January 18th, 2022
Your Brain At Work LIVE – S6:E11 – How Adopting a Growth Mindset Transformed Microsoft
Microsoft has undergone a massive culture transformation in recent years with “growth mindset” being the driving force behind every major decision and change they’ve made.
The goal for senior leadership from the outset was to evolve from a culture of “know-it-alls” to a culture of “learn-it-alls.” They sought to enrich how they engaged their 181,000 employees around the world and encourage continuous curiosity, learning, and growth.
This shift in mindset has permeated the organization in so many ways – from business strategies to employee behaviors. It has become integral to Microsoft’s leadership principles, performance practices, allyship efforts, hiring strategies, career conversations, feedback processes, and more.
In this Season 6 finale of Your Brain at Work LIVE, Priya Priyadarshini (General Manager, Employee Career and Development, Microsoft) joins us to share the amazing story of this journey. Learn how leaders at Microsoft were able to create stronger connections between teams through the pandemic and how the organization’s growth mindset translated to bigger impacts on industries and the marketplace.
[00:00:02] SW: Microsoft has undergone a massive cultural transformation in recent years, with growth mindset being the driving force behind every major decision and change they’ve made. The goal for senior leadership from the outset was to evolve from a culture of know it alls, to a culture of learn it alls. They sought to enrich how they engage their 181,000 employees around the world, and encourage continuous curiosity, learning and growth. This shift in mindset has permeated the organization in so many ways, from business strategies, to employee behaviors. It has become integral to Microsoft’s leadership principles, performance practices, allyship efforts, hiring strategies, and more.
In this season six finale of Your Brain at Work Live, Priya Priyadarshini, General Manager of Employee Career Development, will join us to share the amazing story of this journey. Learn how their organization was able to create stronger connections between teams through the pandemic, and how their growth mindset translated to bigger impacts on industries and the marketplace.
I’m Shelby Wilburn, and you’re listening to Your Brain at Work from the NeuroLeadership Institute. We continue to draw episodes from our weekly Friday webinar series. This week, our show is a conversation between Dr. David Rock, CEO and cofounder of the NeuroLeadership Institute; Priya Priyadarshini, General Manager of Employee Career and Development at Microsoft; and Katherine Milan, SVP of Client Experience and Product at the NeuroLeadership Institute. Enjoy.
[00:01:29] SW: So our first guest for today has enjoyed a 16-year career at Microsoft. Starting as an intern, she has been in multiple HR leader roles across sales and marketing, engineering, acquisitions, manufacturing and supply chain and business development. In her current role, she is responsible for the strategy design and execution of several programs that span apprentices, early hires, new employees and current employees around the world. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Birthday Dreams [inaudible 00:01:56] and University of Minnesota’s undergraduate program. Please welcome, General Manager of Employee and Career Development at Microsoft, Priya Priyadarshini. Priya, it’s great to have you here today.
[00:02:08] PP: Thank you for having me, Shelby. Really excited to be here.
[00:02:11] SW: Thank you. Thank you. Our next guest is not only in charge of delivering NLI products and solutions to our clients, but continues leading the charge on sustainment support and measurement data. She lives and breathes the impact of our work on organizations and the people within them. In addition, she has all the qualifications, a Six Sigma Lean Black Belt, a scrum master, multiple [inaudible 00:02:33] certifications, just to name a few. When you partner with NLI, you are in the hands of a great team led by our Senior Vice President of Client Experience and Product, Katherine Milan. Thanks for joining us today, Katherine.
[00:02:45] KM: Thanks for having me.
[00:02:46] SW: And our leader for today’s discussion, and Aussie turn New Yorker who coined the term neuro leadership when he cofounded NLI over two decades ago. With a professional doctorate, four successful books under his name and a multitude of bylines, ranging from the Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and many more, a warm welcome as I pass the virtual mic to cofounder and CEO of the NeuroLeadership Institute. Dr. David Rock. Off to you, David.
[00:03:11] DR: Thanks so much, Shelby. Thanks for the warm welcome introduction. And Priya, what a delight to get some time to catch up with you. It’s been seven years since we first connected at Microsoft. And it’s been a fantastic collaboration all that time. I know we’ve worked on so many things. I really look forward to hearing your perspective over that time. And we can even talk about the concept of perspective.
And Katherine, excited to bring you into this conversation as well. Growth mindset has been really foundational at Microsoft. But I know we’ve also put this in place at a number of other really important organizations, and you’ve been involved in all that. So it’d be really interesting to kind of think about how does growth mindset integrate into a company starting with Microsoft is kind of the story overall.
But Priya, let’s kick off with you. Tell me a little bit about your background. I mean, I know a little bit about it, but I’d love to know more. And your journey with Microsoft. Bring us all into your story a little bit
[00:04:04] PP: Happy to. Well, I’m so delighted to be here, David. As you mentioned, we’ve had such a long run with NLI for all of these years. And I have been here for all of those years, given I’ve been here at Microsoft for 16 years. I’ll start by saying I never thought I would be with any company so long. And yet, my journey started with Microsoft when I was still in my early days as an international student who came here from India to just fulfill her American dream. And my first moment of belonging happened back when I was on campus as an international student trying to find my next role.
There were many, many companies who sort of filtered us out given we were international students and due to visa application. So my first moment of belonging actually happened where Microsoft truly invited us to the table to participate in the interview process. And I felt like, “Oh my gosh, this is the place where I want to be.” And so I joined this company as an intern. I actually shifted professions from tech into HR. And 16 years later here I am in this timeframe, as Shelby was sharing earlier. I have spent a lot of time, for those who understand HR and are in the profession, in what is called an HR generalist role, as an HR business partner supporting variety of different professions, functions and leaders within the company.
And most recently, it’s not even recent anymore. For the last four years, I’m delighted to be part of the Center of Excellence is what we call it within Microsoft, in this organization called Talent Learning and Insights. And it is a privilege to wake up every single day and get to do what we do, because we are here in service of all of our 180,000 employees to ensure that we are providing them great development options, programs, experiences, and enablers through this process for all of our employees. So that’s what I’m currently doing.
[00:05:43] DR: Fantastic. It’s 180,000 now. Wow! You guys are growing faster than we are. That’s a big number. I just feel like I blinked it. It was 110,000 just recently. But you’ve got such an amazing role where you’re overseeing like just how to develop people. And, obviously, growth mindset is such a foundational philosophy and kind of schema and set of principles to come from if you’re developing folks.
