How to nurture the growth mindset in the workplace

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Article by Hayley Mitchell, Head of Learning and Development at Progeny

Having a ‘growth mindset’ has become a buzzword in many fields, including within education and learning and development.

Essentially, a growth mindset is the belief that our capabilities such as skills, talents and intellectual ability can be developed over time, whereas a fixed mindset comes from the perspective that intelligence and ability are innate—in other words, you’re either naturally talented at something or you’re not.

Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Carol Dweck, supports the idea that we are all on a sliding scale between a fixed and growth mindset and that these states can ebb and flow, depending on a combination of factors such as our desire to accomplish something, our environment, and our emotional triggers.

If we subscribe to this thinking, then what can employers do to harness this ebb and flow, based on the three above factors, in order to encourage a mindset which best serves both the organisation and its employees?

Awareness of emotional triggers

Carol Dweck believes that one reason it’s quite hard to attain a growth mindset is that we all have our own fixed-mindset triggers. This means that when we face challenges, receive criticism, or fare poorly compared with others, we can easily fall into insecurity or defensiveness, which are responses that inhibit growth.

To help mitigate this, there has to be acceptance from the top of a business and throughout that in order to move forward, or embark on something new, employees need to be allowed to make mistakes. Sometimes we have to take informed risks to push forward and achieve progress.

Development of the growth mindset comes from the confidence that failure isn’t an end state, it is just a step in the learning process. And when things don’t go according to plan, it is important to take a learning approach to root cause analysis. Instead of looking for a solution to what went wrong on a task, project or within a workplace relationship, root cause analysis instead takes an objective and curious approach to what actually happened and works out how to prevent it happening again.

In reality, this asks leaders to role model courage and vulnerability, openly sharing instances when they haven’t always got things right first time and being willing to reward employees for important and useful lessons learned, even if a project does not meet its original goals.

Create desire

The second thing that impacts the ebb and flow according to Dweck is the desire to accomplish a task. Most people who study for an exam for example don’t actively enjoy the revision but they know that in order to pass, they have to persist. There is a clear goal in place and a desire to achieve it – gaps in knowledge are expected and practice is rewarded as confidence grows.

In the workplace, a lack of motivation can be a natural result of doing work that is neither stimulating nor challenging and lacks a compelling goal to aim for. It’s not simply about the opportunities for promotion. It is important for companies to ensure they have the right people in the right seats, by creating learning experiences which support upskilling or reskilling to allow for meaningful and fulfilling lateral moves or career changes within the organisation.

Self-esteem also has a big impact on people’s appetite for embracing new challenges because it helps give them the confidence to take personal risks. The key for employers is to provide enough training and guidance for people to feel comfortable in trying a new approach, as well as a safe space to practice and embed their new skills. This way they can draw on the lessons learnt away from the desk and feel confident they’ll be successful when they apply it in the workplace.


When interacting within a group, people tend to present qualities within themselves that they believe others will value. To create an environment where learning and improvement are valued means organisations need to look closely at their cultural practices and habits.

Reflections might include;

  • Are our team members working towards development goals as well as performance goals?
  • Is our company focused on hiring talent, instead of looking for ways to grow talent within the organisation?
  • Do we rely on an annual appraisal process or combine this with more meaningful quarterly objectives, progress reviews and monthly check-ins?

These are just some of the questions an organisation can ask themselves to help assess if they are encouraging the flow towards a growth mindset.

In today’s competitive job market, employee retention is critical, so recruitment and the role of learning and development within organisations has never been more important. Research from LinkedIn shows that amongst the factors that would make people consider leaving their job, shows that the ability to learn and grown was roughly twice as important as getting an increase in pay.

Harnessing the ebb and flow of the growth mindset is therefore something that all organisations can benefit from, in helping to reduce attrition and boost employee satisfaction and productivity.

About the author

Hayley MitchellHead of Learning and Development at professional services company, Progeny, Hayley has over 15 years’ experience of working within both small and global companies, facilitating training, devising people-related strategies and creating value by partnering with senior leadership teams as their go-to source of HR knowledge and expertise.

Never one to turn down a learning opportunity, Hayley spent two years commuting regularly to Stockholm where she represented the UK within an EMEA Management team. Following this, a fully European-focused role meant also travelling regularly to France, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands and Germany and taught her about the benefits of having a diverse workforce, understanding differences in cultures and the importance of having a shared purpose, with strong, and relatable company values.

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