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Why a growth mindset is key to organizational agility and success

By Katie Plemmons , Karen O’Leonard and Paige Seaborn | February 12, 2021

Organizations that adopt a growth mindset will be better prepared to adapt to change and ultimately thrive.
Future of Work|Employee Experience
Risque de pandémie

Organizations seeking growth need to embrace an openness to change because it is a key characteristic of a growth mindset.

What do we mean by a “growth mindset”? The psychologist Carol Dweck defines a growth mindset as a set of attitudes and behaviors that:

  • Embrace change
  • Strive for constant improvement
  • Reflect the belief that individuals can develop, learn and grow

Dweck found that people who adopt a growth mindset also tend to embrace challenges, work through obstacles and show more resilience, bouncing back from setbacks faster. They’re more likely to accept feedback and criticism well, using it to improve performance. And the success of others inspires them to reach higher levels of achievement.

Overall, people with a growth mindset have a desire to learn, which leads them to overall higher achievement. Organizations that are able to foster a growth-mindset culture have advantages over their counterparts, fixed-mindset organizations. Dweck found that employees in growth-mindset organizations are:

  • 47% more likely to see their colleagues as trustworthy
  • 34% more likely to feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment to their companies
  • 65% more likely to say their companies support risk taking
  • 49% more likely to say their companies foster innovation

These indicators of employee engagement correlate with higher financial returns. The growth-mindset culture can also serve as a recruiting tool for attracting like-minded talent. Furthermore, organizations that foster a growth mindset and recognize those attributes have happier, more innovative employees and a culture that is more open to informed risk taking.

A growth midset embraces challenges,
leading to higher levels of achievement versus a fixed mindset, which tends avoid challenges, leading to early plateaus and less achievement.
Growth mindset versus fixed mindset

Adapted from Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. and Nigel Holmes’ two mindsets graphic

These are certainly not new concepts — Dweck’s work has been around for more than 30 years — but the importance of a growth mindset has resurfaced recently as both employees and organizations are adapting to new ways of working during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Organizations have had to quickly change strategies and adjust old guidelines — many of which they never dreamt would be hotly debated — to keep employees and customers safe while fostering productivity.

The growth mindset and automation

Consider manufacturing plants. Almost overnight, they’ve had to change traditional production-line configurations to ensure social distancing for employees. Furthermore, many organizations have accelerated their automation efforts or explored alternate work strategies, all resulting in potentially major changes for employees.

Another example of pandemic-driven change is highway toll collections. According to The New York Times, there have been efforts to automate toll collections through a phased approach — a decade-long business strategy. Timelines for automation were accelerated by COVID-19. Tolls quickly shifted to automatic collections through EZ-pass tags or automatic billing via license plates across the U.S.

This shift to automation is likely to continue in a post-pandemic world, meaning employees will have to adapt to new jobs and careers, and organizations will continue to push for acceleration in business strategies that strengthen their long-term resiliency. Organizations with a growth mindset are more likely to succeed with the increase in automation than those with a fixed mindset.

The importance of adaptation

Looking past automation, adaptation has occurred across all industries during the pandemic. Here at Willis Towers Watson, as COVID-19 shut down travel, we all had to shift to a virtual work environment. This rapidly changed how we interact with clients. Like much of the world, we shifted to virtual rooms, whiteboard sharing and video conferences.

When faced with these changes, colleagues with a growth mindset persisted through obstacles and embraced the challenge of creating personal connections with clients virtually. The ability to learn and grow will continue to be vital to our organization as we look to the next year and the changes ahead.

For more proof of the power of a growth mindset, look no further than Microsoft. When Satya Nadella became CEO in 2014, he took action to transform Microsoft into a growth-mindset culture, focused on being the preferred platform for machine learning, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and more. Adopting a growth mindset, Microsoft outperformed the S&P 500 index by over 80% during the first five years of Nadella’s tenure.

Keys to fostering a growth mindset

Here are actions organizations can take to foster a growth mindset:

  • Establish the growth mindset as a key element of business strategy — a unifying, cross-company force.
  • Make it a core leadership goal. Leadership needs to own it. Grassroots efforts are a plus but unlikely to be successful alone.
  • Build it into business-specific goals. Adapt overarching growth mindset goals to apply and be effective for each business.
  • Create cross-functional reinforcement. Identify big initiatives driving the growth mindset; promote and connect them across businesses.
  • Enable processes and systems. Integrate growth-mindset objectives into performance and talent management resources, processes and technology.

Shifts in our work landscape will continue well past the pandemic. Organizations and employees will benefit by creating and developing a growth mindset to foster an innovative and resilient culture that embraces change.

There are three key areas that HR professionals and business leaders can focus on to bring this forward:

  1. Attract and retain like-minded people who exhibit the characteristics of a growth mindset.
  2. Train current and future leaders on how to have and promote a growth mindset.
  3. Embed a growth mindset into your organizational culture

With this, organizations and employees will be prepared to adapt to a constantly changing environment and will thrive as obstacles are not only anticipated but also welcomed as a growth opportunity.


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