Have you heard the term ‘growth mindset’ floating around at work but not sure what it is all about? Here is our mindset primer for the workplace.
You can think of a mindset as a filter for the mind. We use this filter to help simplify and make sense of our often complex lives. It is made up of core beliefs or assumptions about ourselves and how to navigate our world.
According to research by Dweck et al. when it comes to mindsets for learning and performance, people tend toward either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.1-4
For example, I have a growth mindset for public speaking – I embrace the challenge of it, I believe I can learn, grow and get better at it.
When it comes to singing, even in the comfort of my own home, I have a fixed mindset – I believe I have no talent, I can’t do it and don’t think any amount of practice or effort will change that.
Each of these mindsets have different behavioural outcomes – I accept opportunities to speak in public, I practice, I make mistakes, I listen to feedback, I learn and improve.
Whereas I avoid singing at all costs, I put no effort into it, I don’t listen to feedback and if anything my confidence for singing has gotten worse.
Having a growth mindset is associated with enhanced learning and optimal performance, while a fixed mindset often leads to stagnation and poor or average performance outcomes. This is true whether we apply it to our personal or work life – it shapes our performance as partners, parents, colleagues and leaders.
Our mindset is often formed unconsciously through our upbringing, culture and media, and influential people in our lives. The good news is that we can also shape it through conscious choice.
We can change our filter. We can shift from a fixed to growth mindset through intentional effort and reap the learning and performance benefits.
What a fixed mindset looks like
Working as a coaching psychologist, I listen out for people’s fixed mindsets, especially if it relates to important performance domains. You can hear a fixed mindset in the form of language like ‘I am not good enough’ or ‘I feel like an imposter’ or more obtusely through rigid, controlling or resistant behaviours.
A coaching client, let’s call them Angus, had a fixed mindset around formal learning in the workplace. No one in Angus’s family had ever gone to University and he had developed a mindset filter that told him he was not clever enough, he would fail if he tried, so why bother.
When it came to taking on opportunities to complete formal training that would allow Angus to progress in the workplace, he avoided it.
Angus had developed a range of avoidance strategies such as staying silent during conversations on the topic, ‘forgetting’ to put his application in for study leave, taking sick days and even shifting work teams. He had a reflex standard response that formal training was “not for him”.
Eventually his team leader, who had always seen his potential, stopped encouraging him to take on new learning opportunities and Angus’s career stalled.
Whether you are an employee or a leader, holding a fixed mindset toward your own, or your team’s performance, can be deflating for all concerned. It deters learning and growth, failure or mistakes are avoided, and feedback is met with resistance.
In the end, motivation, engagement and performance stagnates. Noticing and naming the fixed mindset is the first step towards deciding if you want to change the filter, to learn, grow and reach your full potential.
Identify and compare the behaviours of each mindset in the table below:
Fostering a Growth Mindset Culture
Bringing a growth mindset to work does not guarantee success but it does make it more likely. The word that best encapsulates a growth mindset is ‘yet’. I can’t do this YET, but with the right strategy and effort, I will get better.
What we know about people with a growth mindset is that they are motivated to learn, embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from mistakes, listen to feedback and feel inspired by the success of others. These attributes see them reach higher levels of performance in their chosen field.
Having a growth mindset is not always easy. You will still feel pain and disappointment, you will make mistakes along the way, and it requires real effort.
You also do not need to have a growth mindset for all aspects of your life – especially if it is an activity or skill that is of low value or impact for you.
For example, I talked earlier about having a fixed mindset for singing. Given that my performance as a singer has a low impact on my life, I am unlikely to work on my mindset in this domain. However, if I had aspirations to be a professional performer then this mindset would definitely hold me back.
If you feel there is an important activity or domain of life where you are not reaching your performance potential then you may want to take a look at your mindset.
If you find you are trying to prove yourself rather than learn and grow, avoid challenges or give up easily at setbacks, see effort as futile, avoid feedback and feel threatened by the success of others, then you may want to take stock and adjust your filter.
When Angus was able to step back and see his fixed mindset against formal learning, and the unwanted impact it was having on his engagement and performance at work, he wanted to change it.
Step by step he was able to create a growth mindset filter and move towards the work life he wanted. He didn’t do it alone.
He sought feedback from others, he set clear goals for himself, he gave himself permission to mess up, and celebrated the milestones that showed him he was capable of growth,change and a University education.
For workplace leadership, the challenge is to create and foster a growth mindset culture. Leaders need to be able to talk about mindsets and how they impact our learning and performance. To help people acknowledge fixed and growth mindsets in themselves and in the teams they operate within.
Finally, workplaces need to empower people with the knowledge and skills to shift from fixed to growth mindsets in the domains of their life that matter most.