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Teams with growth mindsets constantly challenge themselves to learn, improve and evolve PHOTO: Christian Joudrey

We all know about the benefits of continuous feedback in creating high performing learning organizations. But do you feel you’ve encouraged managers, employees and teams to share feedback, but still aren’t seeing the benefits?

Before you can create a strong feedback culture you have to consider if your workforce is ready for it. People may be receiving more and more feedback but may not have the tools to actually take in, absorb and use the feedback they receive effectively.

This is where you can see growth-oriented workplaces leading the way. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is credited with leading the company through a much needed culture change using a growth mindset strategy and is now using it to develop the company’s next leaders? And LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner advised businesses to look at skills, not degrees when considering potential hires.

Growth vs. Fixed Mindsets

Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking work on fixed vs. growth mindsets sparked a paradigm shift in the way educators motivate students to learn and improve. She found students with a fixed mindset believe their level of intelligence and talents are fixed and cannot be improved.

Dweck does not deny the existence of natural talent. Some students may find certain skills come naturally to them and parents or educators may mistakenly encourage them by recognizing their talent rather than their effort. This includes students who have been told they’re naturally smart or good at a certain task. 

However, these people are often deterred once they face an obstacle.

Fear of risking their reputation as being smart or skilled drives them to stick to tasks they know they can accomplish. People with fixed mindsets believe their intelligence and skills are intrinsically linked to themselves as a person. Therefore, rather than being encouraged to develop further, they see constructive feedback as a personal attack. This can then trigger emotional reactions to feedback, blocking any personal gain that could be achieved.

On the other hand, rather than being deterred, people with a growth mindset see challenges as a way to improve. They are open to feedback, seeing it as a tool to fuel their performance, rather than seeing it as personal criticism. Through their belief that hard work and persistence can help them improve their intelligence level, these students are the ones who go on to achieve higher results as they move up in their educational career.

How Mindsets Impact the Workplace

Companies are now starting to realize the difference between fixed and growth mindsets in adults can significantly impact workplace performance. It’s very common for people to believe we have fixed abilities. Think about when you hear someone say, “she has a natural talent for .…”

In addition to the personal development benefits experienced by students, having a growth mindset also makes employees better team players.

Lesson 1: The Two Mindsets

(Check out this video for a brief overview of the concept)

Having a growth orientation can benefit your team in multiple ways:

  • Motivated to learn and improve with feedback
  • Able to change and adapt skills, behaviors and attitudes faster
  • Inspired by teammates’ achievements
  • Willing to share knowledge and help others succeed

4 Questions to Help Develop a Growth Mindset

To help your team develop a growth mindset ask yourself these four questions:

1. Are you coaching with a growth mindset?

The first step is to take a deeper look internally. Are you coaching your team with a growth mindset? It’s not until you take an objective look at your own practices that you can help others do the same. Taking this first step is essential to creating a growth mindset environment in which your team can thrive.

Do you mentally divide your team into star employees and the rest? How many of your star employees are naturally good at certain tasks? Why not just let people work on their strengths?

Studies indicate that when employees get to use their strengths at work they are more engaged. But helping your team develop a growth mindset has the added value of opening them up to new talents. Today skills need to be constantly updated and new tools are being developed which can streamline efficiency. But teammates who are resistant to new changes will fall behind.

This doesn’t mean you should encourage your team to improve every skill they struggle in. But it’s important you understand whether what’s blocking them is a lack of interest or a feeling they’re simply not good at a particular task and won’t be able to improve.

2. How does your team set goals?

According to Dweck, the way your team sets goals can have an impact on their mindset at work. Her research shows people with fixed mindsets are more likely to set performance goals rather than learning goals. While this may not sound so bad, the problem is that people with a fixed mindset are more likely to create performance approach or performance avoidance goals. 

Setting learning goals focuses an employee on taking on new challenges, experimenting, effort and, ultimately, improvement.

Rather than encouraging your team only to set performance-based goals it’s time to place a stronger emphasis on goals that will ensure they’re always striving to learn, improve and try new things. Check out some ideas from other companies on how they encourage a learning culture.

3. Are your performance management practices hindering growth?

Stack ranking is a performance management practice popularized by General Electric in the 1980s. The system essentially forces managers to rank their employees from top to lowest performing. Rather than encouraging high performance, stack ranking pit employees against each other, creating competitive environments steeped in fixed mindset mentalities.

A number of major companies, including GE itself, have eschewed this practice moving instead towards performance management processes that encourage growth opportunities, autonomy and risk-taking to fuel self-motivation.

4. Is your feedback helping or hurting your team?

Everyone knows praise is a highly effective tool that, when given correctly, can motivate teams into high performance drive. However, are there hidden dangers you haven’t considered?

Give feedback based on effort not natural ability. Always explain exactly what they did that helped them achieve this level and what they could do to continue improving. Remember, even for your top performers there’s no end to what you can learn.

Giving more detailed actionable constructive feedback and sitting down with the employee to find out what the actual problem is will help you know the best way to coach them to success.