Changing employee mindsets

With the pace of change and disruption happening globally, organizations both here and abroad are struggling to adapt to take advantage of the opportunities for change, or perish like the recent corporate casualties as Forever 21 and Thomas Cook. Companies are now realizing that digital transformation – the strategic action to accelerate organization capabilities and business models through digital technologies – needs alongside culture transformation, the process of adapting to change and taking on new behaviors among employees. Both are driving organizations to a new normal – the agility for change.

However, a 2018 study by Mercer found that only 18 percent of the companies surveyed considered themselves “change agile,” despite 96 percent of organizations that said they were planning to redesign their companies. That’s why culture is the biggest barrier to digital transformation.

To address this, many organizations are running training programs, such as design thinking, new skills building, and innovation programs. But culture change goes deeper than the manifested behavior – it starts from the individual mindset of the employees.

Neuroscience research supports this and suggests the brain reacts negatively to uncertainty about how we fit in the change; hence, employees resist change.

Furthermore, our conversations with employees and executives of several organizations revealed behaviors of resignation and acceptance of the status quo – that they couldn’t do anything to change themselves and the organization. Such a mindset is referred to by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck as the “fixed mindset” in her ground-breaking book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. It is a belief by some people that their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. This is manifested in statements like “We can’t change because this is the way we do things here,” or “That new system the boss wants to implement will fail,” or even, “My staff will never learn these new ways of working.” Such behavior will stunt growth of not only the organization but the employees as well.

In contrast, people with the “growth mindset,” according to Dweck, “enjoy challenges, strive to learn, and consistently see potential to develop new skills.” Employees who display such attitude say, “This new program the company is implementing will work,” or “Anyone can learn this new technology.” The research work by Dweck “suggests that at a minimum, growth-mindset firms have happier employees and a more innovative, risk-taking culture.”

The burning question is – as a business leader, how do you help employees embrace a growth mindset?

Mindset is an equation that starts with one’s belief, which translates to the mind’s focus, leading to one’s behavior, consequence and results. Hence, our mindset affects the results we are getting, in the present and in the future. If we change our mindset, we get different results.

So change starts in one’s head, or what we call mindset. It is a way of thinking; and the way you think drives your behavior. To illustrate, people with a fixed mindset believe that skills are born and you can’t learn and grow; their focus is that one’s performance outcomes are fine; challenges are seen as a threat to be avoided; and they hate mistakes and get discouraged by them.

On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe that skills are built, that anyone can learn and grow; their focus is that any change leads to improvements; they embrace challenges and see them as opportunities; and they view mistakes and failures as avenues to learn.

So our behaviors are a by-product of our mindset. To change our mindset, we have to center on changing our beliefs and focus areas. But how do we do these to our employees?

One intervention that we do is we engage the employees of an organization to a mindset change workshop, which consists of understanding how our mind works, and exercises to change how we view the world.

We also engage into coaching and mentoring. Managers need to learn these skills to help their employees deal with change. We introduced innovation coaching to organizations; this is inspiring and supporting your team to nurture innovation in the organization by utilizing an internal or external coach who provides you with tools, frameworks and resource to help you build and innovate mindset.

Volunteering and accepting new job assignments are also ways of changing one’s mindset, by exposing oneself to different perspectives, thereby expanding one’s understanding and changing one’s belief system. As managers, encourage your employees to do volunteer work and be open to new job roles.

Change starts inside the head. As business leaders, our mindsets need to change first, before we can help other change theirs.


The author is co-founder and chief executive officer of Hungry Workhorse, a digital and culture transformation consulting firm. He is the chairman of the Information and Communications Technology Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines. He teaches strategic management in the MBA program of De La Salle University. The author may be reached at