How to encourage a ‘growth mindset’ in your employees for smarter working
Last year I attended an intriguing talk from Matthew Syed – The Times columnist, olympian and author of some of my favourite books Black Box Thinking and Bounce, to promote his book You Are Awesome. Whilst the book is aimed at a younger audience, I thought its key themes of Growth Mindset and confidence are of great value to an older audience too, especially in the current times, where the ability to adapt and respond to changing work situations, is even more important than ever before.
Firstly, what is a growth mindset?
Initially it sounds like just another buzzword, but a growth mindset really does bring value when you apply it to how you see yourself and others.
In a nutshell, we generally tend to view our (and others) talent and abilities in terms of we’re either naturally good at something, or we’re not. We think in terms of fixed traits. You likely have some views about this yourself – maybe you don’t play an instrument so describe yourself as not very musically talented, or maybe one of your colleagues is great at sales so you’d describe him as a natural born salesman. This is a fixed mindset.
A growth mindset, is where you look at this from a different perspective – you think of abilities or talent as something that can be developed through dedication and hard work. Someone with a growth mindset may think, I’m not good at playing guitar because I haven’t put the hours of practise in yet, like someone who is a great performer has. They don’t believe that talent alone creates success, rather, experience and applied practice does.
Why change to a growth mindset?
People with fixed mindsets tend to believe that their abilities are directly linked to who they are as a person, which not only creates a limit to what they think can achieve but also means they’ll likely take things like constructive criticism as a personal attack, rather than seeing it as an opportunity to learn.
One thing both Syed and research from Stanford Psychology professor Carol Dweck highlights, is that we should be teaching this growth mindset from an early age, but that we instead tend to do the opposite. We think that giving children lots of praise in the form of comments like ‘you’re so clever’ will make them emotionally healthy, but studies suggest otherwise.
Dweck’s research found that, when comparing children who were praised because they worked hard with those who were praised for being talented, those who were praised on their efforts were much more likely to spend more time trying to solve a difficult problem rather than giving up. Oppositely, those who were shown that smartness was a fixed quality showed less resilience to deal with difficult problems – either giving up or resorting to cheating – as this challenged their self-image that they were smart. The children praised for working hard were also happier, as they were not blaming a set quality that they couldn’t control not solving a problem, instead they were empowered to try to find a solution. Do you praise effort in the workplace or results? Given the evidence above it is worth examining our behaviours.
What are the benefits of obtaining a growth mindset at work?
When your employees adopt a growth mindset, they’ll likely develop the following positive habits which are beneficial to any business.
Ability to admit and deal with own mistakes
Since blame is a key part of the fixed mindset, when mistakes are made by fixed-mindset employees they have a tendency to cover up and avoid all responsibility, which can result in financial loss for the company if issues are not dealt with quickly. A growth mindset employee sees failure as part of the journey to success, and instead is more likely to spend time finding a solution to the problem, rather than hiding it.
Confidence to try new ideas
As Syed put it, being “Punitive on error creates a cover up and creates a culture that does not take risk”. A fixed mindset individual is less likely to suggest and try new ideas at work out of fear of failure, but a growth mindset employee is more eager to experiment and bring new ideas to the table – potentially contributing to business growth and new revenue streams.
Can tackle tough decisions
A growth mindset employee will likely have good critical thinking skills – something of huge value in the dynamic oil industry. When faced with a difficult challenge or decision which they’ve not dealt with before, they’re willing to both seek advice from mentors and work hard to find the best possible solution.
With a growth mindset you are motivated to increase your knowledge, identifying and then working on skills that need improvement whilst keeping up with the latest industry trends – which has it’s obvious benefits to a business.
Open to feedback
Since growth mindset employees are eager to improve, they’ll take constructive criticism as a tool to improve their performance and will make effort to change behaviour and attitudes faster than a fixed mindset employee, who would more likely let emotions get in the way of their progress – taking criticisms personally.
Inspired by teammates achievements
A fixed mindset employee may become jealous of their colleagues successes, feeling threatened about how this makes them look in comparison. Having the opposite mindset means you focus more on what you can learn from your colleagues successes rather than dwelling on how this makes you look. It also makes you more willing to share knowledge and help others succeed. As Isaac Newton is famously quoted as once saying ‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’. This is growth-mindset thinking!
So how do you cultivate a growth mindset in employees?
Now the benefits are clear, here are some strategies for helping employees to adopt this mindset in the workplace.
1. Start with feedback
Review how feedback is given by managers. Ensure effort rather than talent is praised – discuss exactly what they did which helped them achieve any goals and any ways they could have improved their method. If an employee hasn’t met their targets then explain that their skills are not there yet – this empowers them to know you believe there is scope for them to improve their skills and reach targets with hard work. It’s also important to identify if it’s a case of an employee needing to put more effort in to achieve targets, or if they instead need a change of strategy.
2. Re-evaluate goal setting
The way in which goals are set plays an important role in employee mindset too. Goals should be set in terms of specific learnings rather than generalised performance. When setting goals, have employees say what they are going to do using imperative verbs like ‘I will’ or ‘I am going to’.
3. Encourage curiosity to develop self-learning
Ahead of performance reviews, ask employees to bring one new piece of industry relevant knowledge which they’ve learnt. Even better, ask them to also bring one piece of knowledge they’ve learnt from a co-worker to encourage peer to peer learning.
4. Discuss and embrace failure as a learning opportunity
Don’t be afraid to discuss failures – create a culture where failure is seen as an opportunity for growth. In monthly team meetings have everyone give one example of a ‘failure’ and then let employees discuss together how they could handle this situation differently in future. This may seem like an uncomfortable exercise at first, but it allows employees to get used to being open to learning from mistakes and seeing failure as a tool for improvement.
5. Hold a mindset workshop
Hosting a workshop that discusses the importance of a growth mindset whilst giving examples of growth vs fixed mindset statements, can help employees adapt to this new way of thinking.
Having a growth mindset isn’t just a positive way of thinking – it’s a learning tool that allows you to know you’re capable of growing and changing for the better, despite any setbacks that come your way. Cultivating a growth mindset at work helps employees to be mentally prepared and responsive to new challenges so they can lead effectively in a dynamic industry.
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