The GROW model is widely regarded as one of the most effective coaching models in the world, according to The Coaches' Handbook (2021) (Leach, 2021, p. 176). But what exactly is the GROW model, how has it evolved over time, and most importantly, is it still a relevant and effective approach for executive coaching in today's fast-paced business world?
If you're a coach or a leader interested in executive coaching, these are essential questions to consider. In this article, we'll dive into the history of the GROW model, explore its various components, and evaluate its usefulness as an executive coaching tool in 2023. Continue reading and discover what makes the GROW model such a popular coaching framework globally.
What is the GROW model?
The GROW model is a widely popular coaching approach designed to aid individuals in achieving their goals effectively. According to The Coaches' Handbook, the model's origins trace back to the 1980s, when senior executives' coaching conversations were observed and analyzed by John Whitmore, Graham Alexander, and Alan Fine, leading to the development of the GROW model (Leach, 2021, p. 176; Alexander & Renshaw, 2005).
Over time, the GROW model has evolved, resulting in the creation of other variations like "GROUP," "IGROW," and "TGROW," which we'll explore in detail later. What makes the GROW model stand out is its simplicity, which enables customization during coaching sessions and facilitates the use of additional tools to aid the coaching process (Leach, 2021).
In the next section, we'll delve deeper into the various components of the GROW model and explore the differences between the different variations.
Components of the GROW Model
There are four main steps in the GROW model:
Step 1: Goal: Determine what the “desired outcome” of your coaching session is. What goal does your client want to achieve? (Price, 2021)
Step 2: Reality: Discuss what the difference is between the “desired outcome” or goal and the current reality of the individual. Where is the gap between where they want to be and where they are today?
Step 3: Options: Evaluate, brainstorm, and discuss what options are available for closing this gap and achieving this goal
Step 4: Wrap Up: “The client decides and commits to action that will help them achieve their goal” (Price, 2021 pg. 79-80).
Evolution of the GROW model
Since its inception, the GROW model has undergone some modifications, giving rise to a few new forms as outlined below.
The IGROW model, outlined by Anthony Grant in his article “Reflection, note-taking, and coaching: If it ain’t written, it ain’t coaching!” contains the traditional GROW model. However, Grant adds “I” which stands for “issue” or “the presenting issue for the coaching session.” The remaining steps of the IGROW model reference the traditional GROW model (ie. goal, reality, options, wrap up) (Grant, 2016).
Oxford Brookes University has also developed what they call the iGROW model. Like Anthony Grant’s IGROW model, it closely mimics the original GROW model. However, instead of “I” standing for “issue” in Grant’s use, “i” stands for the process of “self-awareness, and understanding the professional behaviors and the role-related skills that underpin the range of occupations in higher education institutions” (Oxford Brookes University, n.d.). While this model is specifically designed for those in higher education careers, it highlights the importance of “self-awareness” which can also support individuals’ goal identification in the next step of the IGROW model.
The TGROW model includes “T” which stands for “topic.” The remaining portion of the TGROW model is identical to the original GROW model. This specific model advocates that coaches and clients should explore “the topic that the coachee would like to focus on” so that the client is better attuned to their own expectations for the coaching session (Miller, 2020).
The GROWTH model expands the GROW model by adding “T,” or “tactics” and “H” or “habits” to the end of the model. Coaches using this model will “ask questions about the specific steps the client will take toward goal achievement” when in the 5th step of the model. In the 6th or “H” step, the coach and client will establish habits that will maintain success or goal achievement (Miller, 2020).
The GROUP Model
In 2010, Saul W. Brown and Anthony Grant created the GROUP model which is a way for coaches to apply the GROW model to group coaching in organizations. They created the GROUP model because “the explicit inclusion of processes related to group dynamics” is not “overt” in the GROW model. Brown and Grant outline the GROUP model below:
In 2010, Saul W. Brown and Anthony Grant developed the GROUP model as an extension of the GROW model, enabling coaches to apply it to group coaching in group settings. Brown and Grant's primary motivation for creating the GROUP model was the realization that the GROW model did not explicitly include processes related to group dynamics. Hence, they sought to address this limitation by introducing the GROUP model. The GROUP model is outlined below, as proposed by Brown and Grant:
The first three steps of this model are identical to the original GROW model. The “U” for “understand others” is considered “a key factor in successful group coaching.” Brown and Grant define “understanding” as the ability to “grasp the significance, implications, or importance of the information conveyed” with a “sense of humility and openness” (2010). In the last phase of this model, “the group moves from option generation and dialogue and into action design and implementation,” or “perform.” In this stage, “individual and group action steps are determined within the group coaching setting and this open exchange of ideas in the group setting is designed to ensure clarity, transparency, commitment, and accountability across all participants” (Brown & Grant, 2010).
