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Cultivating a Growth Mindset Company Culture

After decades of research, renowned Stanford professor Carol Dweck envisioned a new framework for assessing people’s potential. Her seminal 2007 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success introduced terms that defined contrasting approaches to personal and professional capability: “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset.”

Dweck points out that perspective impacts everything. She describes how people’s perception of their talents and abilities significantly influences their ability to succeed. Her original emphasis was on individuals’ points of view, but she expanded her focus to organizational culture in the most recent edition of her book. Her philosophy became a rallying point in business circles and influenced many leaders to reconsider how they run their companies.

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

In her book, Carol Dweck outlined the distinction between a fixed and growth mindset as they relate to people’s ability to succeed.

  • In a fixed mindset, talent and intelligence are viewed as predetermined traits.
  • In a growth mindset, talent and intelligence can be nurtured.

Dweck makes the convincing argument that people with a fixed mindset are less likely to flourish than their counterparts with a growth mindset. Those with the latter perspective believe “the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development.” She explains further:

“This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”

While she primarily discusses people’s personal abilities, Dweck also discusses these mindsets as leadership styles. She cites business, sports, and education examples, pointing out that leaders in all areas can inspire outstanding accomplishment by viewing their role through a growth mindset lens.

A Mindset Continuum

Carol Dweck’s protégé, Mary Murphy, has taken up her mentor’s mantle and took the idea of how profoundly mindset type affects organizations and teams even further. She researched this concept for over a decade and concluded that groups led and formed by a growth mindset motivate their members to learn, collaborate, and innovate.

Additionally, Murphy found that members of growth mindset-based groups are more likely to form connections that cement trust and inclusion. They are more team-oriented and less prone to cheat, hide mistakes, do the bare minimum, or take credit for others’ ideas.

Murphy takes another step beyond Dweck’s original thesis. In her book, Cultures of Growth: How the New Science of Mindset Can Transform Individuals, Teams, and Organizations, she describes a more nuanced evaluation of people’s perspectives. She doesn’t subscribe to a black-and-white theory.

“The reality is that no one has either a fixed or a growth mindset. Although we may favor one over the other, we all have both. Mindset exists on a continuum. And where we fall on that continuum at any given moment often has to do with the situation we’re in and the people around us.”

Believing that mindset is unchangeable is unhealthy for individuals and groups. She notes:

“Organizational leaders often focus on individual mindset, as if identifying and retaining ‘growth mindset’ employees will create a growth mindset organization.”

Murphy writes that many companies use assessments to measure mindset to help them in their hiring process, but notes this process is fallible. “People move along the mindset continuum based on predictable, discernable cues around them, which is why mindset assessments often miss the mark.”

She continues: “In aiming to evaluate individuals’ mindset set points, organizations often end up putting an inordinate amount of focus on what employees bring to the table and not enough on how the table is constructed.”

In other words, leadership and organizational culture profoundly influence individual mindsets in business. If a company recruits people with growth mindsets, but the new hires are subject to a culture that rewards fixed mindsets, they will conform.

How Does Leadership Mindset Impact Culture?

Company leaders either unwittingly or intentionally set the stage for their company’s culture. The culture develops in one of two ways:

  • Organically to match or in reaction to the leader’s outlook and style
  • The CEO deliberately creates the culture they want for their organization.

The latter can happen when a company is formed or when leadership detects a need to change workplace culture.

Unlike the mindset continuum individuals experience, company culture mindsets are usually static until leaders decide to shift them.

In an article for CIO, Rocket Software CEO Milan Shetti illustrates the benefits of a growth vs. fixed mindset for organizations, emphasizing that the latter hinders growth and innovation. He explains how the mindset dynamic forms in company culture.

“A growth mindset dramatically improves a company culture, but it must be practiced by senior leadership before junior employees will feel comfortable taking on the same mindset.”

Shetti cites Microsoft as an example of a company that switched from a fixed to a growth mindset culture when Satya Nadella became its CEO. He quotes Nadella, who spoke about why he believed the change was necessary:

“Innovation was being replaced by bureaucracy. Teamwork was being replaced by internal politics. We were falling behind.”

After Nadella took over and scrutinized the company’s culture to determine why it was slipping, he saw the need to implement a growth mindset. This transformation included a willingness to value innovation even if doing so risked occasional failure. He mandated a shift from knowing it all to learning it all.

Creating a Growth Mindset Culture

Milan Shetti explains that a leader-led growth mindset fosters a superior work environment and generates better outcomes. In an organization framed with this perspective, “challenges are enjoyed, people strive to learn new things, and employees see the immediate and long-term benefits of continuing to learn and develop new skills.”

Leaders must champion and coach specific behaviors to induce a growth mindset culture. These behaviors include:

  • Practicing blameless problem-solving.
    Leaders should create a psychologically safe environment where people have a solution focus instead of feeling like they have to sweep mistakes under the rug or point fingers when something goes wrong. Making this behavior a standard operating procedure prompts more collaboration and allows employees to learn from errors, which leads to valuable improvements.

  • Committing to continuous improvement.
    Companies with a viable status quo can become complacent and fall behind the competition. However, those encouraging staff to always look for new and better ways of doing things are poised to remain on the cutting edge in the marketplace. Leaders should inspire and reward progressive thinking and discourage a “we’ve always done it that way” attitude.

  • Embracing change.
    People are often wary of new developments, but adaptability is critical in today’s rapidly evolving business arena. To overcome employees’ reluctance to lean into change, leaders should be transparent about new directions and help staff see the accompanying benefits. They can further nurture this perspective by explaining to employees how they will be the basis of any successful transformation.

  • Being lifelong learners.
    A love for learning is at the heart of a growth-mindset culture and debunks the notion that people can’t improve. Leaders should demonstrate that they work on personal growth and encourage and make available opportunities for employees to build skills, expand expertise, challenge norms, and develop experience. They can help people shift from trying to look smart to actively accumulating knowledge.

To perpetuate a growth mindset culture and strengthen their workforce, leaders should hire people based on their potential, capacity, and passion for learning, in addition to credentials and accomplishments.

As Mary Murphy explains, leaders who help their companies adopt a growth mindset culture create places where employees thrive and can reach their potential. This supportive and invigorating culture stimulates employee engagement, which boosts retention and productivity. Also, employees working in a growth mindset culture have more management potential. Ultimately, a growth mindset culture leads to a more robust bottom line.

In her book, Murphy states: “Organizations with cultures of growth focus on progress and provide support to make it happen. They offer growth opportunities to employees instead of opportunities to demonstrate their abilities.”

This trajectory is more critical than ever in today’s increasingly complex business world. Murphy writes:

“In my experience, many business leaders are motivated by the challenges they face in rapidly changing environments—from energy to technology and beyond. The only broadly effective way to meet these challenges is to create cultures of growth.”