Have you ever gone back to your high school reunion and found yourself surprised by the course life had taken for some people?
Maybe you had the chance to speak to an old friend who received average grades in school, but went on to accomplish things as an entrepreneur that most of us have only dreamt of doing.
You might have also spoken with a different friend at the reunion who was your high school’s valedictorian or senior class president. You fully expected them to become the next Sheryl Sandberg or Bill Gates, but, after speaking with them, it just didn’t seem to pan out that way.
Why does success seem to just “happen” for some people, but not others?
Mindset may play a critical role, according to a Harvard Business Review interview with Carol Dweck, psychology professor at Stanford University and author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.”
Based on her research, talented people who find success tend to have a “growth mindset” instead of a “fixed mindset.”
The Key Difference Between a Growth vs. Fixed Mindset
A person with fixed mindset thinking tends to believe that they have a certain degree of inherent abilities and that’s that. They think that their intelligence, talents and abilities are fixed and cannot be changed.
Conversely, people with a growth mindset believe the exact opposite. They believe that even basic abilities can be further developed through experience, mentorship and coaching. People who think this way, Dweck explains, don’t get hindered by the opinions of others, feel limited by their own intelligence, or paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake.
In a growth mindset, the belief that you have the ability to stretch and grow often allows you to step into that truth.”
Identifying Your Current Mindset
Of course, our mindset isn’t stagnant. It can switch between growth and fixed mindset thinking.
Maybe you had a growth mindset early on in your career, taking risks that lead to big rewards. Now, you are vice president of human resources — and you feel like you have to have all the answers for your team. Suddenly, you’re not as willing to put yourself out there, pitch new ideas to the CEO or experiment with new approaches. After all, you’ve got a lot more to lose.
It’s common for executives to become stuck in their ways, often out of the fear of making a mistake. The same thing can happen to our employees. When we begin to see challenges as a threat rather than an opportunity, we sink into a fixed mindset.
How can you discern whether your thinking is driven by a fixed or growth mindset?
Our responses to challenges and setbacks are often tell-tale signs, according to Dweck.
Consider asking yourself these questions — or sharing them with your managers to hand out as a self-assessment for their team members:
Fixed Mindset Thinking
- When you experience a setback, do you get defensive, try to hide it or make excuses?
- Are you more focused on the outcome of an initiative rather than what you learned from the process?
- Do you spend a lot of time worrying about how your decisions will influence your reputation at work?
If you answered yes to the above questions, your current thinking might be driven by a fixed mindset.
Growth Mindset Thinking
- Do you find challenges to be exciting?
- Do you look for ways to continue to grow your current skills and adopt new ones?
- Are you constantly stepping outside of your comfort zone?
If you answered yes to the above questions, your current thinking might be driven by a growth mindset.
The Culture Shift Toward a Growth Mindset
Human resource specialists have the difficult task of looking at someone’s resume and assessing how well their work experience and skills will translate to their prospective job functions.
Resumes, however, don’t tell the whole story.”
The question you really need to answer is, “Will this person have the passion, drive and resilience to overcome challenges?”
Drawing back to the high school reunion example, the valedictorian may have believed they earned a 4.0 GPA based on their inherent intelligence, but then struggled when faced with real-world challenges that required them to adopt new skills or refine existing ones.
Like most initiatives, the cultural shift toward a growth mindset has to begin at the top and permeate throughout the organization. Executives can help by creating a culture that focuses on passion, dedication, and growth, rather than just inherent talent. To drive that point home, managers can praise the effort employees put into their projects — not just the outcome of them.
Helping Employees Adopt a Growth Mindset
You can actually play a supportive role in shifting employee mindset toward growth.
How does that work exactly?
Let’s say your company is undergoing a major change, such as automating a process through technology that was once done manually. This is a common transition for many companies, as automation and artificial intelligence are becoming increasingly integrated into business operations. In fact, financial services company McKinsey projected that 10 to 25 percent of the work done in banks will become automated, increasing capacity and freeing employees to focus on higher-value tasks and projects.
To encourage growth mindset thinking about your own company’s new system, you’ll need to first think about the situation from your employees’ perspective. They might worry about their job security or feel apprehensive about learning a new system.
Focus on the aspects of the new program that will enhance your employees’ jobs, not replace them. Will it save employees valuable time, allowing them to focus on other higher-value tasks? Will learning the system add any new skills to their toolbox? These are the aspects of the program that the employee will care about most.
Additionally, encourage managers and employees to integrate one important three-letter word into their vocabulary: “yet.”
In her YouTube video, Dweck suggests that this simple addition can have a big impact.
To help shift employee mindset toward growth, encourage people to tune into the things they say each day. For example, during a staff training, employees might be inclined to say, “I don’t know how to do this.” Encourage them to rephrase it to: “I don’t know how to do this … yet.”
It helps to reinforce the concept that growth is possible, if we believe it to be — and then take action to make it happen.