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March 24, 2015

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The GROW model of coaching

Coaches study models of coaching, tools to help them facilitate a coaching conversation and deploy their coaching skills. For coaches, models are like maps. As students, they have the map close at hand and refer to it often. As they become more experienced their dependence on the map reduces until they’re not conscious of having a map at all.

The most famous model and the one most students are introduced to first, is the GROW model which is normally attributed to Sir John Whitmore. GROW is an acronym which describes the stages of a coaching conversation as follows:

Goal: the goal for this conversation, what is it you want to achieve;

Reality: the background, what’s going on here, who, what, where etc.

Options: what could take this forward, what’s possible?

Wrap-up: the agreement, what are we committed to doing and when?


Coaches talk about nailing the goal. This means agreeing a clear goal for the conversation that can be achieved within the duration of the conversation. Whatever happens at the beginning by way of preliminary chit-chat, and regardless of the opening questions the coach might ask in order to gain an initial understanding of the topic to be discussed, it is the responsibility of the coach to obtain a well-defined goal for the conversation.

Usually, the coach asks something like “so what is your goal for this conversation?” or “what is it you’d like to achieve in the time we have today?” The coach then nails the goal by checking for understanding and ensuring there is clarity and agreement.

In pure coaching, the goal is always the coachee’s goal. In coaching for safety, there are times when the coach defines the goal, for example:

  1. a practitioner approaches a machine operator who isn’t wearing hearing protection in a noise hazard area and nails the goal by saying “I’m concerned that your hearing is being damaged by this noise and want to discuss how best to protect you;” or
  2. a practitioner is concerned about work being carried out at height and approaches the supervisor saying “I’m concerned by the risk here and         want explore what we can do to protect people better.”


This is the section of the conversation in which the coach is trying to discover as much as he or she can about what is going on. It is a section driven by the coach’s curiosity and it is rich with questioning. Open questions are the order of the day.

If the coach were trying to solve the problem, he/she would be curious for as much information and data related to the problem as possible. But the objective for the coach isn’t to solve the problem; it’s to support the coachee in solving the problem which is subtly different. Consequently, the coach’s curiosity is focused in a different place.

Consider the example of a supervisor who asks for support regarding the use of a hazardous substance. Clearly the safety practitioner is interested in the substance and what the Material Safety Data Sheet says and all of the other relevant factors pertinent to the COSHH assessment.

But a practitioner who is a coach, is interested first and foremost in supporting the supervisor to find the best, most practicable solution for themselves. This means being curious about their knowledge and understanding of how to obtain and analyse the information required, the operational constraints and the implications for him/her of the recommended protective measures, etc. The coach’s curiosity is focused mainly on the supervisor and the operation, rather than the substance.

The sorts of questions the practitioner who is a coach might ask in this situation are:

  • what do you know about the substance?
  • where could you find more information?
  • what’s the information telling you?
  • how does this translate to your situation?
  • what are the implications for you of this information?

This isn’t to suggest that there is no obligation on the practitioner with regard to legal compliance and standards, after all, this is the greater knowledge and understanding the practitioner brings to the exercise. A practitioner who is a coach however, feels a similar obligation with regard to the supervisor and their development and this sort of questioning, which focuses on the supervisor and the operation, supports the supervisor’s exploration and assessment.


In this section of the conversation the coach is trying to support the coachee’s examination of the issue and their exploration of potential solutions. The objective for the coach is to pull ideas, suggestions and plans from the coachee. Again, the coach’s curiosity is focused mainly on the supervisor and the operation.

The sorts of questions the practitioner who is a coach might ask in this situation are:

  • what could you do to remove this hazard?
  • how would that work?
  • what could you do to keep people away from this hazard?
  • have you dealt with a situation similar to this before? What did you do then?
  • are you aware of anyone else with the same problem? How have they dealt with it?
  • what would the implications of that be?
  • how do you feel about that idea?

Safety practitioners are valued for their technical knowledge and understanding and for their experience of how similar problems have been solved in the past, perhaps by other organisations. A fundamental part of the practitioner’s role is to advise and assist and so it is entirely correct that practitioners should share their knowledge and experience in support of duty-holders. Volunteering ideas and experiences for the coachee to consider is being supportive. Trying to persuade a coachee to adopt an idea which the coachee has reservations about and is reluctant to adopt is not only being directive it is self-defeating as the idea is unlikely to be sustainable in the long term.


Wrapping-up is about achieving a commitment from the coachee and agreeing which of the options that have been discussed they are going to take forward. Coaches often use the technique of scaling to measure how committed a coachee is to a particular option and to try and leverage additional commitment.

For example, a coach might say “On a scale of 1-10, how happy do you feel about going to the board to have this discussion?” If the coachee replied that they felt they were 8 out of 10, the coach might ask what would need to happen for them to be a 9.

The iterative nature of GROW gives it the appearance of a step-by-step process when in practice, a coach may drift naturally between the different stages so that an uninitiated coachee may be unaware of the conversations form. The simplicity of GROW belies its power to energise conversations and for many, it is the only coaching model they ever learn and they are transformed by it.

Michael EmeryMichael Emery is owner and director of Securus Health & Safety Limited, a Lancashire-based consultancy. He’s managed health and safety for several leading organisations, household names at home and abroad, and he is a qualified Executive Coach accredited with the Academy of Executive Coaching (AoEC). Michael is the designer and sole-provider of the unique IOSH Approved Coaching for safety programme.

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