The First Step Toward Culture Change Is a Shift in Mindset

NLI Culture Change masterclass

Authored by

NLI Staff
A shift in mindset — from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset — is the first step leaders need to take in their organization to help kickstart culture change.

Steady and increased change has become the new normal for most organizations. But not all of them are confident in making those shifts. A 2018 survey issued by Mercer found that while 96% of organizations said they were planning to redesign their companies, only 18% considered themselves “change agile.”

Neuroscience research suggests some of the reasons why organizational culture change can be so difficult. For instance, the brain reacts negatively to uncertainty about how we fit in and which qualities will be most valued in the future. Employees can often feel unheard, disconnected, and powerless amid ongoing culture change and transformation.

As the NeuroLeadership Institute explored in its recent NLI Guide white paper, “How Culture Change Really Happens,” one powerful tool leaders can use to help combat the negative effects of change is growth mindset.

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Mindset can help drive motivation

For decades, scientists have been exploring the power of mindset through research on growth and fixed mindset.

Growth mindset, the belief the skills and talent can be developed, has been shown to positively change the way individuals internalize and filter information from their environment. In many ways, helping employees shift their mindset can be the first step towards successful culture change.

Encouraging employees to develop and maintain a growth mindset can help boost change readiness by increasing their propensity to remain motivated and determined in the face of change.

Research has shown that people with a fixed mindset tend to interpret change as stress, ultimately causing distress in the individual. In contrast, those with a growth mindset experience change as eustress, the positive, more motivating form of stress. With a growth mindset, individuals view change as a motivating challenge that can serve as an opportunity for improvement.

Mindset helps us navigate (and learn from) change

A shift in mindset can also prime employees to be more effective in learning from mistakes and adapting to change.

In one study, published in Psychological Science, people with a growth mindset processed feedback with more activity in brain regions responsible for error correction and long-term memory encoding. Those individuals also showed a greater ability to thrive through change than those with a fixed mindset. They recovered faster after initial failure and used deeper learning strategies.

Enabling employees to develop a growth mindset can give them the resilience and adaptability that is vitally important during periods of flux. And while it may not enable culture change entirely, shifting to a growth mindset can determine whether someone crumbles in the face of change or thrives through it.  

Stay tuned for next week’s edition of the Master Class to learn how to use growth mindset effectively.

This article is the second installment in NLI’s new series, Culture Change: The Master Class, a 6-week campaign to help leaders understand the science behind creating — and sustaining — culture change.

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