I know Satya, who was the CEO, Satya Nadella, was super passionate about growth mindset from day one when he came in. Can you tell me, like from your perspective, how do you define growth mindset? What’s your definition that you used maybe personally or at the organization? How do you define it?
[00:06:21] PP: Yeah, so for those that know me, I mean, I am in constant pursuit of quotes. And I love reading, which comes back to growth mindset. But one of the most recent quotes that I came across, David and Katherine, is it’s – I don’t know who the author is on Discord. But it says, “Your attempt may fail, but never failed to make an attempt.”
And to me, it really summarizes what growth mindset is truly all about. As a mother of a nine-year-old, because as you many of you know, growth mindset started by Carol Dweck, who was really looking into children and their psyche, and how parents interact with them, how school teachers interact with them. But to me this idea is, first of all, I believe that growth mindset is non-binary. It doesn’t mean that you either have growth mindset or you have a fixed mindset. It’s a continuum. It depends on how much time you spend in practicing more stuff that are related to growth mindset, versus when do we actually catch ourselves into that fixed mindset? But it’s a continuum, and we can flex that muscle as much as we want.
To me, it’s really about this continuous drive for improvement, a yearn really for learning, openness to ideas and feedback, eagerness and curiosity. Realizing that discomfort and adversities will always present new opportunities to learn and get better. And ultimately, it’s about really getting comfortable with the discomfort in the unknown.
[00:07:34] DR: Yeah. No, that’s great. Thanks very much. It’s interesting. It’s actually an idea that’s been around for literally 1000s of years. Like philosophers, like some of the early philosophers, the earliest known writings were actually talking about this, which is really interesting, nature and nurture, and all this all of this stuff. And it was in the 1950s. Carol Dweck definitely popularized the concept and really brought it into schools in a big way. And in Australia, where I’m from, they use it quite widely in schools, for example.
The research base has actually started in the 1950s with a concept called incremental theory versus entity theory. And growth and fixed is a much better title. That entity theory was you are one way. And incremental theory was how you could get better. And there’s been actually decades of research kind of behind that Carol then drew on, and then we helped make the leap into organizations working with you guys and 100 or so other large organizations to really think about this not in schools, but in businesses. It’s such an interesting thing.
Maybe, Priya, can you share maybe a personal story of growth mindset? And then Katherine, maybe you have one as well. Just how has this applied to you kind of personally as a concept?
[00:08:37] PP: Yeah, well, let’s see. I mean, so first of all, last few months, I mean, I personally have had – Just like many people, I had a lot going on in my life, including some health issues. But in the middle of that, I picked up this book by Elizabeth Gilbert called Big Magic. And I highly recommend. I’m a huge fan. She’s the one who wrote, Eat, Pray and Love. But in that book, it was an aha moment for me to connect it back to my own fixed mindset, because she talks about this idea of what a creator goes through, right? And we all are creators in our own sense. And she called to action to watch when we use language such as, “I am simply not.” “It’s not me.” “I am not that type.” “I can’t.” “I don’t.” And we put these labels on ourselves. And I realized that I do it more often than I realized I do it, right.
And it comes from a place of maybe fear. It comes from a place of being judged. Like all of those things, it’s back to this point about discomfort and like labeling our own selves, like, “I am not an athlete.” “I am not a writer.” “I am not a poet.” Like, “I’m not all of these things.”
And so my big challenge was it was very little. Meaning, every single time when that idea comes to my mind, how am I going to just, A, register that, acknowledge that? And maybe say yes, and try it out. And that trying out then manifested itself into doing skydiving with my mom, going camping. And really, I used to say, “I’m not an outdoors person.” Like I don’t know if I want to sleep outdoors.” But doing camping with my nine-year-old. Taking time off from work, which was very hard for me to do, because I was like, “Oh my gosh! If I leave, like things will fall apart.” No. That is not the sign of a great leader. Like you have to leave in a place where you have sustained teams and organizations.
And so for me to even make that statement and say, “I’m going to take four weeks off.” And of course, my company and my manager were extremely supportive. But it really pulled me out of my own fixed mindset, going back to the things like, “It can’t.” “I am not.” “I can’t.” “I don’t.” “What if?” Like, that’s the story. It’s not one stories, but many, many things that I’m continuously trying to practice to get out of my own comfort zone.
[00:10:36] DR: What I hear is it’s really woven into your like overall mental models of the world. And it’s something that you notice constantly. We actually have data on this, that when we teach growth mindset to people, about a quarter of people actually notice a fixed mindset shift to a growth every day, which is amazing. Something like 90%, around 90%, do it at least once a week. But about a quarter of people every day notice something and shift. And the most common way they do that is with is the adding yet concept. And before we worked with you guys, we rolled this out across Intel, the chip makers. And we talked 100,000 people at the time to add yet in the same month. It was so fascinating what you need the impact of that.
But I think one of the interesting things with growth mindset is it’s not domain specific. You can have different mindsets in completely different domains. And it can be quite surprising. And I think having this overarching ability to notice and shift your mindset day to day is really kind of the power tool. It sounds like you’ve invented that.
Katherine, what about for you, a personal story? Kind of what is mindset? Then I’ll take a little into the science of kind of what it is from a scientific perspective. But can you give us an example of what it is for you?
[00:11:40] KM: Yeah. And I think that, speaking of the science, for me, when I think about my biggest moment of growth mindset was actually when I joined NLI. So I was coming from a place where I was the expert. I was a product manager. I knew how everything worked. I knew the way to tell people to structure their implementation, and the way that they were deploying these products. And unlike many people at NLI, I don’t have a psychology background. I’m not a neuroscientist, right? Even though I play one on the TV. So I didn’t have that coming in.
And it was really difficult for me to come from that place of being an expert feeling like I know this. I know this, that I’m confident. To a situation where it was embarrassing. But internally, when I came in, Microsoft was one of the first clients that I was working with. And I would get the models confused, and the science confused coming in. And I really had to give myself a little bit of grace, give myself some time, and really focus on learning from others and valuing the progress that I was making. Looking at where I was when I started and how much did I know about the brain. Then how much did I know about the science of behavior change then, versus where I was after 3, 6, 9 months here.
