It’s not my intention to give full information or an extensive discussion on every theory. This website is intended to be a starting point and the main difference with other websites is the visual representation of the theory, which I hope will help get to grips with the theory. There are also links it the bottom to get your further research started.

The GROW model

Sir John Whitmore (1992)

Definition

The GROW model is a tool for goal setting that’s, at a distance, reminiscent of other models such as DOTS. Just like DOTS, GROW is an acronym that stands for:

  • G – Goal – what does the client want to achieve?
  • R – Reality – where is the client in relation to their goal?
  • O – Options – extensive exploration of all the options in a client centred way so the client takes ownership of these options.
  • W – Will or Wrap up, or Way forward (there is some discussion about which is correct and which of these isn’t!) – how can the client commit to the action they agreed on and what help do they have to achieve them?

This is however, a linear and static representation of the GROW model. As we will see below, it isn’t really used like that. Or in other words, it’s not a linear model but a circular process model that can feed back on itself.

Context

For most of us who have been trained and educated in career guidance, a lot of this will sound familiar.

  • In goal we can see the contracting stage
    • Establishing the Foundations stage in the SDS model
    • Seeking engagement from the client – is the client ready and willing?
    • What does the client want to talk about and what can and can’t be done in today’s intervention.
    • What will the objective be or what does the client want to aim for?
    • How are we going to achieve this? – including confidentiality, how to work together, managing expectations etc…
  • Reality explored where the client is right now.
    • The Establishing Needs stage in the SDS model
    • Knowledge about ‘Self’.
    • Exploring the context and the story.
    • Are there any obstacles?
    • Gaining insight into the client’s needs.
  • Options
    • Second part of the Establishing Needs stage in the SDS model
    • Knowledge about ‘Opportunities’
    • Similar to the Opportunities stage in DOTS and other models.
    • Where are the opportunities and ‘what can be done?’
    • Client centred work to enhance the client’s ownership.
    • Managing the selection process together with the client as only decision maker.
  • Will/Wrap up/Way forward
    • Addressing Needs stage in the SDS model
    • Taking stock of what has been achieved.
    • The Transitions and Decisions stage in DOTS.

So you see from my interpretation that a lot of the GROW model is familiar but it doesn’t quite fit other models like a glove. In my view, a lot of other models take the GROW model and build detail into it. Just like the DOTS model, it’s a model for a ‘broad strokes’ overview rather than detailed work. It provides a broad structure. For experienced career professionals this may be all that is needed, but for those who are trying to get to grips with career guidance and career coaching, more detail may be needed.

Some guidance organisations may also use the GROW model as a basis or foundation for their own approach or their own interpretation of career guidance and coaching.

Graphic

This is representation of the GROW model as used in practice, as a process with individual steps to go through. You can probably notice that it can be interpreted in a similar way to some other models, though the content is a bit different. The first thing that springs to mind when looking at the model in this way is DOTS. In one interpretation of DOTS it’s seen in the same way, as a series of steps to go through (SODiT). On the other hand, Law himself argued that DOTS doesn’t need to be approached as a process that way and that each of the four elements of DOTS can be approached individually or in an order relevant to the client’s needs (Julia Yates, Bill Law, 2013, 21:27). Apart from DOTS, the GROW model is also reminiscent of all the other ‘process’ or ‘flow’ models used in interventions, as mentioned above. Even to some extent Prochaska and DiClemente’s Stages of change model, but that requires some brain gymnastics.

Tools

Using GROW as a tool doesn’t need a lot of explanation and there are ample examples and texts out there exploring this, so I don’t want to go too far into this. I do want to point out that:

  • What are the limitations of GROW with this client? It’s important to realise the limitations of this model. It’s a very broad model and offers a structure as to how you can conduct a coaching intervention to make it useful and productive. It doesn’t offer a lot of the detailed view that is often needed to coach and support clients.
  • Is it appropriate? The GROW model is so ubiquitous it seems that there is a danger that this becomes our ‘go to’ model in any case. I’ve seen this in some organisations where they desperately cling to one model for which there is evidence that it works. Rather than blindly following its hallowed example, it’s more important to ask yourself ‘does/will it work with this client’ and to then make a decision accordingly of what approach to take. In assessing how we can help the client we need to be conscious of the ubiquitous nature of GROW and apply it as and when it’s appropriate, while having the flexibility to apply other models when needed. Sometimes a client can be completely unaware or unclear in what they want to achieve and benefit most from an exploration first, which makes a methodology for instance linked to ACT/Acceptance and Commitment Theory more appropriate. Having said all this, GROW has a very broad basis and can (but doesn’t have to!) be applied with many clients, nor does it have to be applied in full during each intervention.

