A growth mindset is the belief that one can develop their most basic abilities through dedication and hard work.
This approach implies an eagerness to learn and push forward, especially when faced with a challenge.
Hiring employees with such a mindset is key to sustainable business growth in normal times, but is especially useful for building resilience in times of crisis. Why? Because it is much easier to teach / learn a new technical skill, than it is to change someone’s natural personality trait or mindset.
An employee with a growth mindset innately knows that they are in control of their mindset and learning abilities. Consequently, they tend not to let challenges such as change, stress, failure or constructive feedback cripple them. On the contrary, they seize these as opportunities to learn and better themselves.
This is incredibly powerful, especially when employees are expected to be agile, flexible and think on their feet at times of rapid change such as what we’re facing with the COVID-19 virus.
However, not all people have this innate skill, which leads us to wonder, is there a way to build a growth mindset? Is an employee less valuable if they don’t manage to have a growth mindset? And in times such as these, how can an employer motivate an employee to be the best version of themselves, both for their benefit and that of the business?
To better decipher such questions, let’s start at the beginning by looking at what makes a great employee in the first place…
What makes a great employee?
You don’t have to search too deeply to see the inherent value of such a question: it seems that the whole business world is constantly searching for new methods and strategies to maximise their employee engagement.
From fostering a good workplace culture, to implementing sound L&D practices; organisations are going to new lengths in the pursuit of creating a great team.
To inspire great employees, we must first understand what traits set good employees apart from others. Although good employees may have a multitude of diverse talents, there are often a few common habits which help them to reach their full potential.
Good performers tend to:
- Maintain motivation through difficult times.
- Be engaged with work & maintain focus.
- Apply themselves to new tasks and difficulties.
- Have a positive approach to learning.
- See other’s success as inspirational.
- Persevere in the face of a challenge.
- Take responsibility for their own mistakes.
- Learn from their own mistakes.
- See critical feedback as constructive.
- Are excited by opportunities to learn.
An interesting point is that all of the above are often born out of a sense of personal resilience. Good workers reach their aspirations by embracing the precise circumstances which poor-performers avoid (such as challenges, criticism and mistakes). This is highlighted when we observe that poor workers behave in the opposite way.
Poor-performers tend to:
- Go to lengths to avoid challenges.
- Give up easily when obstacles arise.
- Avoid unfamiliar tasks and duties.
- Lose engagement when a task is challenging.
- Feel threatened by the success of others.
- Disown their own mistakes.
- Fail to learn from their own mistakes.
- Choose to ignore criticism or view it as negative.
- Constantly seek validation from peers.
What turns us away from learning?
Despite the emergence of new staff engagement strategies, in the words of Professor Carol Dweck, we have an epidemic of young workers who “cannot go one day without receiving an award”.
It seems that employees’ number one priority is not learning new skills or making a valuable contribution, but rather, receiving praise and recognition for their abilities.
Why is it that employees are intimidated by a journey of learning and growth? Why is success suddenly about the immediate results: outdoing a fellow colleague or merely repeating skills which have already been mastered? What stops a staff member from venturing further, branching into new areas and challenging themselves to become better every day?
Dweck has been determined to answer just that. Dweck began her study by researching children’s reactions to challenges which were slightly too hard for them. Just like employees, many children felt highly intimidated by the challenge, and when they did not succeed, they viewed their failure as “tragic”.
During her fascinating TED Talk, Dweck revealed that children who were most intimidated by the challenges were the ones who felt it had displayed their “lack of intelligence”. When they failed to complete the challenge, they believed it to be an indicator of their inability. They viewed their failure as nothing more than a lack of intellectual talent.
“They viewed their failure as nothing more than a lack of intellectual talent.”
The Fixed Mindset
This, according to Dweck, is the type of response generated by a “fixed mindset”. Those with a fixed mindset tend to believe that they are simply born with a certain amount of intelligence, which they cannot change or improve. When they fail at such challenges, they believe it merely displays that they are less intelligent than their peers.
The concept of a fixed mindset is of great insight to the business world, as it illustrates and helps us to understand why employees don’t apply themselves to new tasks, or embark on quests to learn. As these employees feel they were simply born with a certain level of intelligence, they see challenges as “pointless”, and even intimidating.
