By now, most leaders understand that organizational growth mindset is a transformative tool for talent development. The belief that others can develop their abilities — and the ability to help them do so — are powerful ways to help employees become more resilient, more nimble, and more innovative.
But actually putting all that into practice within an organization is more difficult than it sounds. As we recently learned in our industry research project — an endeavor we captured in a new white paper, “Growth Mindset Culture” — leaders are finding that two main obstacles keep getting in the way.
Here’s what they’re about and how to address them.
Obstacle #1: An imperfect understanding of growth mindset
When it comes to cultivating growth mindset within an organization, it’s not enough for leaders to simply tell employees to have a growth mindset. Nor should leaders simply declare that they themselves have a growth mindset when the reality is that many leaders don’t fully understand it.
For leaders to really embody growth mindset, they need to ask themselves: Do they truly believe in their own need to grow, and not just that of their employees?
The best way to promote growth mindset throughout an organization, we’ve found, is for leaders to embody growth mindset themselves. Our research showed that leadership buy-in was critical for the success of growth-mindset initiatives.
To assess their own understanding, leaders should ask themselves three questions:
- Do I believe that everyone in their organization has the capacity to grow?
- Do I believe there’s talent everywhere in the organization — talent that should be fostered and acknowledged as it emerges?
- Am I open about my own mistakes, and the lessons I draw from those mistakes?
Only when leaders understand these principles fully, deeply, and accurately can they truly serve as models of growth mindset for their employees.
Obstacle #2: Policies that don’t reflect a true commitment to growth
Once leaders begin to master the principles of growth mindset, they can turn their attention to disseminating it throughout the organization.
But fostering a culture of growth mindset requires more than just sending out a few emails or running a training workshop. It also means revising practices, policies, and systems throughout the organization to make sure they value not just performance, but learning, growth, and progress over time.
Unfortunately, many organizations that claim to value growth mindset treat their employees in a way that doesn’t value their growth — for instance, firing an employee who makes a mistake rather than treating it as an opportunity to learn and grow. When this happens, it signals that the organization may be overvaluing performance relative to growth.
The key to creating a supportive environment is communication. Employees and managers should speak frequently in a constructive evaluation process. They should discuss what they’re really happy with, what can still be improved, and how to collaborate on getting there.
Ultimately, organizations that truly care about employees’ growth and development know that making mistakes is inevitable — and they foster an environment where mistakes are seen not as indictments of worth or ability, but as opportunities for growth and improvement.
This article is the ninth installment in NLI’s new series, Growth Mindset: The Master Class, a 12-week campaign to help leaders see how the world’s largest organizations are putting growth mindset to use.