Culture is one of those intangible aspects of business which cannot easily be ‘managed’ but left without direction, can leave employees feeling disengaged, detached from their purpose and less loyal to their employer.

growth-mindset-4My husband is training to be a secondary school teacher (in physics) and every week he learns new techniques. Last week he came home and our eldest proudly presented him with a picture she had drawn at school.

My husband praised her for her hard work and then asked “what do you think would make the picture even better?” Her reply, “Nothing Daddy, it’s already good”. I gave a proud Mummy smile and said “Of course it is, sweetheart”.

Later that day my husband explained to me that the answer she gave was telling of the mindset she was developing – a fixed mindset. One that is less open to feedback and discussion. Okay, she’s only 4 years old but even so, this kind of mindset can embed itself early in life, as I have experienced.

Then, this morning I read a post “It Took Sheryl Sandberg Exactly 2 Sentences to Give the Best Career Advice You’ll Hear Today“. In an interview, a question was posed to Sandberg: “What’s the number one thing you look for in someone who can scale with a company?”. Sandberg’s reply:

“Someone who takes feedback well. Because people who can take feedback well are people who can learn and grow quickly.” Sheryl Sandberg

The penny dropped for me. Those who adopt a growth mindset within business will succeed. Businesses that foster a growth mindset culture will fly.

Let me explain…

Fixed Mindset Vs Growth Mindset

According to Dr Carol Dweck, the founder of the “growth mindset movement”, people can fall into one of two categories; a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. Here’s the difference:

Research has shown that instilling the right mindset within children from an early age can have a profound impact on their future. But as we’ve already seen from Sandberg, many successful business leaders believe in the same approach. 20 years ago Steve Jobs gave an interview to the Silicon Valley Historical Association and gave some insight into what he believed to be the secret of a successful life.

“that’s what separates, sometimes, the people that do things from the people that just dream about them. You gotta act. And you gotta be willing to fail, you gotta be willing to crash and burn…if you’re afraid of failing, you won’t get very far.” Steve Jobs

As I reflect back,I can almost certainly say that for much of my career I have been following a “fixed mindset” mentality. I always referred to my husband as “the brains” in our partnership. The clever one. The intelligent one. He is still all of those things but I’ve come to learn (and appreciate) that mindset is everything – in life and in business.

My Tribal Impact adventure has thrown me in front of the most unexpected challenges and opportunities but I’ve learned to adapt and be flexible. I’m stronger. More resilient. I’m moving towards a “growth mindset”.

Developing A “Growth Mindset” Culture

As I reflect back on my 20+ years in corporate, here are 6 ways I believe a growth mindset can fuel business success:

1) Learning Through Failure:

Our corporate performance structures are typically geared around bonus plans. Bonus plans that are focused on achieving targets. But when you focus employees on specific targets, you lose the spontaneity and freedom for innovation and experimentation. Instead, target employees on learning based objectives that encourage them to try…and fail. Liz Ryan wrote a great post where she explains:

“Your employees may feel that since you are so focused on numbers, they can’t have a real relationship with you.”

2) Growth Mindset Managers:

A key trait of growth mindset leaders is that they like to see other succeed. Their purpose is to support others on their development journey. Now imagine the opposite. Fixed-mindset managers can feel threatened by successful employees which in turn adds more pressure on them to ‘succeed’ in the eyes of their peers. The kind of manager that likes to re-brand good ideas as their own, rarely attributes credit and feels hierarchical achievement equates to success. Move growth mindset employees into positions of people management. Let them nurture your future leaders in the right direction.

3) Continual Employee Feedback:

The classic annual review – once a year (sometimes twice a year) managers will sit and discuss progress, development and feedback. Feedback shouldn’t be a management task but a leadership trait. When feedback is delivered constructively and regularly, employees will fear it less and appreciate it more. Growth mindset businesses foster a culture of feedback where employees realise that feedback isn’t about them personally but about the work they produce.

4) Agile Problem Solving:

Problems. That very word feels negative. Many employees are good at finding problems but growth mindset businesses embrace problems. You see, problems provide an opportunity to improve. If people care enough to spot a problem and share it, they care enough that they want to improve it. Surface the problems. Encourage employees to be vocal. A growth mindset business will see this as an opportunity to change, improve and drive a competitive advantage.

5) Flatten Structures:

Research has shown that positions of authority often equate to success and intelligence in the mind of fixed mindset individuals. However, it can also alienate the wider employee community – us and them. Collaborative cultures flatten hierarchies. They enable staff at the bottom of the pyramid communicate directly to leaders at the top. Yes, you still need people managers but open, transparent communication across the business will help shift employee focus away from chasing their next promotion to supporting the wider business.

6) Encourage A Learning Culture:

Almost every annual review discussion touches on the topic of employee developmental objectives. It normally involves the employee asking for budget to go on an external course and the organisation allocating a small amount of budget (if any) to the cause. This learning cycle needs to stop being an annual tick box exercise. Growth mindset cultures encourage a learning attitude where people develop through their own natural curiosity. Think Google. They allocate time to allow their employees to experiment and explore. LinkedIn encourages employees to leave their company better equipped than when they started:

“We want people to learn the most they can and be the best professional they can be, so when they make the jump, they jump for the right reasons. We like people leaving. We are not afraid of it.” Wendy Murphy at LinkedIn

Dr Carol Dweck is quoted a saying that individuals need to celebrate trying more than achieving. This shifts the focus towards the effort involved.

What if we applied the same growth mindset principle to business? What if instead of setting revenue targets we focused staff on driving great customer experiences? Instead of measuring an employee engagement index, we measured internal new hire referrals into the business – employees wouldn’t recommend new hires unless they enjoyed working there – right?

I’m trying to think of some more examples and I’m sure they exist. How else could we apply a growth-mindset to business culture?

Read more: Three Steps to Creating a Flexible Corporate Culture