This idea of fixed intelligence is often not only believed by the individual, but sadly, often perpetuated by society. In the education system, some students are believed to have a greater natural intelligence than others. When a fixed mindset is (often subconsciously) upheld by the employee, or workplace culture, poor performance naturally results.
In contrast to the children with a “fixed” mindset, some children responded to the challenge in incredibly inspiring ways. Dweck reported that some children embraced the task, and said things like “I love a challenge!”, or even “I was hoping this would be insightful!”. Dweck was determined to “figure out their secret, bottle it and distribute it.”
What was it that allowed the children to be so open to the difficulty? How were they armed with such courage in the face of a test? Dweck discovered that the children understood the value of the difficulty: they saw it as a way to learn, and ultimately, improve their ability.
In other words, they summoned a ‘growth mindset’. These children saw their mistakes (and their perseverance) as something positive – they knew that these were the precise foundations to creating something great: personal growth.
This is what Dweck attributes to the power of “yet”. As her research shows, it is profoundly beneficial to abstain from perceiving a shortcoming as something you’re “just not good at”, and rather, view it as something that is “not yet” developed.
This perspective of “not yet” is not only realistic and honest, but also innately demonstrates that, with focus, practice and determination, skills will develop and grow.
“The children understood the value of the difficulty: they saw it as a way to learn, and ultimately, improve their ability.”
How to foster growth mindset in your workplace
There are a number of different ways that a business can encourage their employees to adopt a growth mindset, and start benefiting from its results.
Dweck encourages us to rethink how we typically praise others. When we say “you are good at X”, what is it that we are really saying? In a “Talk at Google”, Carol Dweck said, “Our research shows that telling people they’re smart actually backfires.”
Although well-intentioned, such a compliment suggests that the ability to be intelligent is innate: something that the employee “has”, or a gift they were born with. This is unhelpful, as it suggests the ability was not a result of hard work, but rather, a “natural” talent. It also suggests that certain abilities cannot be fostered or improved.
A more empowering way to praise is to commend the process of learning. Dweck suggests praising employees on their effort, perseverance, and motivation, as these endeavours are key to development.
Her research shows that this kind of recognition is far more motivating, as people are consequently more likely to sustain engagement through the ongoing procedure, rather than becoming fixated on outcomes.
Don’t focus on immediate results
Employers can fall into the trap of suggesting only immediate results are important, rather than focusing on long-term goals. This type of perspective leads to employees feeling as though their mistakes are disastrous, and something to be frowned upon.
As a result, employees tend to be intimidated by new tasks and challenges. The opposite approach, that is, focusing on the employee’s journey of growth, shows that your company values effort and resilience in the face of challenges, rather than immediate outcomes.
This way, mistakes are demonstrated as natural (and something useful to be learned from), rather than the ultimate enemy. This perspective sees employees feel open to new tasks and less intimidated by challenges.
Inform employees of the benefits of challenge
Dweck encourages us to promote the growth mindset by discussing the benefits. The idea of the growth mindset innately spells out this benefit. Our brains can grow, develop and even improve when we persevere in the face of a challenge.
Inspire employees by reminding them that engaging in something new and difficult will build new neurological pathways. The brain’s placidity means that this kind of endurance is key to becoming more knowledgeable, more capable and more skilled in new areas.
Present managers, peers, resources, L&D and training as a resource for learning
Have you ever wondered why your employees are not enthusiastic towards new training? Are they complacent towards L&D strategies? It could be that they simply do not see the value or opportunity in such resources.
In order to effectively foster a growth mindset in the workplace, you must highlight the valuable tools which staff can use to create that growth. Always remind employees that any resources to learning (including the management team, L&D practices, as well as training courses) are all crucial benefits in their journey of growth. Praise any employees who actively seek any learning resources and make sure to have relevant educational material easily accessible to all.
Throughout the trials and tribulations of any career, your employees are sure to face many hardships and setbacks. As this article has shown, a great employee is not someone who rarely makes a mistake.
Rather it is someone with the courage and inspiration to embark on the learning curve each day. Dweck’s research has shown that a growth mindset, or believing one can improve, is what inspires anyone to persevere in the face of ongoing challenges.
Be an instigator for personal growth and inspire your employees with a growth mindset today.