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A Framework for Development Conversations

Managers can use this well-known coaching model to facilitate one-on-one development conversations with team members.

Having opportunities for growth has been identified as a key essential for workplace well-being by the US Surgeon General . In addition, a study by Gallup found that a manager's ability to develop others is an important core competency for leading successful, high-performing teams. The study also revealed that employees want their managers to be more of a coach than a boss. Why is this is the case?

Research shows that when managers integrate coaching skills into to their leadership approach it helps employees foster their own resourcefulness and creativity and contributes to an increase in motivation and engagement. It also helps to increase one's self-confidence since leaders who apply a coaching style draw attention to a person's strengths and provide opportunities for them to showcase these strengths in front of others.

Leaders can begin to build their coaching skills by using coaching models and frameworks in their interactions with others. In this article, we will show you how a commonly used coaching model can be applied to development conversations.

The GROW coaching model

A well-known coaching framework developed by John Whitmore is an excellent tool that managers can use to initiate and facilitate one-on-one development conversations. It is called the GROW model which stands for Goal, Reality, Options and Way Forward. Here is what each step involves:

  • Goal: Help them identify what they want to achieve. Working with them to articulate the goal also helps them gain clarity on what they want to accomplish.

  • Reality: Explore their current reality with them by naming the obstacles and acknowledging the current situation.

  • Options: Help them tap into their own resourcefulness and creativity by brainstorming options with them.

  • Way Forward: Challenge them to commit to an action/next step and agree on what the follow-up will look like (what, when, by whom).

The goal is to use powerful coaching questions to coach employees through these four steps and towards a meaningful action item.

Examples of GROW coaching questions

Asking good questions versus telling someone what to do, is at the core of effective coaching. Here are some examples of powerful questions you can use while facilitating development conversations using the GROW model:


  • What new skills do you want to learn or develop?

  • What challenges are you facing at the moment?

  • What would you like to be different for yourself?

  • What would successfully reaching this goal look like?


  • What have you already done to work towards this goal?

  • What do you feel you need to achieve this goal?

  • What is the biggest obstacle getting in your way?

  • What is your inner critic saying to you?


  • What strengths can you draw on to help you make progress towards this goal?

  • What advice would you give someone if they came to you with the same goal/challenge?

  • What do you see as the first step towards accomplishing this goal?

  • Who could you ask for help?

Way Forward

  • What next step would you like to commit to?

  • Which option feels like the best choice?

  • How do you want to be held accountable for this goal?

  • How committed are you to achieving this goal on a scale of 1-10? (If the number is low, it may not be the right goal for them).

An Example Conversation Using the Grow Model

Below is an example of a manager having a one-on-one development conversation with a direct report named Jamie, using the GROW model.


Manager: Jamie, as we talk about your development, what is one new skill you would like to learn or develop?

Jamie: I would really like to improve my presentation skills.

Manager: Thank you for sharing. In your mind, what would successfully improving your presentation skills look like?

Jamie: I would feel more relaxed and wouldn't be so nervous. I would appear confident to others.


Manager: Okay, what I'm hearing is that you want to find ways to relax yourself and calm your nerves when presenting which would help you appear more confident. Did I get that right?

Jamie: Yes, I am so nervous about messing up or getting asked a question I don't know the answer to. My nerves take over and I sometimes lose my thought or freeze up.

Manager: It sounds like your inner critic is telling you that you can't mess up and that you have to know the answer to every question that may arise. What else is it telling you?

Jamie: Yes, I definitely hear my inner critic when I have a presentation. It says things like, "you can't make a mistake or they won't trust you to run projects in the future". It also says, "you are not qualified enough to present on this topic, others probably know more than you do."

Manager: Hmm, perhaps this is an area to explore.


Manager: Is there anything that you have tried already to help you improve your presentation skills?

Jamie: I have been trying to pay attention to others that I think are good presenters, but I still feel nervous.

Manager: Identifying good examples is a great start. What if you spoke with some of them to find out what helps them to present confidently?

Jamie: I like that idea. Also, since you brought up the inner critic. Maybe it would be good to work on that too.

Manager: That is a great idea. How would you do that?

Jamie: Maybe I can write down different things to tell myself or different ways to look at the situation. Or even ask others what they think about when they are presenting.

Manager: Good, now you have two options. Can you think of a third one?

Jamie: I can try to find videos or podcasts on improving presentation skills.

Manager: Another great option.

Way Forward

Manager: Now that you've identified three options, which option feels like the best choice for you right now?

Jamie: I like all three options, but I think I will start with the first option- talking to others that I feel are great presenters and asking them for some tips and advice. I think that also might help to calm my inner critic by learning what they do to feel more confident when presenting.

Manager: That sounds like a great next step. When would you like to commit to having these conversations by?

Jamie: I will plan on reaching out to them this week with the goal of meeting with them sometime this month.

Manager: Great. Can you send me a note next week to let me know if you were able to set up these conversations?

Jamie: Sure, sounds good.

When it comes to coaching conversations, there are several paths one can take. In this example, the manager could have decided to explore the inner critic topic more or dig deeper into their current mindsets around presenting. However, the manager decided to move into discussing options instead, which depending on their level of coaching skill, may have been the best direction to go in. There is no perfect formula. What's important is to stay connected to the other person during the conversation and to ask questions that will move them forward towards an action.

In conclusion, by applying this simple coaching framework, managers can develop their coaching skills as a leader and improve their effectiveness when it comes to developing others.

It is our goal at the Institute of Positive Leadership to help leaders develop coaching skills and improve their ability to produce positive outcomes. We are interested in learning more about your organization and which leadership skills you feel are most important to help meet your goals. Please reach out at You can also sign up for our newsletter and follow us on LinkedIn.


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