Why the grow model doesn’t work

I was first introduced to the GROW model way back in the early naughties and it changed my world. I mean, it was as though I had learned the secret to having the kind of accountable and forward looking conversations I needed as a new manager. I became a massive fan and applied it all of the time, in almost every situation. 

Soon my team came to meetings prepared and knew how the conversation would go, so we had efficient conversations and focused on results. But that became the problem - GROW became a one trick pony, quite boring and predictable. I became predictable. It was only after I had coaching from a trained coach that I realised there were some major limitations to the model, and I wanted to learn how to coach like my coach.

The first change I learned was to focus on feelings. Our thoughts, behaviours and actions are all dominated by our feelings. Simply focusing on actions or behaviours is not enough to really evoke change. As a coach, you need to understand how your client feels about the situation, the goal or being held accountable. Motivation is a feeling after all. Coaching the feelings was the real game changer for me and  added a new level of depth, and results, to the GROW model.

The GROW model steps

The basic model t structure the conversation.

Learn how to coach and ask powerful questions to make this model work for both you and the coachee. The model itself is not enough.

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What is the topic, the goal, the outcome? What does good look like?


What is really going on? Environment, behaviours, skills, relationships?


What is possible? What could you try, do or be?


Will or Way forward
What will be done and how committed are they? 

As a model it is pretty robust and creates a great structure for new coaching managers. It assumes that you both know what the GOAL is (G). Now, as a coaching manager, this requires that you do some thinking before hand, so you are super clear on what good looks like, what you need to be done and by when. As a coach, you focus on what the client wants, so they find the goal, and believe me, that often takes a lot of curiosity and questioning. More often, the client is clear about what they don't want, rather than what they want.

Then, you move into REALITY (R). The coaching manager asks questions about the present reality, the environment, limitations and dependencies. When there is a lot of trust and transparency, reality is easy to achieve, but often there is a power imbalance between a manager and an team member, meaning fear or defensiveness appears. This results in self-preservation, ego and  perhaps some blind spots. A coach is an equal, creating the safe space for the coachee to grow and explore and together they discover the reality.

Now you can move into OPTION exploration. As a Manager, I would sometimes suggest options, leading the member of staff or manipulating the outcome I wanted. I had time to prepare and think through the situation, so already the employee was on the backfoot. As a coach, the client is the expert in their life or work and is trusted to be creative and resourceful in finding solutions. A coach doesn't lead or influence. Instead they look for the subtle changes in language, body language and tone, holding the clients values and outcomes in mind and noticing when they are aligned or playing small. 

Once an option or agreed action is decided, the coachee is asked how committed or WILLING (W) they are. Again, in a power imbalance, the employee is likely to say they are super committed and willing. In reality they may be saying what they think their boss wants to hear. A coach will again look for what is not being said, noticing the subtle changes in the clients words and behaviour. Only when the client is in a resonant state will they ask them to commit to action and holds their clients accountable.


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