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Coaching Models: FUEL and GROW

8 October 2013

Srinath Ramakrishnan
Renatus Consultants

The concept of coaching originated in sport -- though historically the evolution of coaching has been influenced by many other fields of study, including those of personal development, adult education, psychology (sports, clinical, developmental, organizational, social, and industrial), and other organizational or leadership theories and practices.

John Whitmore defines coaching as "unlocking people's potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them learn rather than teaching them." The underlying intent of every coaching interaction is to build awareness, responsibility, and self-belief in the mind of the coachee.

Coaching models

A coaching model is a framework; it does not tell you how to coach but, rather, it's the underlying structure that you can use when you're coaching someone. It's like having a high-level strategy that allows you to "see the battlefield," therefore increasing your ability to respond adequately to whatever situation you're faced with.

Two popular coaching models are the FUEL model and the GROW model. The FUEL model finds mention in the book The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow, by John H. Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett. John Whitmore popularized the GROW model in Coaching for Performance: GROWing Human Potential and Purpose -- The Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership.
Let's take a brief look at both these models.

FUEL model

The four steps in the FUEL model are:
  1. Frame the conversation -- Set the context for conversation by agreeing on purpose, process, and desired outcomes of the discussion.
  2. Understand the current state -- Explore the current state from the coachee's point of view, expanding his or her awareness of the situation to determine the real coaching issue.
  3. Explore the desired state -- Articulate the vision of success and explore multiple alternative paths before prioritizing methods of achieving this vision.
  4. Lay out a success plan -- Identify the specific, time-bound action steps to be taken to achieve the desired results, and determine milestones for follow-up and accountability.

Frame the conversation. Framing the conversation ensures that the coach and the coachee agree to be in the same conversation and makes explicit what the conversation is about. It is important to remember that the coach owns the process, whereas the coachee owns the content of the conversation.
  • Identify the behavior or issue to discuss.
    • I'd like to talk about this issue . . . [if the coach initiates the conversation]
    • What is the most important thing for us to focus on? [if the coachee initiates the conversation]
  • Determine the purpose or outcomes of the conversation.
    • By the end of conversation, I would like to accomplish . . .
    • What else would you like to make sure that we address?
  • Agree on the process for the conversation
    • Here's how I thought we could proceed . . .
    • How does that sound?
Understand the current state. As the coach begins to understand the current state, he needs to maintain a curious mind-set. As a coach, you play two key roles during this stage of the conversation: acting as a mirror and being a great exploration guide. Asking open-ended, nonleading questions allows greater insight and clarity to both the coach and the coachee. It is important to understand that people will not change until they feel a need to change. The coach needs to offer his or her perspective only when it adds to the conversation and creates greater awareness for the coachee.
  • Understand the coachee's point of view.
    • How do you see this situation?
    • What is happening?
    • What is working well?
    • What makes this challenging?
    • How might you have contributed to this situation?
    • How might others see this situation?
  • Determine the consequences of continuing on the current path.
    • What impact is this having on you? On others?
    • What are the consequences if the situation does not change?
    • How does this influence your goals and what you are trying to accomplish?
    • What are the long-term implications?
  • Offer your perspective.
    • Could I share some observations I made?
    • Could I offer some other consequences to consider?
Explore the desired state. It is of utmost importance that the coach does not rush the coachee into problem solving -- it needs to be slow and deliberate to create the ideal vision and generate alternatives for achieving the vision. The coach must negotiate and influence as to what would form part of the minimum measures of success. If the coachee gets stuck, the coach should step to his or her side and become a brainstorming partner.
  • Understand the vision for success.
    • What would you like to see happen here?
    • What would your ideal state look like?
  • Set goals and performance expectations.
    • What are your goals? What would you like to accomplish?
    • Here's how I see it . . .
  • Explore alternative paths of action.
    • What might be some approaches you can take?
    • What else might work?
    • Could I offer a couple of thoughts? You might want to consider . . .
  • Explore possible barriers.
    • What are the major barriers preventing this change from happening?
    • Where would the biggest resistance to this change come from?
Lay out a success plan. In the last step, the coachee needs to articulate specific action steps to gain clarity as to what needs to happen next. This will provide the coachee with a clear vision on the goal to be achieved. The coach assigns timelines to the action points for follow-up and accountability. The coach finds creative ways to support the coachee in achieving his goals.
  • Develop and agree on an action plan and timeliness.
    • What specific actions will help you achieve your goal?
    • What will your first step be?
    • Who can help hold you accountable?
    • How long will you stay focused on your goals and plans?
  • Enlist support from others.
    • Who can support you in moving forward?
    • How can I support you?
  • Set milestones for follow-up and accountability.
    • Let's review the plan.
    • When should we touch base on this again?

