A few weeks ago, I created (and started contributing to) this blog. Blogging has been on my mind for several years, yet I struggled to start. I had different excuses – “I’m busy”; “It’s not a priority yet” – but my real worries were that I knew I struggled to write succinctly, and I stressed that no one would be interested in hearing what I have to say. My FIXED-MINDSET story had set in. I missed out on years that could’ve been spend curiously learning, growing and improving due to self-imposed roadblocks.
Dr. Carol Dweck has done fascinating research on the role of mindset in motivating individuals and the difference between a FIXED MINDSET versus a GROWTH MINDSET. In short, individuals with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence, talents and personality are carved in stone, whereas individuals with a growth mindset see their them as developable traits that can be improved and strengthened over time through dedication and effort.
As a father of five- and seven-year old sons, I think often about how I could improve as a parent; yet, I find the parallels at work (and, as leader) fascinating. Nothing is more demotivating than to be around fellow employees who say things like:
“It’s not my fault”
“We’ve tried that before, it won’t work.”
“That’s not my job”
“I can’t do that…I wouldn’t be good at it.”
All are signals of a fixed mindset; one that is contagious in a company culture and negatively impacts the engagement of all employees. But cultivating a culture of employees with a “growth mindset” can be a huge driver of innovation, growth and employee engagement. At Next Jump, we struggled for years to overcome a widespread fixed mindset among employees. Here are three areas that companies can invest in to help shift away from a culture of fixed mindset:
1) Hiring: The importance of humility.
While we have always screened for highly talented individuals with a track-record of success, a turning point for us came as we began to screen for humility. Individuals with a high level of humility have a “student mindset”, versus an “expert mindset”.
When we first started hiring for engineering talent, we recruited from the top schools with the top talent. Only 50% worked out, and the difference we found was the trait of humility versus entitlement.
2) Recognition: Reward for process more than outcome
For years, the highest level of recognition given at Next Jump was the “Presidents Award”. Given by our CEO in front of the entire staff, the award was given to an individual who set a new performance benchmark (e.g., released a new product, broke sales records, etc.). Only upon reflection did we recognize that this top-down recognition of individuals (who were likely already getting the bulk of praise, raises and bonuses) had actually reinforced a fixed mindset among the winners, who were more likely to slip into an “expert mindset” after receiving the award.
We changed our entire employee recognition system to reward for process. In our case, it was recognizing the behavior of a servant leader. Instead of having employees vote for the “top employees” in the traditional sense (e.g., who performed the best), employees recognize peers who helped them succeed during the past month. We then read the submissions in front of the whole company – shining a spotlight on those who did the little things to help a coworker in need, or jump in to help fix an issue.
3) Failure: Embrace it; learn from it; show vulnerability.
This takes strong personal leadership from senior leaders. I personally struggle to do it. As a co-founder, I have an innate feeling that I should always have the answer to a problem; that I’m counted on to solve the most difficult situations. But this can result in contributing to a culture of a fixed mindset. Our Co-CEO, Meghan Messenger, held a talk to our entire staff (that is now played for all new hires) and was a pivotal moment at Next Jump: “The Cost of Lying Hiding and Faking”. When senior leaders talk about their struggles, lessons learned, and impediments, it allows others to share their struggles and paves the way for progress, help, and clarification. We hold open-door “officer training” sessions where we talk openly about challenges for the entire staff to hear. We built a “Face the Truth” app where every Next Jumper can get real-time anonymous feedback. Those data points are crucial for personal growth and innovation, but only possible in a culture that embraces failure vs punishes it.
A school in Chicago gives a grade of “Not Yet” to encourage kids that if not doing well at a particular skill to use the phrase, “I’m not good at math… yet!” I love that. It’s a great example for my own narrative on writing this blog. I’m NOT YET a great blogger.