Expert Commentary

Securing a Growth Mindset

As leaders, most of us are preparing now to do our midyear reviews for corporate, departmental, and individual goals for 2015. Most of you will have some element of a staffing plan in your strategic initiatives. You'll review whether or not you're finding, training, and mentoring your staff and whether or not they are successful at every level.


Leadership at All Levels
June 2015

The business world is, quite rightfully, enamored with the idea of hiring for culture and talent. The level of research supporting this strategy is overwhelming. If you are a new leader, please read First, Break All the Rules (Buckingham, et al.) if you want to learn more about this concept. There is, however, a new approach on an old idea out there that I wanted to share.

The book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dwyer, got me thinking. We screen for talent so we can achieve the results that we need. We know how to test for this, how to interview, and how to place talent above all else when hiring. Additionally, we work hard to bring in the talent that also "fits" our culture. The problem is that there are a limited number of tools out there to help us define exactly what our culture is and, more importantly, how to align it with prospective employees.

Ms. Dwyer's book presents an interesting way to look at this. She discusses the differences between people who are in what she calls a "Growth Mindset" versus people who have a "Fixed Mindset." She does a good job helping us understand the differences and teaches us how to spot them. I encourage you to read her book to learn the details.

Where it became interesting to me was the idea that people who want to learn, and who accept and manage their growth, are always going to be the most successful. Now whose grandmother didn't tell them that when we were growing up? How many clichés do we have on this subject? "When you stop growing you die." "Knowledge is power." "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." "It's never too late to learn."

How is it that, in business, we have not applied this principle on a more universal basis? We look for what we think of as the proof of a growth mindset, such as when we look at college degrees and accreditations. But, as most have learned, credentials prove nothing when it comes to determining whether or not someone has a growth mindset.

The hire for cultural fit, though, is actually much simpler if you buy into the mindset philosophy. I have worked for organizations that focus on education, and I have worked for other organizations that look only at the bottom line, without understanding how education, training, and growth of their employees have a direct impact on profitability.

Look Inward, Outward, and Upward

There's also substantial research available about the value that the Millennial generation places on learning and growth. As long as you're constantly preparing Millennials for their next job, they will stay in the one they already have. They want the opportunity to be ready in case they need to move somewhere else, but their loyalty to you will be very strong if you help them prepare for their own success. In a way, this is the growth mindset in action.

There's more to it than just wanting to learn more or add designations and letters behind your name. The growth mindset, according to Ms. Dwyer, also allows for the fact that no one is perfect. It allows for the fact that you may have the right idea at the wrong time. You might even have the wrong idea period.

The point is that the growth mindset understands that growth cannot happen within perfection. Growth can only happen when mistakes are made, acknowledged, and corrected. This is my main takeaway from the book!

So, how do we hire for talent and skill, yet still find and use the growth mindset concept? Like everything else, this will be about balance, I suppose. You'll still need to look for folks with the basic talents to do the job for which you have an opening. And consider the level to which their talent has been developed. If you have a very talented person with a fixed mindset, you could fall into all the traps described in the book. To figure out how to find that balance, you have to start by looking in the mirror.

Mike Poskey, president of ZeroRisk, Inc., had this to say:

My thought on the subject is that companies need to determine what culture they want—one of growth and learning, or one of the status quo. I see this a lot with the CEOs and presidents I coach with the Clear Direction Manager Development Program. Executives want to change their culture and grow the business, but they don't want to change themselves, their perspectives, processes, technology, hiring practices, training and development programs, or communication tactics. If the leaders in the company have a learning mindset, it will become the culture and that company will attract that same mindset.

Once you're sure about culture from your own perspective and you've personally embraced the growth mindset, the rest will actually be easier. You'll naturally begin speaking the growth language in your business. Your eye will naturally see the articles and opportunities to do more with growth and be less fixed corporately.

You'll want to formalize this with training, discussions, book reviews, testing programs, hiring practices, development plans, etc. How you and your managers handle mistakes will be a first step to proving to the staff that you mean it when you say you want their input, their creativity, and their suggestions, even when it means there will be an occasional mistake. Your expectations set the tone (Read the Iacocca versus Welch stories in the book!), and you will need to model the growth concept everywhere. If you are willing to create imperfection by taking risks so that growth can happen, your team will too. 


Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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