing these boundaries and being clear to manage expectations provides a solid foundation for the coaching relationship which helps to eliminate potential problems further down the process.


Goal Setting Phase

  1. Defining Long-Term and Short-Term Goals

When setting goals using the GROW model, it can be useful to reflect on this in terms of defining short, and longer term goals. Short term goals facilitate some immediate gains and help to build momentum from the beginning. Longer term goals provide a broader focus that provides direction over time and may involve more time to achieve them.

  1. Using SMART Criteria for Goal Development

It is also important to ensure that any goal whether this is short or longer term follows the principles of SMART criteria.  Using SMART goals helps make the goal a reality by providing a clear structure which makes the goal concrete.


Reality Check Phase

  1. Assessing Current Skills and Resources

When in phase two, which is reality checking, this is where you establish what the current state of play is. This is about identifying what skills and resources are needed to achieve the goal, which will uncover if there are any gaps to fill.

  1. Identifying Limiting Beliefs and Assumptions

Within this stage it is also useful to uncover any limiting beliefs or assumptions that may be present that could derail the process. Limiting beliefs are beliefs that we hold about ourselves that undermine us and hold us back from achieving our goals. This is often discussed as being the ‘negative voice in our head’ that stops us from doing something. Assumptions differ in that they are beliefs that we hold about something that may not be verified or validated. As such, when we have an assumption, we take this belief as being a ‘true’ representation of something, without having any proof to validate this.


Options Generation Phase

  1. Encouraging Creative Thinking and Problem Solving

During phase three of the model this is where we are generating options, and have freedom to get creative. This phase seeks to solve problems, overcome challenges and remove limiting beliefs. This is where we generate ideas and options that introduce choice and open up possibilities.

  1. Exploring Different Perspectives and Solutions

As part of the option stage, we are also seeking to explore different perspectives and find solutions that will eliminate any obstacles to achieving the goal. These obstacles may exist  in the external environment such as needing a certain qualification, or they may be within ourselves in terms of our mindset.


Way Forward Phase

The final stage of the GROW model is about setting the way forward. This is done by creating a strategy and plan of action. This plan would include removing obstacles, or taking small measurable steps towards the goal.

  1. Developing Action Plans with Clear Steps

A solid action plan will have clear steps to it. These will be small, incremental steps that take you closer to the end goal. It is important to break the steps down into small tasks, as this stops the end goal feeling overwhelming and enables you to move forward and make progress.

  1. Setting Accountability and Tracking Progress

A very important part of any action plan is to set some measures that track progress and have elements of accountability. Having someone to report to, such as a boss or a coach, is important. We are often more willing to invest the time and not want to let someone else down, which helps us follow through on the action plan. Finding ways to measure progress is also important as this allows us to see if we are moving towards or away from our end goal. Tracking progress and being able to measure the gains is also very motivational and helps us stay committed to the goal.


Tips for Effective Coaching Using the GROW Model

There are some useful things to reflect on when using the GROW Model that can help make this process more effective. These include:

Active Listening and Powerful Questioning

Active listening and asking powerful questions are core characteristics of any successful coaching approach. Active listening involves hearing what is being said, and showing recognition of this by being able to make relevant observations and ask powerful questions. A powerful question is a question that forces the person to reflect on things that will help them gain an insight or challenge their own thinking about something. Invariably a powerful question requires a more detailed response as opposed to a yes, or no response. 

Providing Constructive Feedback and Support

Another important aspect to effective coaching is to provide constructive feedback and support to the coachee (Crane, 2001; Grant, 2001) . Constructive feedback involves offering feedback that brings challenge and critique but with a positive intent. Offering support is important, as people will often find critique more challenging to deal with, where support softens this approach.

Balancing Support and Challenge

It is however, important to get the balance right.  Too much support may lead to collusion and avoid some of the more difficult conversations that are needed. Often we need challenge within coaching to drive change.  Challenge with support stimulates change in a productive and positive way.

