When I joined Microsoft in 2016, the mantra often recited by employees was having a “growth mindset” – one that’s of the belief that new skills can be acquired, and abilities can be developed. This was further explained by the CEO, Satya Nadella, in a June 2015 memo to all employees:
“It starts with a belief that everyone can grow and develop; that potential is nurtured, not predetermined; and that anyone can change his mindset. Leadership is about bringing out the best in people, where everyone is bringing his A game and finding deep meaning in his work. We need to be always learning and insatiably curious. We need to be willing to lean in to uncertainty, take risks and move quickly when we make mistakes, recognizing failure happens along the way to mastery. And we need to be open to the ideas of others, where the success of others does not diminish our own.”
Analysts and observers attribute the turnaround of Microsoft to this culture of growth mindset, which tripled the company’s value since Nadella took over in 2014.
But instilling a growth mindset among employees is easier said than done. In our consulting work with several organizations, all C-level executives we spoke with agreed that in this day and age of digital transformation and disruptions, there is a need to take some risks, fail fast, learn from mistakes, and move on to become successful.
Sadly, feedback from employees and business executives reveal otherwise. In fact, in my survey among 107 attendees in my Digicon 2017 talk revealed that most of them desired cultures of innovation, risk-taking and teamwork to drive transformation in their organizations. However, the current situation showed otherwise – that their organizations hold on to old habits mired in bureaucratic processes with lowest risk-taking and entrepreneurial behaviors.
Further conversations with employees and executives of several organizations revealed behaviors of resignation and acceptance of status quo – that they couldn’t do anything to change themselves and the organization. Such mindset, 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 behaviors will stunt growth of not only the organization but the employees as well.
In contrast, people with the “growth mindset,” according to Dweck in her Harvard Business Review article, “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 your organization embrace a growth mindset?
This is a relevant question nowadays as companies transform into a digital business – changing systems, implementing new technologies and changing new ways of working. Dweck says, “It takes dedication and hard work,” and this is true. Changing the corporate mindset is part of the bigger culture change that organizations need to experience when going through digital transformation. I consider five leadership actions or culture hacks to drive this change:
Top-down management mandate and goal-setting. “Often top management must drive the change; for instance, a new CEO might focus on maximizing employees’ potential,” says Dweck.
Training and enablement of employees. Dweck points to GE’s Jack Welch as an example of a growth-mindset CEO, who “spent thousands of hours grooming and coaching employees in his executive team.”
Sustaining intervention activities such as regular work observations and coaching. External coaches and/or managers can coach employees to change mindsets and behaviors.
Employee communications across all fronts – email, person-to-person, social media and messaging, town halls and bulletin boards. This is as a sort of indoctrination that regularly bombards employees’ minds.
Recognizing and rewarding employees. These are small incentives to effect small changes everyday, such as townhall recognition to acknowledge right behaviors among employees.
Embracing a growth mindset among members of the organization is critical in ensuring the success of any transformative change.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of FINEX.The author may be emailed at email@example.com. The author is president & CEO of Hungry Workhorse Consultancy Inc, a digital and culture transformation firm. He is the Chairman of the ICT Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX). He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. He is also an Adjunct Faculty of the Asian Institute of Management