Coaching using GROW - focus on the W

In 1992 John Whitmore published the fist edition of 'Coaching for Performance'.  He had been applying coaching in a business support setting for ten years prior to that.  His book has had many reprints and his coaching methodology has for some become one of the definitive ones.  For me he made a stand about coaching as a distinctive intervention, putting paid to assumptions that coaching was 'something everyone was doing anyway' as a matter of course.  This demeans and devalues coaching as it does any skilled practice.  And of course it isn't something people do naturally!

Whitmore showed that coaching is a skill that requires depth of understanding and lots of practice, that is has enormous value and has impact and relevance in today's business world.  Through his practice and writing he sets out the process and practice of coaching.  He says "Coaching focuses on future possibilities, not past mistakes" and includes the building of self belief in a coachee as fundamental, regardless of task, role or issue at hand.  

The GROW model is a mnemonic:

GOAL setting for a session as well as short and long term; REALITY checking to explore the current situation; OPTIONS and alternative strategies for courses of actions and, the WILL to go do (i.e. what is to be done and when).  

GROW is a framework which many start out with when they begin their development as a qualified coach.  It is also taught widely to Managers as it focuses on performance (Whitmore's approach).  As a practitioner and external coach I use a wide range of approaches and GROW is amongst them.  

The "W" - role of the coach

Reaching the "W" in a coaching session means it's decision time.  Time to take action and have some precision.  The backbone of each part of GROW is questioning.  With "W", questioning is essential and the will to act must come from the coachee without addition or suggestion from the coach.  The coach is going to spring loose the will of the coachee.  No imposing of will or steering to what the coach thinks is the "right" course of action.  The choice rests with the coachee.  This increases ownership and the likelihood of action.  When will and action are determined the coaching session is complete.

Asking "W" questions

The key questions to ask are "what are you going to do?" and "when are you going to do it?".  The coach should make sure these actions meet the goal(s) set.  After that, time exploring what might get in the way, support needed, other factors and level of commitment can be done.  A common gauge for commitment is a scaling question (e.g. "on a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you...." etc which can then be explored).  As a practitioner I don't save up scaling questions for "W" alone, as they are useful for lots of situations.  However, helping someone by encouraging them to pin down their commitment to action is important, but again, NOT through any pushing on the part of the coach.  

What if there is no action?

In my early practitioner days I would get concerned when at the next session the coachee would say they hadn't done anything.  My concern was a mix of my personal value about commitment being engaged, for the fact that seemingly "nothing" had happened and my lack of experience in being able to use techniques skillfully for supporting self belief and responsibility.  I suggest, if there is no action:

  1. The responsibility for action always lies with the coachee - the coach should have no desire to control the coachee, rather to build the awareness, responsibility, and critically, self belief.
  2. That's the reality - and a potential starting point for support and coaching onwards, revisiting "W" and the obstacles perhaps.
  3. The coachee is not answerable to the coach for what they do and don't do (it might be in a manager as coach situation there is a performance relationship, of course, and so this is where quality manager coaching will address how directive or non directive this part of a conversation is).
  4. Check that this is entirely true, or is there a resistance or other complications; I have learned that in business "stuff happens", curve balls get in the way and interrupt the best of intentions.
  5. Ask what other successes have there been.
  6. Re-frame.

Example questions for "W"

  • Out of this list of options, which one(s) will get you closest to your goal?
  • What will you do? What action will you take?
  • How will you do xxxx?
  • What might get in the way of you achieving this?
  • What will help you achieve this?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is low and 10 is high, what score do you give yourself for your commitment to carrying this out/for your confidence in achieving this?
  • How will you keep track of progress?
  • Who can support you?
  • Who else needs to know your plan?


There are four potential de-railers for the coach to manage in them-self when they reach "W":

  • rush to closure
  • intolerance of ambiguity
  • quest for certainty
  • telling not asking (it's about them, not you)

It's a Wrap!

The coachee needs to write down their action plan.  Build this activity in at intake and contracting when you start the relationship.  There is no reason for the coach to write anything down. As Whitmore says, ..."the fundamental principles of raising awareness and building responsibility within the (coachee) remain the key to good coaching."

If you are interested in coaching let's start a conversation.  Please get in touch.