The RE-GROW Model
The RE-GROW model is a model designed to complement “subsequent sessions” that previously used the GROW model. This model adds two additional steps at the beginning of the traditional GROW model. The “R” stands for “review” and the “E” stands for “evaluate.” In both of these steps, “the action steps performed since the previous coaching session are systematically reviewed and evaluated before new goals are established or adapted” (Brown & Grant, 2010).
Is the GROW model effective?
The GROW model is a popular coaching framework built on the foundation of goal setting. Despite its widespread use, The Sage Handbook of Coaching reports that little specific research has been conducted on the GROW model, and some authors might resist evidence contradicting the notion that goal-focused models represent best practices in coaching. Research by Scoular and Linley (2006) found that the GROW model produced no significant difference in outcome quality between two coaching groups - one using the GROW model, and the other not.
However, a more recent study by Kang, Lee, and Joung involving nursing students suggests that the GROW model can be beneficial when used in peer tutoring groups. The study found that students in peer groups based on the GROW model formed new study habits, studied more efficiently, and were motivated to advance in their studies (2021). Nevertheless, it is important to note that this study had a small sample size of only 14 participants, and the positive effects might have resulted from peer tutoring rather than the GROW model alone.
A randomized controlled trial in 2022 involving 109 school administrators given a GROW-based intervention via Zoom for nine weeks found that participants reported significantly improved levels of subjective well-being, which was sustained even during a three-month follow-up assessment (Okorie et al., 2022). It is crucial to remember that the GROW model primarily focuses on achieving goals after identifying issues, wants, or challenges, making it closely related to solution-focused coaching.
While research on the GROW model has been limited, recent studies suggest that the model can be effective in promoting subjective well-being and achieving goals. However, more research is needed to evaluate the efficacy of the GROW model as a coaching framework fully.
The GROW model and solution-focused coaching
The GROW model's main focus is achieving a designated goal in response to a problem or challenge, and examining research on solution-focused coaching can provide additional insight into how executive coaches can utilize the GROW model as a powerful tool.
In his article "An integrated model of goal-focused coaching," Anthony Grant discusses a coaching study he conducted with 49 "mature-age coaches," where he employed a "solution-focused cognitive-behavioral personal coaching program using the GROW model." According to Grant, “the coaching program appeared to be effective and successful in helping the clients reach their desired outcomes for the coaching relationship.” The program led to a significant increase in goal attainment, as well as reported insight, and significant decreases in reported anxiety and stress. Grant concludes that “these findings strongly suggest that the use of goals in coaching is indeed of practical importance in that the use of goal-focused coaching style is more effective than a ‘common factors’ person-centered coaching style in the coaching context” (2012). Additionally, in a 2018 presentation, Grant points out that focusing on solutions has positive correlations.
Thus, the research suggests that the GROW model, with its emphasis on goal achievement, can be a highly effective coaching tool when used in a solution-focused coaching context.
You’ll notice that a focus on “solutions” is an integral part of the GROW model within the “O” or third step of evaluating optional solutions for goal achievement. Additional research from Grant and Gerrard, 2019, has also supported this by finding that “solution-focused questions were more effective than problem-focused questions on all measures” and that “solution-focused questions were also more effective at increasing self-efficacy and decreasing negative affect compared to a combined problem-focused and solution-focused approach” (Grant & Gerrard, 2018). From these research insights we can see that when the GROW model is used with a solution-focused approach, it can be a highly effective tool for executive coaches to implement with their coaching clients.
Using GROW as a guide, not an “ideology”
In his article “Is it time to REGROW the GROW model?...” Anthony Grant explains that “GROW” is a methodology “to be used, not ideologies to be rigidly adhered to!” He explains that coaching is a “non-linear process” and that “it is never obvious at the start of any coaching session how the session will actually evolve, and coaches need to work with an emergent iterative process. Indeed, for experienced coaches, the uncertainty of the session and unexpected discoveries made along the way are a large part of the joy of coaching.” Instead of viewing the GROW model as a rigid structure, he advocates using it as a “simple map to help guide the coaching session” (Grant, 2011).
The main takeaway
The GROW model is a very popular and highly effective coaching method that consists of four stages: Goal, Reality, Options, and Wrap-Up. This model has evolved over the years to include other versions such as the RE-GROW model (Brown & Grant, 2010), IGROW (Grant, 2016), TGROW (Miller, 2020), GROWTH (Miller, 2020), and GROUP (Brown & Grant, 2010) models. Regardless of the model chosen, the primary features of goal identification and attainment remain of primary importance. While specific research regarding the GROW model is limited, we can conclude that when used as a guide map and not a strict “ideology to be rigidly adhered to” (Grant, 2011), the GROW model is an effective coaching method for encouraging goal attainment and behavioral change.
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