And I think that that’s something that a lot of people experience in their lives, right? Moving from whether it’s a job, or a new activity that you’re taking up, that it’s really easy to feel like you want to quit because it’s difficult. And having to learn to, like Priya said, embrace that discomfort and find a way to focus on moving ahead in those small steps and understanding that where you are today is not going to be where you are tomorrow.
[00:13:31] DR: Yeah. No. That’s great. Thanks, Katherine. I’ll just give you – Particularly for people who are new to the concept, I’ll give you a little bit of the science as we see it. And we’ve been in this space, I think 2013, we started researching this, and we started working with organizations on this. And we published still the only paper on organizational growth mindset, and what it really means, and all these studies around it. So we’re probably the leading organization in this space. We haven’t formally looked at that, but certainly top three. We have a perspective on what it is.
Fundamentally, there’s a schema or sort of an organizing principle in the brain around any task. And the task could be playing piano, or could be divided more into reading, playing classical music versus playing jazz. But it’s quite kind of domain specific. And essentially, we go into an activity, or we activate an idea of a person, or a project, or a client, or an activity. So within every kind of interaction we have with the world, we have this underpinning schema of this is something I’m innately good at. And I’ll probably get better if I focus, right? Or this is something I’m not innately good at. Like this is something I just – It’s just not really me. And the sort of not good at, obviously, it’s fixed mindset.
What’s really, really interesting, there’s been a lot of different neuroscience studies of kind of priming people for these two beliefs. Setting people up in different computer tasks and priming them to believe that they will get better or they won’t. What you see is that when you have this fixed mindset, that you’re not innately good at something, or you won’t get much better, people don’t pay as much attention. They make cognitive errors. Feedback actually is really stressful. They don’t really learn from it. They just get more frustrated. They don’t set the goals, like stretch goals.
And in fact, if you show someone with a fixed mindset a positive role model, they become less confident in themselves. If you think you’re no good at cooking, aside from being a terrible pandemic partner, you basically will become worse if you watch some TV shows teaching you how to cook. You’d be like, “Oh, I can never do that.” If you have this concept that you’re not innately good, then things like feedback, classes, mentoring, everything just doesn’t do anything. In fact, makes you feel maybe worse. And this has been studied in leadership even. People with a fixed mindset about leadership become less confident when they see effective leaders.
So it’s upstream, or the foundation of anything with learning. And I really liked the way Microsoft framed this as kind of underneath everything that they do. Because essentially, it is underneath everything that you do. And it affects the way your brain processes moment to moment.
[00:16:03] KM: Closing up the science there. Growth mindset, really underpinning everything, and the way that we focus. Would love to hear a little bit from you about how growth mindset has been helpful to you during the pandemic. How has it been helpful to Microsoft?
[00:16:19] PP: Thank you, Katherine. And I hope David comes back here at some point. But yeah, that’s such a great question, Katherine. I mean, I can go on and on about this topic, as of course, we’ve been experiencing this for the last – I mean, growth mindset is not a new concept for Microsoft. Really, it started when Satya joined the company.
So the good news for us was we already had an anchor. We already had worked on our four cultural frameworks is how I talk about it, which is all underpinned by this idea, or notion, or concept of growth mindset. And our four cultural frameworks, the first one is around our cultural attributes, which is about being diverse, but also inclusive. It’s about this notion of really, truly being one Microsoft in our approach to our partners, ecosystem and our customers.
And the second one is around this model of our leadership principles. First of all, we believe that everybody can be a leader. And so we, in fact, work with all of you. I believe it’s been over five years at this point on this idea of like what are the leadership principles that we really want to make sure we inculcate into the broader organization and all of our employees?
And so our leadership principles are create clarity, generate energy, and ultimately to make a difference. And so if you think about these leadership principles in a time like the pandemic, where there is utter chaos, there’s not a lot of certainty, actually, clarity is really highly prized. How do you create clarity when there is so much ambiguity, so much volatility? But going back to that has been really helpful for us to say, “We just go back to our anchors. The third one is our manager framework, which we have, which is model, coach and care.
And of course, model and coach comes more naturally to us. But if you really think about care and you’re exhibiting that from a growth mindset perspective, like really, in these times, the thing that has really led us through, led our managers to work with our employees is this deep sense of care, and deep sense of empathy. But again, it’s all grounded in growth mindset, because you have to get curious. Coaching is all about not having the answers, but getting really curious about what your employees need. And so this, and then ultimately, our values around respect, integrity and accountability.
So of course, we all went back to our homes with our laptops. And the business must go on. The show must go on. And so it required a deep level of respect and empathy for each one of us a level of accountability back to the mission and the work that we do together, and a high sense of integrity. So the good news is, we already had our culture frameworks really defined for us. And it’s easier said than done. But we had an anchoring point to go back to that as we think about how all of this is grounded in growth mindset to really lead us through.
And the last thing I would say is, we are truly living in a time, and Satya says this really well, is this notion of hybrid paradox, where half the people really, truly value flexibility. Half the people really are craving for that social connection, you know? And so in that, how do you move forward? Well, we don’t have all the answers. What we have is the sense of experimentation that we are going to get really curious, we are going to learn, we are going to try to not get frozen. And with a sense of psychological safety, we’ll just move forward, and then come back and say, “Well, here’s what we’ve learned. And here’s how we are going to redirect our approach and our energy.” So in the absence of that, it would have been super difficult [inaudible 00:19:27] times.
[00:19:29] DR: Thanks. No. It’s interesting. And I think I was in the middle of saying the overarching habit of yet is key. But then there are three habits that everyone wants to activate day to day, which is experiment, value, progress, learn from others. That’s been so helpful during the pandemic.
There’re probably two mindsets that really saved your brain over the last 18 months. And we’ve been talking about both of them since March last year. But the first one is the Stockdale paradox, which is essentially, this is going to take a long time and be really hard, but eventually probably work out you know. As opposed to, “Oh, we’re all going to be back. It’s going to be normal by January.” And then you crash when it’s not, right? Or catastrophizing.
So the Stockdale paradox has been really important to kind of lean into this and say, “Look, all the other pandemics have been years, unpredictable. Let’s just settle in and assume this is going to be really hard, really long.” And then the next step is really growth mindset. So the next step is, “Alright, how can I experiment? How can I just focus on progress? And how can I learn from others during this time to really just open this up in some completely different ways?”
