The importance of mindset

Do you think that people can grow? Not physically but mentally. Can people enhance their skills irrespective of age? Or, do you believe that ‘you are what you are’, and maybe a person can make minor tweaks around the edges, but that’s about it?

Depending on your response can, it make an enormous difference to your capability and performance. It also helps explain why some employees are constantly pushing themselves to do more and be more, while others tend to stick to the confines of their job, proving what they can do over and over at the expense of becoming better than they are today. 

Commonly known as ‘mindset’, the philosophy refers to a person’s belief about whether or not they can grow. 

There are two different types of mindset that people can hold regarding performance – fixed mindset or growth mindset.

People with a fixed mindset philosophy believe that they can’t develop their skills or abilities further. Consequently, people with a fixed mindset:

(a)  Don’t put in effort because they don’t believe they can get significantly better;


(b)  See feedback as dangerous because it alerts them and those around them to those things that they are bad at remember, they don’t think they can get any better;

(c)   Don’t set stretch goals; and

(d)  Tend to be demotivated by others success.

 In contrast, people with a growth mindset believe that they can get better and improve with effort. These people:

(a)  Put in effort because they believe they can change if they do;

(b)  Value feedback. That is not to say they like it. They are as anxious about receiving it as anyone else, they just recognise they need it in order to grow;

(c)   Set stretch goals for themselves; and

(d)  Are inspired by the success of others. Yep. For all of you whose children have made you enrol them in tennis lessons after the Open or athletics after the Olympics, they are the signs of a growth mindset. They see someone succeed and they want to try it too.

Research clearly indicates that top performers hold a growth mindset, as voted by their managers, peers and themselves. So, if you want your business to grow and thrive, you need to encourage your employees to hold a growth mindset.

There is just one small problem. For the most part, traditional business practices nudge employees towards a fixed mindset rather than a growth mindset.

Take performance management for example. The fundamental intention behind the process is to improve performance, yet how many employees spend their time leading up to the end of year conversation thinking about how much they have progressed in the last 12 months? In my experience, very few. For the most part, employees are consumed by the need to gather evidence that validates their worth. Their sole focus is proving themselves rather than improving themselves. I can’t say I blame them, more often than not the first question a manager asks is ‘so what have you achieved?’ Yet the latter is where they should be focusing their attention.

In a world of work where technology continually advances and legislative obligations are constantly evolving, we can’t afford for our employees to play it safe and stay stagnant. We need them to step out of their comfort zone, acknowledge their deficiencies, stretch themselves to overcome them and engage in lifelong learning.

However, until our employment practices genuinely encourage a growth mindset, it will only be the courageous few those top performers that are driven by a personal desire to grow that will push themselves to be better than they are today. The rest will continue along as they are; focusing on the areas that they already consider themselves to be skilled in for the sake of ensuring that they are not perceived as ‘inadequate’ or a ‘failure’.

So how do you shift an employee’s thinking? How do you ensure you build a team that wants to learn and grow, and be better than they are today?

To start, you need to have an honest and frank look at your existing business processes to determine whether they reward and encourage a fixed or a growth mindset. If you only reward outcomes, or you don’t see the point in trying to help someone because they ‘just don’t have what it takes’, or you only want to hire those that already possess the skills you need, the chances are your systems, process and culture nudge towards a fixed mindset.

Once you’ve taken steps to rectify your systems and processes and are confident that they nudge employees towards a growth mindset, it’s critical that you take the time to you train your teams, particularly your managers, leaders and supervisors, in growth mindset. Without an understanding of the distinction between fixed and growth mindset, and giving them the tools, strategies and language to encourage a growth mindset, your leaders are unlikely to appreciate the importance of shifting their approach and how to do so effectively.

As Carol Dweck says, “Effort is what ignites ability and turns it into accomplishment.” To survive and thrive in our fast-paced world of work, we need to find a way to tap into that effort for all employees, not just a select few.

Christine Bau, principal, People Focused

The importance of mindset
Christine Bau, People Focused
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Adrian Flores

Adrian Flores

Adrian Flores is a deputy editor at Momentum Media, focusing mainly on banking, wealth management and financial services. He has also written for Public Accountant, Accountants Daily and The CEO Magazine.

You can contact him on [email protected].

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