The original GROW model was developed in the United Kingdom by three codevelopers: Alan Fine, Sir John Whitmore, and Graham Alexander. The original material primarily consisted of the basic GROW model, which is an acronym for the four stages of an effective coaching conversation. The model was the result of the collaborative efforts of all three individuals, each having joint ownership and intellectual property rights to the work.
For all the different versions of the GROW model, the first three letters are the same:
- “G” is the “Goal” in which the managerial coach is helping the coachee (person or team member being coached) to articulate what he or she is seeking to achieve.
- “R” is the “Realities” where the coachee describes his or her current situation in consideration of the context of the challenge to be resolved or decision to be made.
- “O” is the “Options” open to the coachee through a brainstorming process with the managerial coach.
- “W” is where the coachee identifies and selects one or more options explored in the preceding phase and develops an action plan. This phase has been interpreted differently by all three codevelopers of the model. Whitmore defined it as “Will” (Whitmore 2002), Alexander defined it as “Wrap-up” (Alexander and Renshaw 2005), although he also used “Wrap-up/Way forward”—and Fine defined it as “Way Forward” (Fine 2010).
The GROW model is based on “The Inner Game” developed by Tim Gallwey. The Inner Game is a proven method to overcome the self-imposed obstacles that prevent an individual or team from accessing their full potential. The Inner Game takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions (Gallwey 2001).
Whitmore and Alexander brought the Inner Game to Europe, with the blessing of Gallwey after they realized the value of the Inner Game for leaders and managers of organizations. As pioneers of coaching in the workplace, they spent much of the 1980s developing the methodology, concepts, and techniques for performance improvement in organizations. Wanting to make a real difference to people, they showed how it was possible to grow not just in performance but also in learning and enjoyment. Individuals become more aware and more responsible and gained a powerful sense of purpose in their work (Whitmore 2002).
In 1986, the management consulting firm McKinsey became their client. Many of the programs they ran for McKinsey included experiential coaching work on tennis courts. The coaching was so successful at improving performance and unlocking potential that McKinsey asked them to come up with an underpinning framework of coaching—a model on which to hang what was happening on the courts and elsewhere in the programs.
The GROW model is deservedly one of the most established and successful coaching models adopted globally by professional coaches and internal managerial coaches. It is popularized by the late Sir John Whitmore in his best-selling book, Coaching for Performance (Whitmore 2002).
Today, the GROW model is also “one of the tools Google uses to teach [its] managers about coaching conversations” (re:Work with Google 2018).
Utilizing a deceptively simple framework, the GROW model provides a powerful tool to highlight, elicit, and maximize inner potential through a series of sequential coaching conversations. The GROW model is renowned for its success in both problem solving and goal setting, helping to maximize and maintain personal achievement and productivity (Bawany 2015d).
Sir John Whitmore’s GROW model, with the acronym standing for (G)oals, (R)eality, (O)ptions, and (W)ill, highlight the four key steps in the implementation of the GROW model. By working through these four stages, the GROW model raises an individual’s awareness of their aspirations, a greater understanding of their current situation, the possibilities open to them, and the actions they could take to achieve their personal and professional goals. By setting specific, measurable, and achievable goals, and a realistic time frame for their achievement, the GROW model successfully promotes confidence and self-motivation, leading to increased productivity and personal satisfaction.
The implementation of the GROW model, by using carefully structured questions, promotes a deeper awareness and responsibility and encourages proactive behavior, as well as resulting in practical techniques to accomplish goals and overcome obstacles (Bawany 2015d).
The use of continuous and progressive coaching skills support provides the structure, which ultimately helps to unlock an individual’s true potential by increasing confidence and motivation, leading to both short- and long-term benefits.
The GROW model has been seen to yield higher productivity, improved communication, better interpersonal relationships, and a better-quality working environment (Whitmore 2002).
Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximize their performance. It is about raising awareness and responsibility—helping them to learn rather than teaching them. The GROW model is an elegantly simple way of structuring an effective coaching conversation and, as such, has become one of the best-loved models of coaching (Performance Consultants 2018).
For the managerial coach, the key to using GROW successfully is first to spend sufficient time exploring “G” until the coachee sets a goal that is both inspirational and stretching for them, then to move flexibly through the sequence, and revisit the goal if needed. Performance Consultants International, a consulting firm cofounded by Sir John Whitmore, outlined the GROW model as follows (Performance Consultants 2018):
Reference: Sattar Bawany (2023), Leadership in Disruptive Times: Negotiating the New Balance. Business Expert Press (BEP) LLC, New York, NY. Abstract available at: https://www.disruptiveleadership.institute/second-edition-book/