So we helped Procter and Gamble with their whole growth mindset strategy. Also, in the year or two before the pandemic, they also found that super helpful. And some of the stories there were really heartwarming about how they managed to continue to put out what are really critical supplies around the world with completely experimenting and completely throwing out their normal ways of working. So I think, at a high level, it enables companies to really adapt faster and evolve a lot quicker.
Let’s talk a little bit about kind of philosophically, Priya. So without going sort of into the programmatic side, but philosophically, like what does Microsoft do differently than say before they adopted growth mindset? Looking maybe over a five to 10-year cycle, how is growth mindset affected the talent practices at a high level there? What are some of the things that you guys have done? We think in terms of priorities, habits and systems. And Satya has clearly made this a priority from day one. We’ve helped you guys with the habits based on our work. But then you guys have done a ton around system. Tell us a little bit about the systems that are different there across all the talent.
[00:21:37] PP: The first thing that really just immediately comes to my mind is our Chief HR officer, our Chief People officer, Kathleen Hogan, had done a post a couple years ago. And we really sat down as an HR leadership team to talk about who are the people who we are hiring? If we are truly going to double down on diversity and inclusion and bring people from all walks of life, all sorts of experience, truly being the global company we are, do we screen in people? Or do we screen out people at the get go? When we are meeting with people, like, I is my brain always thinking about what are the things that will help me quickly eliminate this talent? Versus what should I truly deeply watch for that will help me think about the potential of what this talent is going to bring to the table? How they are going to add to the cultural fabric of Microsoft?
So this concept of addition versus elimination has been really, really powerful. And it’s easier said than done. But it really requires a growth mindset on the part of the candidate, first of all, to apply to Microsoft, and how we make that attractive and compelling for them. The hiring manager, the GTA, the global talent acquisition processes, and how we reach and our outreach and all of that. And that’s been really powerful.
And a very small example of that would be, today, my team runs a global apprenticeship program, which is a 16-week program called Microsoft Leap. And it’s really that. We are inviting people to take that leap with us. And we have people from all walks of life, returning moms who used to work in a completely different industry. And for them, it’s about like how do people have to confront their own fixed mindsets? I don’t have a computer science degree. Microsoft! My gosh! It’s a software company. It’s a tech company. Do I even belong? And so that whole notion in itself requires so much around growth mindset for all parties involved. So that’s just one.
The second one is we just recently started talking about career. And, of course, the great reshuffle is happening, as many of you know, and everybody in this moment has been thinking about their jobs and their career. And not just what they’re making, and what they’re doing, and from where are they working? But also, why are they working? And so we’ve just launched this new framework, and we love threes, as you guys can see. We love frameworks and threes. Is this idea of like your career is deeply contextual, and fluid. And we talk about careers, discover, connect, and ultimately grow.
And so in that, what you see is it’s very fluid, it’s very dynamic. People can take it wherever they want. Rather than giving them a destination, A to a B map, what we are giving them is a compass of how to go about that. And in the compass, it’s all about exploration and how you go about your own career through discovery, through connection. Getting different inputs and perspectives. And when I talk perspectives, the last thing I would say is we’ve done so much work with you, David and team, around perspectives. This idea of feedback is not given to you, but how feedback is a gift. And if you truly, really exhibit growth mindset, you will seek for that feedback. You will actually [inaudible 00:24:26].
[00:24:26] DR: Let’s dig into that a bit. Yeah, let’s dig into that a bit. I just want to make a comment. And maybe Katherine, you can comment. I know you’ve got a pretty big team. You run the biggest team at NLI. So maybe you have some thoughts on this as well. But one of the shifts I think that growth mindset brings around just recruiting is are you hiring for someone who’s done the exact job before, which is more of a fixed mindset? Or are you going to hire someone where this would actually be a stretch and the role would be an interesting challenge? And it’s a really different mindset. Like you want people who’ve got some core skills, some core experience. It’s not completely tangential and random. But with the growth of mindset, you hire really differently than with a fixed mindset. You’re much more flexible and open to completely different types of backgrounds. In fact, you want people who haven’t done the job before. That’s the –
[00:25:11] PP: You’re hiring on potential.
[00:25:13] DR: Yeah, yeah. You want people who haven’t done the job before, in some ways. Katherine, what do you find with you do a lot of hiring and putting in place? How is this relevant at NLI?
[00:25:24] KM: Yeah. And I think, speaking for a minute about outside of NLI, I think one of the best examples that I’ve heard of this is we’re still in a bit of a nursing shortage. But definitely, like 10, 15 years ago, we had a huge nursing shortage. And a lot of work was done and to identify people who outside of the core candidates that you would look to to bring into the nursing field, who could they bring in? And really having that growth mindset. And what they ended up finding out was mechanics. Mechanics are some of the best people that you could bring into the nursing profession, because they thought about things in the same way that nurses did. They thought about triage. What’s most important to your car? What’s most important to fixing a person, right? And they thought about systems and how systems worked together to create like a whole being.
And I think that this, to me, is a great example and something that we look at here when we’re bringing people into NLI. Again, and I’m an example of that I don’t have the psychology background, but I had transferable skills that fit here, and we look at bringing people in who have new ideas to add. And I think that it’s a great platform for thinking about how growth mindset really underpins any kind of DNI efforts, any inclusion efforts and belonging. And that’s something that we see a lot of our clients having that aha moment now, of it’s really important to start with growth mindset if you want your DNI initiatives to be successful. Because it gives people that foundation.
And at Microsoft, I think one thing that Priya and I have talked about before, is growth mindset being that red thread or golden thread pulling through all of their programs. It both gives people a nice touchstone. So when they’re coming into something new, it doesn’t feel completely new. It doesn’t feel disconnected, right? It fits into a map. They feel like they have something to spring off of. And that perspectives program, their feedback program like we were talking about, the full title of that is actually perspectives activating a growth mindset, which I think is really powerful. And just a really nice, visible way of showing how do all of these things fit together to move the organization forward.
[00:27:43] SW: If you enjoy this podcast, you’re going to love our annual conference, the NeuroLeadership Summit. Coming to you virtually on February 15th through 16th, 2022. We’ll bring business leaders, academics and visionaries from around the globe to an incredible virtual gathering where we’ll zero-in on powerful insights, trends and breakthroughs, as well as the principles of NeuroLeadership. All to help leaders and teams adapt faster in a transforming world.
