Let me save you a bit of time and tell you it’s the GROW model, hands down…every time. Keep reading and I’ll tell you why.
I am not a coach. I’m not an executive coach. I’m not a life coach. I’m not even a little-league coach. My expertise is in leadership development and organizational culture. My veer into coaching originated from a chorus of clients trying to create a coaching culture at their organizations, starting with their leaders.
Right now, this makes a lot of sense. This year (2017), the oldest millennial is 35 (give or take, depending on whose generational breakdown you use). This means that organizations are experiencing a shift in which millennials are moving into more managerial roles. Until now, we mostly concerned ourselves with best practices to motivate millennials as individual contributors. Going forward, we must find a way to transfer knowledge about leadership and strategy skills.
Enter coaching, front and center.
Coaching is about empowerment. It helps the person being coached realize they already have the answers to most of the problems they are facing, and with a little reframing, the solutions become clear. This is perfect for millennials.
While most people desire autonomy, millennials expect it. This makes sense, because they want their work to give them a direct sense of purpose and growth they have control of. (Yes, I am a millennial. Yes, that sentence ends in a preposition. No, I don’t care. That’s how I want it. Respect my autonomy!) Coaching feeds autonomy because the goal and sub-goal is now the coachee’s goal…and it was their goal the whole time…wasn’t it?
Other generations may label this as spoiled or not willing to pay their dues. Be that as it may, we still need to transfer knowledge from one generation to another. Another benefit of coaching is that it helps the older generation still feel in charge because they are the ones reframing things as coaches. Boomers enjoy the relationship orientation associated with coaching, while GenXers enjoy the creativity and fun in it, if you stress the long-term gains for the short-term time investment.
Why is using a model so important? I’m glad you asked.
Trying to shift an entire organization into a new culture is no easy undertaking. If you stumbled upon this article because you have an interest in coaching your team as their leader, then most of the work is already done and your employees will be better off for it. If you’re a CHRO or another human capital employee trying to convince your leaders they should change their ways, you have a much more difficult path ahead.
One of the benefits of having a model is that it creates a neurological schema that is easy to follow, like a mental shortcut. If I find myself in a coaching situation, I need only conjure up an acronym to remind me of the steps I should be taking to boost my efficacy. I can coach!
A model also assures coaching is being done thoroughly and successfully. It is difficult to think about the model and leave parts of the acronym off. GROW, CLEAR, and FUEL are intuitive and make sense for coaching.
Lastly, it creates a vocabulary, which is useful for accountability. As leaders of leaders buy-in and begin coaching, they can hear the model in their subordinates who lead others. They can also use the model in parallel process to encourage the use of coaching in general.
Which model should we use? Oh my, you are full of good questions today!
I won’t get into the step by step differences in the models. (Fun fact: The impetus of writing this article was my research on the differences between the models, in which article after article simply compared the acronym letter by letter and nothing else). Suffice it to say, if you Google “coaching models” the three main models you will will discover are the GROW, CLEAR, and FUEL models:
- GROW: Goal, Reality, Options, Will/Way Forward
- CLEAR: Contract, Listen, Explore, Action, Review
- FUEL: Frame, Understand, Explore, Lay
Instead of thinking about these three models from a master coach perspective, think about them from a manufacturing, engineering, marketing, or finance manager point of view. Who is that front-line manager? Who is the first rung of leaders over your individual contributors in your industry or for your support staff? In changing the culture, the model must work for all of them.
The easiest one to rule out is CLEAR. I have a couple of different issues with CLEAR, but the deal breaker is that these models are step-by-step guides, and while you may go back and forth between steps, which aren’t entirely linear, the CLEAR model suggests you should be listening 20% of the time, which the manufacturing manager is going to love just a little too much. In any coaching model where listening is a step, it detracts from the overarching theme of listening, and that’s just asking for trouble.
The GROW and FUEL models are similar from a give-it-to-a-leader-who-has-never-heard-of-coaching-before perspective. Coaches note that the big difference is that in the GROW model, the “desired state” is discussed immediately as the “Goal”, whereas in the FUEL model, the “desired state” is discussed third in the “explore” stage after we have framed the conversation and understood what the current state is.
FUELers are quick to point out that having the desire state come after understanding the current state helps reduce the chance of coming up with misdirected goals. I do not quite understand this argument because the reverse then, chatting about irrelevant current issues, seems just as likely to happen if they are not in direct regards to the established goal. Either way, if you read either of these models as purely one-way streets, you’re doing it wrong.
In comparing GROW and FUEL from the culture-change and leader-development perspective, it makes a huge difference that the GROW model is a list of nouns and the FUEL model is a list of verbs. This may seem overly simplified, but when we get a step-by-step model that is a list of verbs, we tend to take more ownership for doing those steps ourselves. It is easier to see the GROW model as a coachee-led process or a shared process. At worst, the FUEL model leads the model holder with action items that may confuse them into thinking they need to frame the conversation. Arguably this would be true and just might strengthen their ownership moving forward. Understand the current state, explore the desired state, and then layout a success plan for the coachee. I can see a strong argument for the FUEL model for seasoned coaches to use themselves, but the GROW model stands out as the best model to use at the organizational level.
We can just implement this model and be done with it, right? Dang it, you were doing so well!
Committing to coaching and to this model means more than hanging a poster with the GROW model coming out of a tree on random back wall somewhere. Leaders are already crippled by their bad habits of taking-over, micromanaging, and delegating. “Out of sight, out of mind.” The first step in getting leaders to want to coach is to actively show them that their habits are less effective than coaching is. Ultimately you must make the pain of changing hurt less than the pain of not changing.
At DX-Learning Solutions we heard a cadre of clients who wanted to bring coaching into their organization’s culture so we created a 3-hour “habit breaker” workshop that demonstrates to leaders the benefits of using coaching over traditional management…and we did it with toy magnets, which is a lot of fun. You can’t tell a leader that they suck at a skill, you must show them. They need to fail on their own to learn. After the workshop, leaders reported wanting to develop their coaching skills so we created a competitive, 8-week follow up game that sends notifications to their phones or email that teaches and challenges them in new coaching skills as they rack up points and go head-to-head with their colleagues.
While we have adapted different versions for those who insist on using either the FUEL or CLEAR model, we strongly encourage the use of the GROW model because it has been the most useful to our leaders who have participated in our “Magnetic Coaching” workshops. As more leaders go through the different model variations, we will collect more empirical data, but I am in no rush to get the data as I prefer companies use the model that works best for their leaders. To that end, I will continue to recommend the GROW model for non-coaches to use in managerial coaching.
Dustin Johnson is Chief Learning Architect at DX-Learning Solutions and Adjunct Professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Illinois Institute of Technology, DeVry University, and National Louis University. Dustin works in Leadership Development, Training and Organizational Culture. He teaches Business, Psychology, Business Psychology, and Statistics. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any of the organizations with which he is affiliated. To get in touch with Dustin feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org