Until recently, there has been a predominate belief that employees either have what it takes or they don’t; that intelligence, skills, and abilities are fixed and cannot be substantially developed. They can be honed, perhaps, but not truly developed. There is emerging evidence, however, that with the right attitude—that of a growth mindset—employees can learn and thrive.
Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, has spent her career studying motivation, personality, and development. Decades of research led Dweck to identify two types of mindsets: fixed and growth. People with fixed mindsets view talent as a quality they either have or do not have. People with growth mindsets believe that intelligence, skills, and abilities can be developed, and they tend to enjoy challenges and strive to continually learn. Much of Dweck’s research has focused on the mindsets students and educators use to understand themselves and to guide their behavior, but it was her commercially successful book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Ballantine Books, 2008) that caught the attention of the business world.
The Fixed Mindset
People with fixed mindsets view intelligence as static—it is something one has or does not have. They believe that basic qualities like character and creativity are fixed traits and are the reasons for their success—rather than effort -- and they tend to live in a world of absolutes. In her studies with students, Dweck found that children with fixed mindsets tend to give up more easily, lack motivation, and cheat at games more readily than children with growth mindsets.
Adults with fixed mindsets do not handle setbacks well because it calls their core self into question. When fixed-mindset adults feel threatened because of a setback, they tend to blame others, lie about their achievements, and consider cheating. As a result, says Dweck, fixed-mindset adults may plateau early and fail to achieve their full potential.
The Growth Mindset
People with growth mindsets believe their abilities can be developed. They believe that qualities can change and that they can further develop their intelligence and abilities through hard work, good strategies, and input from others. They embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and find lessons and inspiration from others’ success.
Managers and leaders with growth mindsets encourage growth mindsets in their employees, and this can have a powerful impact on an organization’s culture and employee productivity. It can also improve employee motivation, retention, and loyalty, and can spur collaboration, innovation, and creative problem solving at all organizational levels.
UNC Executive Development dove into the topics of fixed and growth mindsets in organizations and compiled the information we found in a white paper titled, Expectations Create Outcomes: Growth Mindsets in Organizations.. This white paper specifically explores:
- Fixed versus growth mindsets, how they are developed, and how they can change over time;
- The implications to organizations when managers and leaders interact with fixed versus growth mindsets;
- The strategic reasons why organizations should encourage the development of growth mindsets at all organizational levels;
- Some common misperceptions about growth mindsets; A five-year study conducted by consulting firm Senn Delaney with Carol Dweck and her colleagues that tracked the difference between organizations with fixed versus growth mindsets, and;
- How HR and talent management professionals can encourage the development of growth mindsets in their organizations.