Blog Post / Jan. 13, 2020

Mindset matters for employees, but also for employers

Written by Claudia Williams

Calvin Coolidge, the 13th president of the U.S., knew that talent and level of education are not the sole indicators of success:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Angela Duckworth, author of “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” has the same message. Raw, natural talent and IQ are not the indicators of success.

Coolidge and Duckworth are a century apart in time, but their message is the same: mindset matters. Mindset is your system of beliefs about your talent, abilities and personality. People who believe in hard work and continuous learning to develop talents have a growth mindset. People who believe talent is innate and not something that can be developed have a fixed mindset. Research shows that individuals – and companies – with a growth mindset far outperform their counterparts with fixed mindsets.

Individuals can conduct a simple Google search to reveal any number of free online tests to help determine their mindset. It’s a bit different for an entire organization. Mission and value statements are not indicative of mindset. They are only words, and we all know that actions speak louder than words.

For example, companies with revolving doors and high turnover rates are probably spending a fortune on the best (replaceable) talent that money can buy. When employees aren’t perfect, companies cast them aside and search for someone else. These actions demonstrate a fixed mindset, telling employees they either have “it” or they don’t, and if they don’t, they’re gone. The culture is competitive rather than collaborative, and the revolving doors cost the company a lot of money. A lot.

Companies with a growth mindset, however, invest substantially in learning and development. Their recruitment efforts emphasize finding individuals with the behaviors and values that reflect company culture. They believe employees can learn their business, even if they don’t have industry-specific experience, and they’re willing to teach them. When we combine a company’s willingness to teach with an employee’s willingness to learn, we see innovation, growth and profits.

For individuals, having a fixed mindset isn’t necessarily a fatal flaw, but individuals must understand the impact it will have on their careers. As Marshall Goldsmith warns, what got them here won’t get them there.

Employees with fixed mindsets can be great individual contributors. They need to understand, however, that if they aren’t willing to learn new skills or new ways of doing something, they are self-limiting their upward mobility.

I’ve had conversations with mid- to senior-level leaders who want nothing more than a promotion. At the same time, they aren’t willing to learn something new. They feel they have earned the promotion because of their length of service. But why should a company promote an employee to a higher-level position that requires higher-level skills when the employee doesn’t want to learn anything anymore?

Individuals with a growth mindset are in a perpetual state of “earning” it. They are hungry for experiences. They learn more from their tough mistakes than from their easy wins. They actively seek out new and different ways of doing things. They see the value in learning. It is through their commitment to their own, personal development that they will reap the rewards of professional success.

The good news is that it’s never too late to shift a mindset from fixed to growth. Once you are more self-aware, you have the ability to change your internal dialogue from thinking that everything is happening to you, to taking responsibility, making mistakes, learning from those mistakes and being committed to hard work. The hard work never stops.