 

Genetics

GROW was influenced by the Inner game method (W. Timothy Gallwey, 1974) which preceded it by a number of years.

GROW has been influential in the coaching world for a long time, less so in career guidance circles, which, I have a feeling, only relatively recently got closer to coaching. In fact, this now seems to be a trend, and in my view quite rightly so for a number of diverse reasons.

The GROW model has been the basis, consciously or not, of many other models later on. One example is the WOOP model. As far as acronyms go, you can’t make it up, can you? But someone clearly has!

It’s also not difficult to see some similarities with even the Stages of Change model and as I mentioned before, the DOTS model to some extent.

 

Critique

The GROW model is very much akin to other models that try to improve employee performance and productivity. This has different connotations in sport but within the work context, this can vaguely remind oneself of Fordism and Taylorism, even though GROW is very different of course. I mention this because it’s important to remember that GROW isn’t just a career coaching tool but is more widely adopted by a wide range of people, essentially also as a management tool. There are many examples by Whitmore himself, evidenced by ‘Coaching for Performance’, in which chapter 2 is named ‘Creating High Performance Cultures’. This illustrates why it’s important to bring this up. Many of the clients we see have very different personalities and priorities. They may be in situations that are quite sensitive and may feel vulnerable, for instance after being made redundant. They may also have other priorities in life and different people have different concepts of what ‘high performance’ actually means (for them).

In addition to that, if the client has been part of a company or organisation striving for ‘high performance’ in ways which were less than helpful, then the client may be traumatised or think negatively about being coached using the same method (but hopefully in a very different and more client centred way!).  Indeed, the mismatch between the client and/or their lack of ability to ‘perform highly’ to the standard and the way the company expected may be the reason why they left, want to leave, or were/are being made redundant.

Equally, managers may have had experience of this model, which will colour how they see this will work for them in a career coaching context. This may be positive or negative, but will almost invariably be in the context of ‘managing people’, which is the opposite of what we want to achieve in a career coaching or career guidance context.

To me, the bottom line to all this needs to be that this model needs to be applied with tact and caution in those circumstances; and it’s best to leave it ‘unnamed’ during the intervention. The client doesn’t need to know the explicit mechanics of how we work with them, arguably. They don’t take any message away from knowing we’re using GROW or the Cormier and Hackney model to help them. They just need to know that we can help them and they need to see they are moving forward. From my own experience, models like GROW can only be the scaffolding on which we hang other techniques and applied theories to support and coach the client.

Underlying all of this is the concept and definition of coach. ‘Coach’ is a very broad term that is used from sport to business to careers. Whitmore himself defines ‘coach’ in relation to his work, as something which may not be in line what we do as career coaches. He describes a coach as “people who deliver formal coaching sessions to people in organizations, commonly called 1:1 coaching or executive coaching.” (Whitmore, 2017)

What do you think?

  • Have you tried to use GROW with a variety of clients? How did it work out each time?
  • What did you feel are the limitations and strengths of this model?
  • How does it rate according to Brown?
  • Which clients would you not be able to use it with?
  • Would it be a useful model for all age groups? If not, why not?
  • The model is deemed to be good with problem solving and goal setting. Can you give possible examples in your practice when this doesn’t apply? Which techniques/theories/methods could you apply instead or in addition of?

 

Useful Links

References

  • Julia Yates (2013) Bill Law [Online video] available at: https://youtu.be/CUW8V7Jupns [Accessed 12/03/2022]
  • Whitmore, J., 2017. Coaching for Performance. 5th Edition ed. London: NIcholas Brealy Publishing.

Useful Links and references

Critique:

Videos:

Some examples of the different uses of GROW (see my critique for why this is useful):