Organisational Growth Mindset

Last year I suggested that the established concept of “Fixed and Growth Mindsets” for individuals could be applied to organisations as well.

This theme has been picked up by Stanford University’s Dr. Carol Dweck, the original creator of the Fixed Mindset concept.  In this month’s Harvard Business Review she discusses her ongoing research in to Organisational Mindset.

The results to date are compelling:

Companies with a “Growth Mindset” have employees who are:

  • 49% more likely to say that their company fosters innovation
  • 65% more likely to say that their company supports risk taking
  • 34% more likely to feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment to their company.

So exactly what is a Growth Mindset and how do we encourage it?

 What is a Growth Mindset?

Many people believe that each of us has a fixed amount of Intelligence and Ability and although we can learn new things we can’t really change how bright or capable we are. This is a Fixed Mindset (believing Intelligence to be Fixed.)

It is perhaps not surprising that this is a common view when we have so many well know measures in life such as the IQ Test, SATs and Personality Profiles all of which would appear to validate a Fixed mindset.

However, if we take a closer look Alfred Binet designed the IQ test to measure the performance of French Schools on the assumption that better schooling would quickly show with improved IQ scores for the children. We coach our children specifically to do better at the 11+ and SATs and the evidence for Personality Profiles being consistent over time is thin at best.

By contrast a person with a Growth Mindset believes that they can improve whatever they are doing if they want to. They will not be thrown by bad results and will take every bit of failure as a chance to learn, grow and improve.

Naturally these things aren’t absolutes and very few of us are purely Fixed Mindset or purely Growth. However, the more success we had early on in life, the more we were probably told how good we were and the more likely we are now to be predominantly Fixed Mindset.

This can be a problem, because when we are in Fixed Mindset mode, if we fail to meet our own high standards, then we are likely to feel that we have done so because we’re not as bright or as talented as we first thought. Our whole identity comes under question. Sometimes this produces a positive impact and we redouble our efforts to succeed, but more often than not we quietly drop the project we are “failing” on and move back to focus on an area where we can clearly excel.

We miss opportunities to grow, and our potential sphere of influence shrinks a little. From an organisational point of view the risk is that change programs stall and we fail to adapt to market changes as quickly as our competitors.

Further, a Fixed Mindset can produce a culture where a few anointed stars are richly rewarded, demotivating much of the workforce and bringing down performance with it. Often the Performance Review Process accentuates this making a Fixed Mindset part of the System.

 How do we encourage a Growth Mindset?

Here are seven practical steps to encourage a Growth Mindset throughout your Organisation:

  1. Education.

Mindset is still not a widely publicised concept. In my experience, most people quickly relate to the Fixed Mindset either in themselves or in those around them and introducing the concept will have a significant impact in its own right.

  1. Reframe your meetings.

Meetings often degenerate in to a battle with colleagues locking horns to win their argument. Winning is all-important when you have a Fixed Mindset as losing brings in to question your whole identity. But meetings should be about reaching the best outcomes possible. Keep re-focusing on this and gently remind participants that meetings should be collaborative rather than adversarial.

  1. Avoid a blame culture.

If individuals know they are going to get criticized when things go wrong then they will avoid doing anything above and beyond the basics. If you want a workforce which cares about what they do and goes the extra mile then you have to accept that mistakes will happen. Treat problems as a chance to sit down with staff and learn. Show a Growth Mindset in action.

  1. Keep asking why.

And encourage everyone to do the same. We stop asking why because we are afraid to look stupid. This is a Fixed Mindset. If we don’t understand then it is an opportunity to learn and grow, plus if we don’t understand, then nine times out of ten others don’t either. The flip side of the same coin is to have the confidence to say, “I don’t know”. Nothing impresses more than an expert who is able to be honest about what they do and don’t know.

  1. Positive Psychology.

Positive Psychology is all about playing to your strengths and finding ways to do what you do in the most meaningful and exciting way possible. This is a really important part of understanding and motivating both yourself and your team; however, it does not mean that you should ignore gaps in your skill set. Positive Psychology is about getting the best results possible and enjoying work today. Investing time in self development and persevering with difficult tasks gives you more flexibility and more skills to make the most of tomorrow. Be careful not to use Positive Psychology as a mask for Fixed Mindset and balance Strengths with Development.

  1. Focus on Inputs.

We need to be results focused in business, but on over-reliance on targets and measuring outputs tends to leave people nervous about being criticized or, worse still, encourages them to produce the right results regardless of how they do so and the impact this may have on the business. This encourages a Fixed Mindset.

This might not seem a huge problem, but it is easy to convince oneself that recording Monday’s sale as a last Friday’s doesn’t really make any difference and keeps the boss happy. Witness Tesco’s share price halve in the space of 12 months probably largely on the back of similar decisions. Focusing on effort, improvement and inputs, whilst not forgetting entirely about the actual results is likely to yield dividends in the long run.

  1. Lead by example.

The fun part of a change management programme is conceptualising it and setting it up. In the name of empowerment, it is then tempting to them pass it on others to carry out those changes and embed them as habit and best practice. However, if you want change to stick, then it is essential to stay close to things and to persevere, doing the hard yards along with the team. If you as the Leader show an appetite to personally stick with things when they get tough, then this example will be followed by others and that Fixed Mindset temptation to side-step a struggle will slowly be replaced by an appetite to tackle the difficult and to develop and grow.


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