Join us online, February 15th through 16th, 2022 and attend sessions available across the globe. You can watch session live, participate in breakout rooms, interact with other members of the NLI community, or access content on demand. No matter how you prefer to engage, we promise you won’t want to miss it. To learn more and to save the date, visit summit.neuroleadership.com.
[00:28:40] DR: Yeah, it’s interesting. In our growth solution, which is rolled out widely, many, many – It’s impacted probably close to millions now. But the growth solution, the three big habits we focus on experiment, value, progress, learn from others. And we dug into learn from others. And it became so clear that asking for feedback was the power tool for activating a growth mindset. And just slow down, tell a little bit of the story about that. It’s been a wonderful part of our evolution. We were actually asked by Microsoft, I guess, six years ago now some time ago, like can you help us fix the feedback problem? Because there’s such a huge gap between the quality of feedback people receive and what they want.
And it was fascinating, we dug into the research, and Microsoft funded the research. And the goal was to develop a framework that would be transformational around feedback. And we worked on this for almost a year with a whole team of cognitive scientists and dive into the literature and all this stuff. And what we found was there’s actually no way to fix feedback. The basic mechanism of feedback is one person giving it to another. And the act of doing that radically shrinks people’s resources for processing the feedback. And it turns out processing feedback requires a lot of resources, cognitive resources. Like when feedback works, people are able to hold one idea in mind, another idea in mind, compare them, choose the best one and plan to act on it. That’s incredibly complicated. And if your brain is feeling like attacked, if you’re feeling like defensive and someone’s attacking you. None of that happens. Your attention goes to deflecting. So we realized the very act of giving feedback reduce the cognitive resources that you needed for feedback. And the only fix was to actually create a culture of asking for feedback.
And we actually did some research in an organization on this with a real scientific team we sent in. Took about six months. And we actually studied what happened when people give and receive feedback asked or unasked. And the cliff note – We’ve written two whole papers on this if you’re interested. But the cliff note on this is it harms the stress level for both giver and receiver when someone asks. And that’s quite important, because the giver often is more stressed than the receiver. And so it doesn’t really badly, right? And so we ended up kind of weaving that into a framework and developing it into a solution for perspectives rather than feedback itself. And so at Microsoft, people ask for perspective. It’s a really important distinction. Giving feedback, you’re asking for perspective constantly.
So Priya, what was your experience with the perspectives program. Bring that to life a little bit for us.
[00:31:06] PP: Yeah. Well, I mean, you both have done such a great job of capturing that. I mean, I personally just love the idea of you’re inviting people. Like we say that feedback is a gift. But do we truly mean that. But when I get an email from somebody saying, “Hey, Priya, I’ve partnered with you, and I truly value your perspective,” that in itself means the person is curious. They’re eager to learn. They’re eager to improve on whatever that looks like. There’s a lot of retrospection and curiosity. And so just this idea of inviting, to your point, versus like I don’t know who’s providing feedback on me. That raises threat levels. There is uncertainty. I mean, it just does all sorts of like bad things to the brain. And so that in itself really minimizes that threat level. It actually seems more like an invitation versus an intervention.
And then the other thing I really love about our perspectives, too, right now is, in the past, if somebody provided feedback to me, it would first go to my manager. And they would decide how they want to share that feedback with me. And now it’s transparent. If somebody has to provide some feedback to me, the process has become so transparent that I directly get that feedback. Because again, like it just goes to these biases that we have on our own fixed mindsets that we have to intervene in some way. And the employee, we don’t feel like the employee can even receive the feedback directly. So the transparency piece on this also, I really, really like. The invitation and the transparency is really a game changer.
[00:32:23] DR: Right. And Katherine, what do you find? I know, when we put this in place, it’s been really powerful. I mean, you and I have a one on one every few months where I literally asked you for feedback. I’m always terrified. I’ve always done a few things wrong that I need to work on. But I know, just speaking personally, we didn’t prepare this earlier. I find it really, really helpful to just keeping really good open channels between you and I. And I think it enables us to keep things really in a towards state and focus. But what are you finding with asking for feedback as an aspect of growth mindset?
[00:32:53] KM: Yeah, I completely agree. And I think that, to that point, I think it’s even more important to be asking for feedback if you are a leader, if you are in a leadership position, because it’s extra threatening for people to provide that feedback. And I think that there’s also an assumption that if you’re a leader, you don’t want anyone’s opinion. You don’t need to know, right?
And so in our one on ones, when you ask me for that, it makes me feel good because I see it not just as an openness to feedback to change, but a desire to hear input from teams. And I think that that’s one thing that I’ll say across NLI. We’re always asking our team leaders here to ask their teams for feedback, to get a gauge of how we’re doing. And the clients that we’ve worked with, where we start growth mindset rollouts with their leaders, always tend to work really well both for that asking for feedback component, and for the experimentation. The willingness to take risks, right? And demonstrate that as a leader, you’re willing to fail forward and make that a safe place for your team.
One of the things that I love that we do at NLI is share mistake of the month. So in our monthly all hands meetings, we ask people to share, like what’s your mistake that month? And everyone who has a good short story will share that and then we vote on like, “Yeah, who made the worst mistake?” And it’s great. And it’s a way to create that culture where people aren’t afraid to talk about problems, talk about mistakes. And that’s what allows us to move forward, be stronger, be better, and not have things kind of festering underground.
[00:34:33] DR: Yeah. No, that’s great. It’s these kinds of things that become kind of part of the ritual, part of the culture, and in a regular cycle really help to define culture in a whole lot of ways. And I’m always anxious when I go to ask for feedback. I always learn things that I would just not have known. And I make a bunch of mistakes I have no idea about and completely unconscious. There’s the fact that like other people literally know your potential, and capabilities, and skills and stuff better than you do with the exception of only a few really technical things. Like other people are literally more accurate about what you are capable of and what your skill set is than you are. So if we’re not asking for perspective, it’s like how does it – What happens? Priya, you want to weigh in there?
