When trying to enhance the performance or behaviour of their staff, many leaders make the mistake of telling people what to do: the message often goes in one ear and out of the other one! People have to take ownership of the need for the change and become committed to putting the effort in to sustain a change in their performance or behaviour.
Your challenge in coaching the people who report to you is to have meaningful conversations with them so that they take ownership of and become committed to making the change and ideally, to managing themselves in achieving and sustaining the improvement.
Some people are fortunate enough to get formal training in coaching. However, many people have to develop this important skill themselves. This may sound daunting but, if you can arm yourself with some proven techniques, practice and trust your instincts, you can become a great coach.
The GROW model is a simple yet powerful framework for structuring your coaching or mentoring sessions. We’ll look at how to apply it.
To grow with, GROW stands for: Goal, Current Reality, Options (or Obstacles), Will (or Way Forward). The model was originally developed in the 1980s by business coaches Graham Alexander, Alan Fine and Sir John Whitmore.
A good way of thinking about the GROW model is to think about how you’d plan a journey. First, you decide where you are going (the goal) and establish where you currently are (your current reality). You then explore various routes (the options) to your destination. In the final step, establishing the will, you ensure that you’re committed to making the journey and are prepared for the obstacles that you could meet on the way.
In its traditional application, the GROW model assumes that the coach is not an expert in the team member’s situation. This means that the coach must act as a facilitator, helping the team member select the best options and not offering advice or direction.
When leaders coach their team members or act as mentors to them, this may or may not apply. On the one hand, it’s more powerful for people to draw conclusions for themselves, rather than having these conclusions thrust upon them.
On the other hand, as a team leader, you’ll often have expert knowledge to offer. Also, it’s your job to guide team members to make decisions that are best for your organisation.
Using the tool
To structure a coaching or mentoring session using the GROW model take the following steps:
1. Establish the goal
First, you and your team member need to look at the behaviour that both of you want to change and then structure this change as a goal. Make sure that this is a SMART goal: one that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound.
When doing this, it’s useful to ask questions like: (a) How will you know that your team member has achieved this goal? (b) How will you know that the problem or issue is solved? (c) Does this goal fit with your team member’s overall career objectives? And does it fit with the team’s objectives?
2. Examine the current reality
Next, ask your team member to describe his current reality.
This is an important step. Too often, people try to solve a problem or reach a goal without fully considering their starting point and often they’re missing some information that they need in order to reach their goal effectively.
As your team member tells you about his current reality, the solution may start to emerge.
Useful coaching questions in this step include the following: What is happening now (what, who, when and how often)? What is the effect or result of this? Has the team member already taken any steps towards his goal? Does this goal conflict with any other goals or objectives?
3. Explore the options
Once you and your team member have explored the current reality, it’s time to determine what is possible – meaning all of the possible options for reaching his objective.
Help your team member brainstorm as many good options as possible. Then, discuss these and help him decide on the best ones.
By all means, offer your own suggestions in this step. But let your team member offer suggestions first and let his do most of the talking. It’s important to guide him in the right direction, without actually making decisions for him.
Typical questions that you can use to explore options are as follows:
What else could you do? What if this or that constraint was removed? Would that change things? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each option? What factors or considerations will you use to weigh the options? What do you need to stop doing in order to achieve this goal? What obstacles stand in your way?
4. Establish the will
By examining the current reality and exploring the options, your team member will now have a good idea of how he can achieve his goal.
That’s great – but in itself, this may not be enough. The final step is to get your team member to commit to specific actions in order to move forward towards his goal. In doing this, you will help him establish his will and boost his motivation.
Useful questions to ask here include:
So, what will you do now and when? What else will you do? What could stop you moving forward? How will you overcome that? How can you keep yourself motivated? When do you need to review progress? Weekly, monthly?
Finally, decide on a date when you’ll both review his progress. This will provide some accountability and allow him to change his approach if the original plan isn’t working.
The two most important skills for a coach are the ability to ask good questions and the ability to listen effectively.
Don’t ask closed questions that call for a yes or no answer (such as “Did that cause a problem?”). Instead, ask open ones, like “What effect did that have?” Be prepared with a list of questions for each stage of the GROW process.
Use active listening skills and let your ‘client’ do most of the talking. Remember that silence provides valuable thinking time: you don’t always have to fill silence with the next question.
Now, let us go through a story.
You’re helping a team member, Jagath, achieve his goals using the GROW model. Jagath says that he would like a promotion to team leader within the next two years. This is a SMART goal – it’s specific, measurable, attainable (as he already has one year of experience and there are several team leader positions in his department), relevant (both to Jagath’s overall career aspirations and the team’s mission) and time-bound.
You and Jagath now look at his current reality. He’s in an entry-level position but he already has some of the skills needed to be team leader. You brainstorm the additional skills that he’ll need in order to be successful in a team leader role: He needs more experience of managing other people and experience dealing with overseas customers. He also needs to continue performing well in his role, so that he’ll be considered for a promotion when one is available.
You both review his options. To get the experience he needs, he could lead a small team on a small project. He could also spend time in the overseas team.
Finally, you establish the will. As his manager, you offer to let him lead a small team on a minor project. If he performs well, he can take on additional projects with more responsibility in the future. Jagath must also approach the overseas team to arrange to spend time in that department and continue performing well in his current role. You agree to review his progress in three months’ time.
(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired corporate director counting three decades of senior management experience. He is now an independent consultant and a freelance journalist. He may be contacted on email@example.com)