GROW model

The GROW Model is a simple yet powerful framework for structuring your coaching or mentoring sessions. GROW stands for Goal, Current Reality, Options, and Will or way forward. A good analogy about the GROW model is to think how you would plan a journey. You initially decide where you are going (goal); understand where you currently are (current reality); explore various routes to your destination (options); and finally proceed on the journey (will), successfully overcoming any obstacles you may have along the way.
Like most coaching models, the GROW model assumes that the coach is not an expert in the client's situation. He only acts as a facilitator, offering advice and helping the client choose the best option of his own volition.
Establish the goal. First, the coach and the coachee need to look at the behavior that they want to change and then structure this change as a goal  to achieve.
With respect to setting goals, it is important to distinguish between end goals and performance goals. An end goal is the final objective -- become the market leader, be appointed a sales director, win the gold medal, etc. -- which is seldom within your control. A performance goal identifies the performance level that will provide a good chance of achieving the end goal. The performance goal is largely within one's control and generally provides a means of measuring progress. Examples could include "95 percent of production to pass quality control the first time," "Reduce weight by ten pounds by December 2013," etc. An end goal should, wherever possible, be supported by a performance goal. The end goal may provide the inspiration, but the performance goal defines the specification.
Besides supporting an end goal with a performance goal, goals need not only be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time-bound) but PURE (Positively stated, Understood, Relevant, Ethical) and CLEAR (Challenging, Legal, Environmentally sound, Appropriate, Recorded).
When doing this, it's useful to ask questions like:
  • How will you know that you have achieved the goal? How will you know that the problem or issue is solved?
  • Does this goal fit with your overall career objectives? And does it fit with the team's objectives?
Examine the current reality. The coachee is asked to describe his or her current reality. Too often, people try to solve a problem or reach a goal without fully considering their starting point, and often they are missing some information that they need in order to reach their goal effectively. It is in the reality phase that the questions should most often be initiated by the interrogatives "what," "when," "where," "who," and "how much." How and why should be used only sparingly or when no other phrase will suffice. The reality answers should be descriptive, not judgmental, to ensure honesty and accuracy. The answers must be of sufficient quality and frequency to provide the coach with a feedback loop.
Questions include:
  • What is happening now (what, who, when, and how often)? What is the effect or result of this?
  • Have you already taken any steps toward your goal?
  • Does this goal conflict with any other goals or objectives?
Explore the options. The purpose of this stage is not to find the "right" answer but to create and list as many alternative courses of action as possible. The quantity of options is more important at this stage than the quality or feasibility of the options. It is from this broad range of creative possibilities that specific action steps will be selected. The coach would need to create an environment in which the participants feel safe enough to express their thoughts and ideas without inhibition or fear of judgment from the coach or others. Once a comprehensive list is prepared, the Will phase of coaching may be simple, selecting the best from the list. However, in certain complex cases, it may be necessary to reexamine the list by noting the costs and benefits of each course of action.
Typical questions include
  • What else could you do?
  • What if this or that constraint were 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?
Establish the will. The purpose of the final phase of the coaching sequence is to convert the discussion into a decision.
Useful questions to ask here include:
  • So what will you do now, and when? What else will you do?
  • Will this action meet your goal?
  • What could stop you moving forward? How will you overcome this?
  • How can you keep yourself motivated?
  • What support do you need?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, what is the degree of certainty you have that you will carry out the actions agreed?
  • When do you need to review progress? Daily, weekly, monthly?
Finally, decide on a date when you'll both review the coachee's progress. This will provide some accountability and allow for a change in approach if the original plan isn't working.


There are many other coaching models available as well, including SUCCESS, CREATE, STEPPA, WHAT, etc. However, most coaching models have a few characteristics in common:
  • The establishment of a relationship that's built on trust, open communication, and confidentiality.
  • The formulation of client-based, agreed-upon goals and expectations.
  • A deep questioning and learning dynamic in relation to people's goals.
One's approach to coaching finally boils down to a process, a model of how you do things and get results. One need not be an expert in all coaching approaches, but as long as the model helps clients achieve their goals, the coach has achieved his objectives.
  1. Whitmore, John. Coaching for Performance: GROWing Human Potential and Purpose.
  2. Zenger, John and Kathleen Stinnett. The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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