[00:35:16] PP: Yeah. Yes, you saw my body language, I was eager to chime in. Because one of the things I realized, as we think about this global company where we have 1000s of people coming in and 1000s of people going out, there’s always so much churn. It’s so dynamic that’s happening. It is so powerful to have simple and yet common language to be able to talk about these things. So one of the things that we did within our manager trainings and manager programs is we started this idea, this notion of pressing pause, zooming out and making a choice. Meaning – And that is all about like catching yourself in the moment. Catching yourself in your fixed mindset moment, where you’re making assumptions, where you have biases that you may not know. You’re quickly rushing to a decision, a conclusion, etc., to say, “Hey, can we, as a team, ensure all voices are heard?” And to me, it’s all going back to being curious, being a learner, challenging your own ideas and thoughts. And maybe they are not the right ones, to your point, David, right? It’s like, “Can we just press pause?” And it’s so simple, right? And it just automatically allows for that to happen. You can take a deep breath. It really shifts the energy in the room. You can include the people who are very quiet, the voices who are not heard. Like, you know, press pause, zoom out. Like, really, let’s take a step away. Let’s break for them if the conversation is getting intense, or it’s not going in the way it should. And then let’s make some choices. We always have more power than we think. And between a stimulus, there is always space for a response. So let’s make that choice.
And so I have seen us use that language in so many scenarios. Sometimes we are going after complex, hairy problems. We don’t know the answer. The team is going in a different direction. And just somebody, somebody bringing up that common language saying, “Can we just press pause? What have you learned? Let’s zoom out.” And so I would really encourage, like that’s been so – And it’s so simple and so basic, and yet it really cannot do magic when teams are collaborating together, especially in these times.
[00:37:04] DR: That’s great. It rests on people’s willingness, desire to focus on learning, right? And so you’re priming people that learning really matters. So to learn, we need insights, right? For insights, we need to actually to go a little bit quieter. And we’ve got a ton of research on insight itself. And it requires a brain that’s actually out of gear. It’s like an idle. It’s really, really important that you have the space to reflect to have those moments. So the whole world kind of needs a bit of a growth mindset about this hybrid work situation, because – Just to link to that. Because you we believe you can be more innovative in this situation. And we see there’s a number of organizations have really embraced this sort of hybrid challenge and said, “We could all be back at home in two days’ notice for another six months. So why don’t we get good at working on platforms?” Whether it’s Teams or Zoom, or whatever, like, why don’t we get really good at this stuff? And stop saying, “Hey, it’s not innovative, it’s not the same.” We’re going to stop comparing to what it was, and focus on the upside of platforms.
And it turns out, when you have a growth mindset about platforms, like Zoom and Teams, all these things open up. You start experimenting. You start valuing progress. And it turns out, of course, it’s not the same. But actually, there’s a bunch of ways that can be better. And if you focus on those upsides, you end up actually having shorter, better meetings.
And it’s interesting, I mean, at NLI, we kind of discovered by accident that we would do better work on platforms, like, iteratively, over time with a client than turning up. So we found this because a number of our clients were essentially global. Wanted all these constituents involved in inputting into culture change work. So we’d have a Zoom. So that teams wasn’t around then. But we’d have a Zoom or Blue Jeans at the time with people from around the world. And what we found is that rather than flying around in or going somewhere for two or three days, is that meeting even for like three or four times for an hour every week for a month, we just did way better work. And it turned out to be much more innovative. Obviously more inclusive. Dramatically less expensive. But what we found was that it was actually better work. And so we noticed this, and we said, “Hey, why don’t we do all that work like this?” And we actually went fully hybrid a few years before the pandemic, because we just found that it was fine to let people work from anywhere, because we’re going to be a platform most of the time anyway. And we’re good at it. So I think it’s really important you get that growth mindset about platforms. And if you leave space in people’s day and in their meetings, we can be just as innovative. And there’s no evidence otherwise. Do you want to comment on that, Priya?
[00:39:41] PP: So first of all, I would say going back to way back six, seven years ago, David, when we worked with you on the leadership principles around create clarity, generate energy and making a difference. That is the first time I actually personally paused to understand these eureka moments and what these insights were all about and how you watch for those signals of light insights and deep insights, and your insights on a scale of one to five. And the NLI summit was amazing. I mean, I learned so much. I was like, “Oh my gosh!” right? And I understood the power of keeping my phone in the other room, like really letting my brain wander. Like really looking forward to that commute time, or that shower time, or that sleep time. Because in those moments, when your brain is idle and not really already focusing on something at hand, that is when they make meaning and sense making of things that are sort of in the background. And that’s when you have a great idea. So now I keep a journal next to my bed, because when I wake up early in the morning, like it’s just something that I haven’t been able to solve in my awake mind just happens to me naturally. There is so much research, science and power to that, because we are such a culture of activity. So that’s number one.
The second is, to your point, about, I think, through serendipity, and through the circumstances. In the last many, many months, I think our fixed mindset have been challenged in all sorts of ways. As I think about my team and the work we do, there were certain things that we thought were only first class when it were in-person. And so when the pandemic hit, none of us knew, first of all, that it would stay so long. But when we were doing scenario planning, we were like, “But how could we not have everybody under one roof to do this together?” the hundreds and 1000s. Like it just won’t be the same experience. The learning may not happen.
And lo and behold, we learned that, in fact, we were able to create more inclusive experiences, because the chat really allows that for people who take more time to process for, like, people. Because you know what? Just think about any meeting, 30 people sitting across each other, you barely hear for four or five people in a 30-minute meeting. And there are all these voices that are not heard. But now when you are in these calls, where some people are on video, some people are not on video, and some people may be in the room, but you have the chat functionality. So that’s been awesome.
And another practice that has come to us is this value of asynchronous and also synchronous. So on teams now, it’s almost a normal practice at Microsoft that you are invited to a team meeting. But we will record the meeting session regardless. So you could go watch that on your own time. So how do we reduce this notion of FOMO? It’s like, “What am I missing?” for example. And so many learnings coming out of like how can we collaborate and what tools can do to enable that collaboration. And to me, ultimately, it’s about and. It’s not either or. It’s not just in-person. It’s not all virtual. It’s about there is some value in building that social capital in-person and coming together [inaudible 00:42:25]. And then other times, hybrid can do so much more for you.
[00:42:28] DR: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s also interesting to remember that about a third of people are absolutely passionate about working from home pretty much forever. And it’s because that’s where they’re most productive, not because they just want to live off. Like they literally say the reason is they’re most productive. And it’s very likely they are. But another third say they want to be back in the office full time. And their reason is because they also want to be most productive. So those are very different people. And it might be a function of extroverts, introverts, the kind of work you do, all sorts of things. But both groups feel really passionately about that. So we need to have a growth mindset about sort of the approach that we put in place.
