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4 Organizational Habits that are Barriers to a Growth Mindset

On the face of it, a growth mindset seems almost too simplistic to be a game changer. It is after all, in its truest essence, the belief that you can be a success despite internal or external roadblocks. To a cynic, or even some realists, it could be too utopic and intangible to lead to anything of consequence.

But as Carol Dweck has proven in her pioneering work, a mindset could be all that is needed to transform individuals, businesses and really the world itself.

The word growth mindset has been thrown around across vision-mission statements, board meetings, leadership conclaves far too much already. But it is also one of the most misrepresented and misinterpreted words ever.

A growth mindset is like a new year’s resolution – you decide to have it, not realizing that in order for it to last longer than January, it has to be a continuous effort, a shift in attitude, a change in routine that eventually becomes a habit that yields positive results. 

To understand how a growth mindset should be, it is important to look at the flip side of the coin. What is a fixed mindset? A “fixed mindset” is one that sees character, intelligence, and creative ability as static and not something that can be stretched beyond a certain level. Success is the affirmation of that inherent talent, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard. Striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled.

Growth mindset, on the other hand, is a belief that nothing is out of reach with the right kind of efforts and persistence.  It is a learning-oriented attitude that helps people look beyond the obvious roadblocks and barriers to work towards finding innovative solutions to a problem. It is a powerful combination of attributes like resilience, determination, perseverance, optimism and innovation.

Having a growth mindset means having a constellation of qualities. In Individuals, it means:

  1. Setting high standards for oneself consistently
  2. Doing the difficult thing
  3. Learning skills and combining them in creative ways
  4. Making a new goal for every accomplished goal
  5. Taking risks
  6. Thinking independently
  7. Thinking realistically about time and effort
  8. Taking ownership over our attitude
  9. Creating a new compelling belief

A great way to recognize an organization with a growth mindset is to notice how it handles failure. The average organization would look for external factors to blame or pin it on a bunch of people as the reason for failure. A company with a fixed mindset would be too fixated on its reputation to look deeper and recognize the structural gaps that led them to the situation. In a growth oriented organization, leaders would look for lessons from setbacks and turn to their team for solutions.

A growth mindset has to be a common thread that weaves people, processes and culture in a beautiful fabric that wraps every internal and external stakeholder and product. In order for it to be actionable and lead to tangible results, a growth mindset has to be broken down into clearly defined behaviors expected from the last employee in the organization.

While a growth mind-set begins with the leaders, it certainly does not end there. In fact, leaders must nurture it consistently in the workforce.

Leaders that promote a growth mindset in their teams –

–           Reward not just outcomes but learning & progress

–           Praise wisely and sincerely

–           Encourage risk taking and understand that some risks won’t work

–           Value those who admit to errors and learn valuable lessons from them

–           Promote people who consistently seek feedback and work on improving themselves

–           Invest effort in building the capability of people

In the quest to make high performance a culture, leaders often end up unknowingly compromising the values of growth mindset. A few organizational habits that are common practice but in conflict with growth mindset are :

Over Emphasis on Winning

Everybody wants to be a winner! But sometimes too much emphasis on the end result and too little recognition of effort can lead to emotional reactions from employees. When winning is the only thing that is valued, it promotes a culture of resentment and jealousy. It is a habit that is not sustainable and often leads to burnout.

Differential Treatment

You know who your star performers are and would like to engage them effectively. That is great until the other employees realize that their ranks are stacked against their performance and they are getting differential treatment based on that. When performance is ranked, it essentially pits people against each other, hindering a culture of continuous feedback and learning.

Inadequate Coaching

Are managers coaching those who require additional support? Is there opportunity for healthy, progressive communication between managers and team members? Many managers tend to keep their conversations with their team members transactional, resulting in little collaboration and loss of the sense of belonging. In a remote setup where employees don’t sit next to each other, it is especially important for managers to take opportunities to connect with their team members to understand their personal and professional challenges and engage them.

Ineffective Goal Setting

Often, team goals are linked to performance. While this ensures that employees are doing more of what they are already good at, inappropriate emphasis on performance and not development can only take the team halfway to the desired behaviours that are needed for sustainable growth. Managers must find a balance between performance and development while setting goals.  

A culture of continuous feedback, recognizing the need for continued learning and actively working on improving are the key aspects that contribute to a growth mindset. When leaders are egotistical and put too much emphasis on the end result, the fear of punishment leads to what Carol Dweck describes as groupthink. It is a situation where no one wants to contribute in the fear of being clamped down. Keeping decision making in the hands of few promotes the feeling of distrust and resistance in the workforce. Constructive criticism and meaningful teamwork help build a growth-focussed organization.

A growth mindset has never been more relevant. It will play the deciding factor in the fate of organizations that are battling with the uncertainties that the COVID pandemic has brought along. A growth midset will help companies look for alternative revenue streams and build their core competencies in an agile manner. Only an organization with a growth mindset will be able harness opportunity from adversity. 

A growth mindset, like most culture changes, begins in the finer details that are ubiquitous across processes and plans. It also finds its roots in the way future leadership is nurtured in an organization and boils down to what an organization decides to value – outcomes or progress, intelligence or learning, authority or inspiration. A learning-focussed environment that encourages independent thinking, feedback and collaboration is the ultimate bedrock to a happy workplace and a successful organization.