The GROW Model of coaching and mentoring

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Alan Fine, Graham Alexander and Sir John Whitmore developed the GROW Model throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

It’s a simple coaching method of setting goals and problem solving, mainly through asking questions that deepen your staff’s understanding of what they’d like to achieve and how to make that happen.

What does GROW stand for? How does the model work?

GROW stands for goal, reality, options (or obstacles) and will (or way forward).


Like writing a story, you start with a goal – the end point that you would like to get to.

The goal should be SMART (specific, measurable and achievable in a realistic time frame). But the goal should be challenging too.

It’s also important to make sure the goal is relevant, and fits in with their career aims, as well as team and company objectives. For example, there’s no point in a motion designer setting the goal of learning stop-motion animation if there are no plans to use it.

You’ll need to set the goal before moving on to the other stages in the model, but it’s something you’ll return to as you progress.

Focusing on the goal keeps you or your staff aligned to the solution rather than overthinking the problem.

You might ask “what do you want to achieve and when?” and “how will you know that the goal has been achieved?”.

How can leaders help their employees at this stage?

  • Set up a meeting to discuss what they want to achieve
  • Find out when they would like to achieve their goal
  • Determine how the goal will be measured

For example, Rachael is a junior IT technician who wants to earn a promotion before the end of the year. Her progress would be measured by completing training course modules and passing a final exam.


To achieve your goal, you need to understand where you are today (the current reality).

This is an opportunity to reflect on what is happening now. You should focus on the potential opportunities, rather than problems.

Having this reflection period allows you and your staff to look at things with a fresh perspective.

How can leaders help their employees at this stage?

  • Ask your employee to evaluate the current situation themselves (who, what, when, why)
  • Provide feedback, analyse assumptions and offer any of your own observations
  • Check whether they’ve already made steps towards their goal. Has a solution started to present itself?

Coming back to our example, Rachael observes that her current team is made up of two juniors (including themselves), and one senior. The senior IT technician has been in their current role for at least ten years. There are other teams in the company, which follow the same organisational structure.

Rachael has already enrolled on the training course and successfully completed the first module, so she has already made some progress towards the goal.


Now you’ve set your goal and worked out the current situation, you can determine what your options are to get to that place and how to get around any obstacles.

Brainstorm all possible choices and narrow down the best ones. At this stage, it’s important not to make the decisions on someone else’s behalf, so offer suggestions gently.

How can leaders help their employees at this stage?

  • Get your employee to list any problems they might encounter and the ways they could overcome these
  • Offer your feedback and your own suggestions
  • Encourage your staff member to make some decisions about what they’ll do next

Rachael, the IT technician in our example, voices that there is no opportunity for promotion in her current team. She suggests that she might have to seek out a senior role in another team or – worst case scenario – look outside the company.

You ask how she would feel about moving teams or even leaving the business altogether and reassure her that there are opportunities in another department.

Rachael says she would miss her current team, but they are supportive and would encourage her to go for it. She decides that she wants to aim for a promotion in another team as this is the best option for her.

Way forward/will 

Once you’ve explored your options and decided upon the best one, you can work out the way forward to meet the goal.

This can sometimes naturally flow from the conversation of reality – now you know your options, how will you proceed?

How can leaders help their employees at this stage? 

  • Work with your employee to make a plan with specific actions and time frames
  • Ask who else – if anyone – will need to help or if any other measures need to be put in place
  • Agree on how you’ll continue to provide support and check progress

Rachael plans to complete the training course and pass the final exam two months before the end of the year, so she has time to apply for the position in another team.

You help her prepare a learning plan and set up weekly one-to-ones so you can support her through the process and discuss any changes or new obstacles.

What effects can the GROW Model have on staff?

The GROW Model is simple and isn’t designed to be followed so strictly.

It doesn’t have to be a linear process. While you do need to set the goal and have a conversation about the reality, you can then jump around between all four parts.

For example, our IT technician Rachael might later discover that the senior in her current team will be retiring in the new year. Now a new option is available, you work with her to reassess her way forward.

Unsurprisingly, Rachael decides to push her goal time frame back until the new year so she can apply for the senior role within her team.

The GROW Model can also be used in different ways – whether that be for just yourself, someone you manage or for a whole team.

It’s there to help facilitate conversations with your staff, so they can continue to develop their skills and career.

What other models can be used in conjunction with GROW?

Self-awareness tools can be useful to help set goals and reflect on reality, like the Johari Window Model which focuses on understanding information about yourself and others.

Motivational models like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Vroom’s Expectancy Theory can be helpful throughout the GROW Model. They’re particularly beneficial in the options stage – where examining blockers can be demoralising – and in the way forward phase, where putting things into practice can be a lot harder than simply discussing them.


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Matthew Channell
Matthew is TSW Training’s Commercial Director. He writes about performance focussed learning, leadership, and management approaches that have real-world, sustainable impact.
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