Developing a Growth Mindset

Why is developing a growth mindset fundamental to business success today?

This white paper reviews why developing a growth mindset is fundamental to business success. Three key areas will be covered;

  • Definitions – establish definitions and compare theoretical models relating to growth versus fixed mindset, deterministic versus empowered
  • Business context – examine some current business challenges and understand how a growth mindset drives change, performance and success
  • Impact – consider how a growth mindset can measured and developed

Definitions

It is important to establish clear definitions with regards growth mindset and understand how it relates to other theoretical models. The concept of a growth mindset was developed by the psychologist Carol Dweck, who popularised the notion that mindset has a profound effect on learning, skill acquisition and success. According to Dweck (2006), mindset refers to ‘self-perception’ and the view a person holds of themselves. In her research, Dweck draws a distinction between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset adheres to the premise that basic qualities, such as intelligence and talent are fixed traits, where talent alone creates success. This lends itself to labelling and judgement, where people are seen as ‘dumb’ or ‘smart’. Dweck’s research suggests that a fixed mindset can lead to rationalising failure. With a desire to look smart, ‘challenge and obstacles’ may be perceived as difficult. As such, rather than risk failure, challenge and obstacles are things to be avoided, in order to preserve self-image. This is further reinforced by deterministic views, which see intelligence as static, and traits as being fixed, or hard wired into our brain patterns. When considering growth, change and learning, this presents obvious challenge and limitation.

In contrast, Dweck argues that a growth mindset views talent as something which can be developed. This introduces effort into the equation, which creates success. If we work on developing our skills and talent, we grow. Our own research supports this view. Moreover, 3 core fundamental areas can be linked to developing a growth and empowerment mindset. These relate to confidence, openness and impact.

With growing research into neuroscience and neuroplasticity, the paradigms relating to fixed and growth mindset are ever expanding.

Business Context

In the current complex and fast changing business climate, organisations are facing significant challenge during change and transformation. From a human capital perspective, establishing the right mindset of the workforce is essential for success. Whilst there are still limited studies evidencing the empirical link between growth mindset and business performance, Dweck points to GE’s CEO Jack Welch as an exemplary growth-mindset CEO example. Welch nurtures and coaches people capacity from within his organisation, rather than import talent externally. As Welch’s example shows, growth mindset organisations are more likely to hire from within and focus on potential, capacity and passion for learning, rather than emphasise past accomplishments and credentials as the predictor of success. According to Dweck focusing on pedigree is not as effective as looking for people who love challenge, want to grow and want to collaborate. Google is another good example of a company where HR strategies are shifting attention towards hiring capable independent learners, rather than pedigree.

With increased pressure from organisational change and restructures, businesses face the challenge of how to empower staff during significant role transitions, so they succeed rather than flounder. Many roles are shifting from operational to strategic, technical and technological to relational etc. Conceivably businesses with a growth mindset culture are more likely to prosper during these turbulent times.

Employees in a growth mindset company are:

  • 47% likelier to say their colleagues are trustworthy
  • 34% likelier to feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment to the company
  • 65% likelier to say that company support risk taking
  • 49% likelier to say that company fosters innovation

(2014, Harvard Business Review)

Impact

The question remains therefore, how can businesses nurture a growth mindset amongst its workforce? The solution is not without complexity. In order to nurture something, there is merit in establishing a baseline. This involves understanding the current context (mindset), so that a desired future context can be achieved. A data driven approach in resolving this dilemma is recommended so that investment and effort is optimised. This poses two further questions (1) ‘what’ and ‘how’ to measure a baseline of mindset and, (2) how to develop a shift towards a growth mindset.

The research of Dr Jodi O’Dell offers some insight with this regard. She argues that a person’s self-view across 3 core areas is relevant for developing a growth mindset. These core areas include: confidence, openness and impact.

The first area, Confidence, is concerned with self-perception and views people hold about what they can and can’t influence, or control, and how resilient and resourceful they feel. Confidence is something we can strengthen and develop.

The second area is Openness. Openness is concerned with how open someone is to feedback, how open they are to change and the attitudes and expectations they hold about development. When we develop an ‘open’ mindset, we are more agile in the face of change and we adapt quicker to new circumstances.

Thirdly is Impact. Impact is concerned with commitment, motivation, empowerment and performance. When we feel empowered, motivated and committed we are more likely to be satisfied and productive. Understanding what interferes with motivation and empowerment, unlocks potential, which drives impact.

Developing a Growth Mindset Summary

Aligning the 3 core areas of confidence, openness and impact drives a growth mindset. Instilling ownership and responsibility for personal growth and development using clear methodologies is essential to create the shift. When this is done across a whole organisation to establish a baseline for the ‘collective’ mindset, organisations gain an insight into growth potential. When growth potential is harnessed and nurtured, this drives successful change and transformation.

To assess the growth mindset of you, your team or your organisation, get in touch.

Related articles:

How can HR support organisational change? 
Graduate Mindset – and the impact on career transition
Does your CEO lack confidence?

(C) Engage Coach International 2017, Author: Dr Jodi O’Dell.