Does Your Workplace Have a Growth Mindset?

If your workplace is like most, chances are it's the results that matter most. After all the ability to successfully deliver outcomes -- be it growth and profit, student results or community benefits -- is the point of nearly every organization.
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How is success measured in your organization? Is it all about the results you achieve? Or is about the effort that you make?

If your workplace is like most, chances are it's the results that matter most. After all the ability to successfully deliver outcomes -- be it growth and profit, student results or community benefits -- is the point of nearly every organization.

But what if focusing primarily on results was undermining the very success your workplace was trying so hard to achieve?

Professor Carol Dweck at Stanford University has found that when it comes to achieving success, more important than believing in our abilities is the belief that we can improve upon our abilities. While much has been written about how these beliefs shape our individual success and wellbeing, her latest research suggests that these beliefs also exist within our organizations, and shape our ability to create innovative, risk-taking cultures and have happier employees.

You see when organizations only measure us by our outcomes, Dweck suggests that this creates a "fixed mindset" culture, where being smart and talented is prized above all other behaviors. When we're worried that the outcome is all that matters, it seems we'll do whatever it takes to deliver a result including hoarding resources (even from our team mates), lying to our colleagues and clients and blaming others when things don't go right. But perhaps the biggest risk in these cultures is that we tend to ignore, avoid, or abandon the potentially valuable learning opportunities that enable growth and innovation.

When organizations measure us by the efforts that we make however, Dweck suggests they embody a "growth mindset" culture of development, where the willingness to put in our best effort and to learn and grow is what's valued the most. When we feel confident that giving things our best shot and learning from the experience is what really counts, it seems that we're more willing to collaborate with others, to innovate and learn from our successes and failures and to behave ethically. Perhaps most importantly we're equipped to deal with setbacks and seek out opportunities for growth and innovation. For example,
that employees in growth mindset workplaces are:
  • 47% likelier to say that their colleagues are trustworthy,

  • 34% likelier to feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment to the company,
  • 65% likelier to say that the company supports risk taking, and
  • 49% likelier to say that the company fosters innovation.
  • So how can you help foster more of a growth mindset in your organization?Leaders with a growth mindset see talent and intelligence as just the starting point, and instead are interested in cultivating people's effort and willingness to learn. Here are three ways they achieve this:
    • They tell growth mindset stories: They tune into the stories their teams are telling about why things are happening and what might happen next. When the thoughts, feelings and actions shaped by these stories are only fixated on outcomes that are undermining people's confidence, they respectfully challenge them by asking: "Is that true? Is it the only explanation?" and seek out equally believable alternatives that are focused on effort, learning and growth.
    • They don't fear feedback or failure: They openly ask for feedback on how they and their team are doing and frame these as learning opportunities for growth and development. They also own and share their mistakes, rather than pretending they are not happening, sweeping them under the rug or blaming others. You should have seen the shock on my team's faces when I started sharing "my screw up of the week" at our weekly meetings, and invited them to do the same if they wanted.
    • Finally they reward effort not outcomes: They give feedback and show appreciation for the efforts and learning they can see unfolding, rather than just the outcomes being achieved. They present skills as learnable, invest in development coaching and create cultures of self-examination, open communication and teamwork.
    Of course this doesn't mean they don't still value outcomes. It just means that by focusing on the beliefs and practices that actually shape our confidence to try, to learn and to grow that they are more likely to get the desired results.

    And if your manager isn't ready for these steps yet, perhaps you can find ways to practice some of these growth mindset actions for yourself. There's nothing stopping you challenging the stories you tell, celebrating your screw up of the week or rewarding your own efforts - without ever having to tell your manager you're redefining the goals for your own success. I know it sounds counter-intuitive but the moment I started focusing on my own goals for growth, it made achieving my manager's required outcomes much easier.

    Now if you're reading this and feeling that you've got this growth mindset thing all covered, then I'm going to respectfully suggest that perhaps not very growth mindset. So if there were one action you could take to cultivate more of a growth mindset today for yourself or your team, where would you start?

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