Flexibility and Adaptability in Coaching Approach

Whilst the GROW Model is a useful way to bring consistency of approach, effective coaching also needs to recognise that each coachee will bring a different set of characteristics and context to the coaching relationship. Therefore, being flexible and adaptable in the coaching approach is important to accommodate these differences.


In summary, the GROW Model is an established methodology that is commonly used in coaching. It provides a clear structure and framework for any coaching approach that can be easily integrated with other methods. It is simple to use and ensures a more detailed approach to goal attainment, bringing accountability and supporting both the coach and coachee to track progress and measure results.

If you want to learn more about the GROW model, then check out our mindset training course. This course was developed to help you better understand your mindset, and develop it to become more confident and growth based, enabling you to be more prepared for success.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the GROW Model, and how does it work?

The GROW Model is a coaching method that brings structure to any coaching process. It follows 4 stages and represents an acronym as follows: Grow, Reality, Options, Way forward. This model works by helping people establish clear goals, examine the current reality, explore options and generate a plan of action to move forward towards a goal.

Can the GROW Model be used for coaching in different areas of life?

GROW Model can be used in any type of coaching that requires more structure and is a highly effective way of moving people closer to their goals.

What are the benefits of using the GROW Model in coaching?

There are many benefits of using the GROW Model in coaching, the key ones being:

  • Creates structure
  • Brings consistency
  • Simple to use
  • Creates accountability
  • Ensures clear metrics

How long does a typical coaching session using the GROW Model last?

There are no fixed rules about how long coaching sessions may last, however, as a general guide, a typical coaching contract may last between 3-6 sessions, each session lasting between 60 – 120 minutes.

What are some common challenges in implementing the GROW Model?

Some of the challenges related to the GROW Model might include that it is less effective for those who do not want to face reality or want more of a philosophical exploration of ideas and do not want to be constrained by goals. 

Can the GROW Model be combined with other coaching frameworks?

GROW Model is highly effective when combined with other approaches and offers a broad framework and start point where other approaches can be introduced and used in an integrated way. 

How can I become a certified GROW Model coach?

Our coaching accreditation course is perfect for beginners who may want to become a certified coach, either in a a career change, or just for those wanting to incorporate more coaching practices into their life. We also offer out coaching training for managers, for those in companies wanting to incorporate a coaching style of leadership and managing.

Are there any limitations or drawbacks to the GROW Model?

Some of the limitations attached to the GROW Model are that it may bring more constraint to a coaching conversation if used too early in the process. Sometimes, there is a greater need at the early stage of coaching to build rapport and spend more time exploring ideas and concepts, before setting goals.



Locke, E.A. and Latham, G.P. 1990, A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance, Prentice-Hall, NY

Skiffington, S., & Zeus, M. (2001). The Complete Guide to Coaching at Work. McGraw-Hill Professional.

Bush, T. (2004). Coaching for Leadership: The Practice of Leadership Coaching from the World’s Greatest Coaches. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Sztucinski, R. (2001). Executive Coaching: Enhancing Leadership Effectiveness. Journal of Executive Education, 5(2), 45-62.

Guthrie, J. (1999). Coaching: The Art of Developing Others. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 51(4), 236-245.

Kilburg, R. R. (2000). Executive Coaching: Developing Managerial Wisdom in a World of Chaos. American Psychologist, 55(4), 417-424.

Caproni, P.J. (2001). Eds.The Practical Coach: Management styles for everyday life. Upper Saddle River, Prentice Hall, NJ.

Kappenberg, E.S (2008) PhD thesis: „A Model of Executive Coaching: Key factors in Coaching Success’ The Claremont Graduate University: Publication 3308407

Crane, T.G. (2001). Eds.The Heart of Coaching: using transformational coaching to create a high-performance culture. San Diego, DA.



Dr Jodi O’Dell

Jodi is the founder and driving force behind Engage. She is an occupational psychologist and executive coach with a PhD in Coaching Psychology, who for over 20 years has dedicated her career to helping people thrive and be the best version of themselves.

As a leading expert in coaching, she has worked globally with blue chip clients. She combines this wealth of experience and passion for human development with the scientific rigour of evidence-based research which underpins the Engage toolset.

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