But in particular, we’re absolutely convinced that when you get platforms right, and most meetings end up needing to be on a platform, but when you get platforms right, your work is better, you hire more inclusively, you hire more diversity, I should say. You are more inclusive. It just works a whole lot better. Plus, if another pandemic comes along, you’re ready. And look at that. We might be there. Fingers crossed. Hopefully we’re not.
But I think being extremely adaptive as a company will be a winning capability. The companies are able to go back to full work from home at a minute’s notice and be just as productive, maybe more. I think those companies will thrive in coming years with where we are. Katherine, some comments for you?
[00:43:44] KM: Exactly what you’re saying, the clients that we’ve been working with, who have growth mindset as a foundation to their culture, that we’re really embracing it, we’ve been able to see how much better they’ve been doing, frankly, during the pandemic. We had a large retailer that we were working with. They had an event once a year that normally they would have the top 50 or so folks all come together in New York, do planning, do a meeting. They couldn’t do that. So they shifted to a virtual event, which meant that they could then add even more people. And we help them organize that help them, structure how they could do that online in a powerful way. And they ended up getting really touching and inspiring feedback from folks saying, “I never really felt like I was really part of the company. I didn’t feel like I was part of the company in-crowd because I don’t work in New York. I could never come to these events.” And I did. And it was really meaningful to me. It signaled something that the company values me. That they value the work that they’re doing.
The organizers that we worked with said that it was their most productive session that they had ever had because they were getting more people involved. They were deepening their pool of meaning by having more people contributing to that. And I think we have a lot of companies like that. I’ve been really happy to see how many organizations, again, with that growth mindset, are making huge strides in the great reshuffle to make themselves more accessible. So especially for folks who are neurodivergent, or who otherwise need to take advantage of accessibility, you’re able to increase your poll of great talent, because you’re not constrained to a geographic location. You’re not just focusing on the way things have always been. And so we’re seeing companies that have that really gaining a huge competitive edge, not just in letting people work from home, but in increasing accessibility, and looking at the way that they’re able to attract and retain talent,
[00:45:47] DR: Right. Yeah, there’s such benefits across so many different points of the talent pipeline, from hiring, to promoting, to learning and development, workforce planning. Kind of all of it benefits if you take this approach. And just some comments in the chat. It doesn’t mean that you should believe that anyone can do anything, and everyone can get to Carnegie Hall as a musician. Like it doesn’t mean that everyone’s very – You still have to have real clarity about what great performance looks like. And the clearer you are about that, the more people can kind of self-manage to that point. So you’re still going to have great mechanisms for setting goals and debriefing and all those kinds of things. But it’s going to foundational as a philosophy that you’re trying to get people to just constantly improve, rather than prove themselves. You’re trying not to nudge people towards the proving side, but to the improving side, right? Or you’re trying to nudge people away from trying to look good and towards getting better.
For me, that kind of encapsulates the concept from prove to improve, from look good to get better. And you’re trying to nudge people at all points in the continuum to do that. And what’s been really inspiring for me is the data that we’ve been able to pull out. We just did an update on some of our data for many, many different solutions. Do you want to share that, Katherine, and give a little bit of context of what it is?
[00:47:05] KM: Yeah. So our grow program, which is our growth mindset solution. Those habits that you discussed earlier; experiment, learn from others, value, progress. Out of 3202 global survey respondents, were seeing an 88% shift in behavior. So that’s 88% of those folks saying that at least once a week or more, they noticed themselves having a fixed mindset. And they shifted to a growth mindset, which I think is incredibly powerful. We’re also hearing a lot of positive feedback. 86% of those folks saying that they’ve talked to colleagues in the past week about growth mindset. And looking at effectiveness, 98% of people saying that they think the strategies from that program will make them more effective in their role, which is incredible. I mean, really powerful information we’re seeing there.
[00:47:57] DR: Well, that’s great data. And I know we’ve been able to carve that in some really interesting ways. Like look at the difference on those percentages when the top team gets a briefing before you roll it out to the whole business. What happens when you add different kinds of measurements? So we’ve been able to really dig into that and learn about the process. So I don’t have a number in my head. But I should have known that coming in here. But there’s been some really exciting partnerships with General Mills, and Becton, Dickinson, and Procter and Gamble, as well as Microsoft, and many, many others. And I think they’re all benefiting from having just a clear sticky framework that’s supported by really solid science, but then is really changing habits day to day. And ultimately, that’s the purpose of the work we do, is we want people to build new habits. And it’s just been inspiring how much this one sticks. This one really, really sticks. And sticks a long time later. We’re now going back to clients and collecting data six months after and a year after. And this is one of those habits that really, really sticks. And people are still doing this six and 12 months later. And we’ll share some more data on that.
I want to do a couple of quick announcements before we wrap up, speaking in the spirit of growth mindset actually. As an organization at NLI, we’re constantly challenging ourselves and constantly experimenting all sorts of ways. And one of the things that we’re super passionate about is our annual summit. And we’ve run that every year at least once, if not three times, since 2007, literally. And this was the first year we actually decided not to run it in 2021. And it was very difficult to make that decision. But we had such a growth period last year and we just didn’t have the team, the people. But mostly we felt that like come November this year, no one was going to be sort of ready for like really big new ideas. And we ended up being quite prescient about that. People are really exhausted at this point.
But what we decided to do was go back to what we did in 2020 and run a virtual conference again, but make this one even more incredible. And I know we had a couple 1000 people dial into a virtual summit in 2020. We’ve decided to do a virtual one again. And we’re literally just opening tickets today. I think my team, Shelby and others, have got to code you can put in if you want to kind of get straight into that event. But we decided to run a completely virtual summit, and by Christmas, make a decision as to whether we have some in parallel local sites. But that’s probably looking unlikely at the moment. But we’re running an amazing virtual Summit, February 15, 16. I encourage you to hold the dates. It’s a low-cost event. An incredible program. The theme is Adapt Faster.
And we’re actually going to have a whole series of growth mindset case studies there from a number of different organizations as one of the tracks. We have from the field track. Sort of learning the case studies of what’s going on now. From the lab track, where you’re hearing what’s really new in the science and a breakthroughs track of what’s really big at the moment. So we’re going to be tackling some big things. But Adapt Faster is the overarching theme. We’re going to be looking at the concept of regenerative practices, not just sustainable, but regenerative. We’re going to be looking much deeper into DEI, of course, including allyship. Also thinking a lot more about empathy and how to get that right and get the language right and the concept right for that. So that’s coming up.
And thanks to the team at NLI behind the scenes working really hard on pulling it together. I just wanted to make that announcement. You see a little bit of the program. You’ll see a really rich program in about another two weeks. But we’re opening it up for registration now.
So, Priya, just a huge thank you. Thanks for your growth mindset to be willing to jump onto this and catch up. And it’s wonderful to hear everything that you’ve been involved with here. I think my favorite projects, I know, we’ve worked on dozens and dozens of projects with you guys, my favorite one was actually building a game. We built a growth mindset game with you guys, which actually got played by 1000s of people around the world. It’s a wonderful game. We just never did the virtual version of it. So it’s been shelved in this era. I’m going to have to talk to folks. And let’s get the virtual version of that game going. You guys have some technology people, right? That’s been really fun. But overarching, it’s just been really rewarding and inspiring to hear that folks use the language and find it helpful is the most important thing. So any closing comments as we wrap up, Priya?
[00:51:57] PP: Yeah, well, absolutely. Yes, growth mindset talking about it like the saying versus the doing. Talking about it versus doing is another thing. And so, number one, culture will just be something that can live on a piece of paper and the mission and vision that people have to go back and refer to, unless you really amp up and make sure you’re serious, your do ratio really matches. And it manifests itself in so many different ways, the systems, the habits, the symbols, the storytelling, the day to day practice of how we show up. And so that’s been our biggest learning. And we are still on that journey. Like it’s never done. Like the destination just doesn’t arise. You keep working at it.
And in terms of the partnership, I would say, David, with you, and Katherine, and Brandon, and so many in NLI over all of these years, the thing that I love the most, of course, we work with a lot of partners to deliver on the work that we have for all of our employees. But my personal best favorite, two things. One, I just feel like the relationship is not transactional ever. It’s such a relationship based. And it really talks about this idea of transformation. Like how do we move towards that transformation and truly move the dial on whatever it is that we’re working on together? But number two, it just makes things so easy when we can really go back to the why.
So imagine getting in front of all these smart engineers and leaders at Microsoft saying, “Oh, our leadership principle is going to be create clarity.” They’re like, “Oh, tell me more. Why? Why did we choose create clarity?” Because they are so research focused. And when you go back to them and say, “Well, brain science tells us that your brain actually goes into threat state in the lack of information when there is lack of information, versus you can move it to work state, even if the news is bad news and sharing that with people.” So when you talk about the context and the why and how human brains just work, and why this all makes sense, and how this is so practical, applicable and sticky, and durable. It just makes a whole bunch of sense. It just makes solutioning and ideating with all of you very, very easy and fun.
So thank you for all the work. And I’m excited about the career work we are doing with you, Katherine and team. And more to come on that. We just launched it to the entire company. So, well, fingers crossed.
[00:53:57] DR: Thanks, Priya. That’s great. Katherine, any closing comments before we hand it up to Shelby?
[00:54:00] KM: Yeah, I’ll just take the opportunity to thank Priya for the tremendous partnership over the years. And one of the things that I really value about working with Microsoft is it’s an organization that really does walk the talk. You all really weave the science into everything that you do. I’ve seen that there. My husband’s best friend’s wife actually recently got a job with Microsoft. And I kind of unfairly gave her a little quiz and was like, “Oh, the leadership principles?” And she rattled them off. And she could go into growth mindset and the cultural attributes. And it was really great to see how much that’s kind of inculcated and really created a culture there, and love seeing that with all of our clients. And I think Microsoft is just a fabulous example of folks who built a strong foundation that’s helping to carry them forward now.
[00:54:50] DR: Yeah, fantastic. And just the foundation where everything comes back to some common code, which is how does the brain work, is incredibly helpful and provides this ecosystem. Almost like an operating system for building talent practices, leadership practices on top of. And it’s been fantastic having that partnership. Thanks so much, Priya. I’ll let you jump off. I’m going to hand it back to Shelby. Everyone out there, this is the end of our season. We’re going to see other ways. Take care of yourselves. Look after each other. Activate that growth mindset a lot as we go into next few crazy months. It’s going to be really important. We’ll see you back early next year. Thanks, everyone. Thanks, Katherine, as well. Bye-bye.
[00:55:22] SW: Amazing. Thank you all so much for today’s discussion. And we’re really excited to see the impactful work that comes forward with our partnership. And I’m going to give a few more announcements. Corporate membership, if you’re interested in getting more access to NLI research and materials, we encourage you to check that out and join the program. There are incredible benefits. So we’ll send more information about that in our follow up email. It’s also on our website, Insider Exchange.
So specifically for our senior executives, if you’ve enjoyed this season of Your Brain at Work Live, we think you’ll love our NLI insider program. We invite you to join in it’s an exclusive opportunity where you can have benefits, such as first looks at new research, roundtable discussions with leading executives and researchers, and also helping us craft new innovations in this ever changing world at work. So to apply, follow the link that we are dropping in the chat. And we’ll also share more information in our follow up email.
We’re hiring. So if you’re interested in joining our team, coming on our side, visit neuroleadership.com/careers for more open positions. And lastly, if you want to hear this discussion or any other ones, as we’ll be taking a bit of a break, look for Your Brain at Work on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, wherever you get your podcasts from.
And this is where we say farewell. So it has been an incredible season. On behalf of today’s guests and our NLI team, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate you for being here. And a special thanks to the team behind the scenes who makes Your Brain and Work Live happen. This wouldn’t be able to happen every week for all of you without them. So we appreciate you. And until we return, have a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year. We’ll be back very soon.
And in the meantime, go register for Summit. We want to see you there. We’re excited to have you. And we will be back. So enjoy your day and have a wonderful rest of 2021.
[00:57:13] SW: Your Brain at Work is produced by the NeuroLeadership Institute. You can help us make organizations more human by rating, reviewing and subscribing wherever you listen to your podcast. Our producers are Matt Holidack, Mary Kelly, Shadé Olasimbo, and me, Shelby Wilburn. Original music is by Grant Zubritsky, and logo design is by Catch Wear. Thanks for joining us.