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Growth vs. fixed mindset – how they apply in organizations

People face numerous challenges in their workplace. From learning how to use a complex tool to acquiring new job duties, employees constantly have to master skills to develop professionally. There are employees that quickly adapt to demanding tasks while others get stressed and, sometimes, underperform.

Alexandra Marinaki
Alexandra Marinaki

Alexandra is a psychologist with a MSc in Talent Development and Creativity.

Apart from traits such as resilience and grit, which help bounce back from setbacks, another perception determines how employees react to difficulties – whether they have growth vs. fixed mindset. Some believe that abilities evolve through practice and effort – i.e. a growth mindset – while others support that we are born with a particular skill set – i.e. a fixed mindset. Based on Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck’s theory, these perceptions shape people’s learning behavior to a great extent; it affects their motivation and response to success and failure.

What is a growth mindset?

The ’growth mindset’ definition is the belief that talent and intelligence are growable and changeable. Employees with this mindset consider effort a crucial element of success. For them, it’s normal to fail before acquiring a new skill, and setbacks are viewed as learning opportunities.

What is a fixed mindset?

The ’fixed mindset’ definition is the belief that people are born with a specific talent and level of intelligence. For those with a fixed mindset, any undue exertion of effort in a new task is an indicator that they don’t possess the required skill. For example, an employee who struggles when giving presentations in front of a big audience is likely to believe that public speaking is not for them.

The distinction between the growth and the fixed mindset is not always that “fixed”, though. A person might believe that some skills are workable while others are not, or can switch between mindsets from time to time. For instance, a professional with a growth mindset who realizes they’re at risk of burnout or has a growing family at home might turn to a fixed mindset because of shifting priorities.

Growth vs. fixed mindset in the workplace – a closer look

Not only individuals fall into the growth vs. fixed mindset dialogue, but also teams and organizations. How can you tell if your organization has a growth or a fixed mindset culture and what does this mean? Let’s have a look at how these mindsets reflect on two processes; assessing candidates and management style.

Assessing candidates

  • Growth mindset: Recruiters and hiring managers actively look at potential and appetite for learning in prospective employees. During screening, they try to identify skills in candidates that show eagerness for development and resilience.
  • Fixed mindset: Recruiters search for credentials, qualifications, and established skills. They prefer candidates who are fully prepared for the role from the get-go. They will thoroughly research a candidate’s background to ensure they have all it needs to succeed in their role.

Management style

  • Growth mindset: Managers and leaders with a growth mindset usually give employees opportunity and time to grow. They focus on effort and praise employees for it. They often act as mentors and give employees opportunities to develop and train.
  • Fixed mindset: Managers and leaders with a fixed mindset usually keep an eye on employees with profound credentials. They usually congratulate them based on results.

Growth vs. fixed mindset: Which one is better?

Overall, nurturing a growth mindset in organizations has positive outcomes for a company. It is linked with better employee productivity, and, hence, profitability. It boosts employee morale and good collaboration with colleagues. In a growth mindset environment, employees feel responsible for delivering their daily tasks and have a sense of belonging and independence. Recognizing these benefits, many big companies, such as Microsoft, started to adopt a growth culture to make the most out of their employees’ motivation to learn through failure.

On the other hand, in companies where a fixed mindset culture is dominant, employees sometimes feel threatened when obstacles occur. They feel that there is no room for failure as managers emphasize and celebrate big results, not effort.

Even though a growth mindset is linked with many benefits compared to fixed, the latter is not destructive per se, but per condition. For example, in technical and manual jobs, where tasks are performed automatically or require consistent attention to detail-oriented tasks without variation (e.g. a laborer) a fixed mindset culture can work well. This is also the case for companies that recruit only based on credentials. If an employer hires somebody who has the whole skillset and doesn’t challenge them to grow and develop themselves, then the growth mindset may not show at all.

Whether you’re hiring for or nurturing a fixed or growth mindset, take a look at your organization and decide which one is best for you. Both have their place and both can thrive – and falter – in the right or wrong work environment.

Did you find this growth vs. fixed mindset definition helpful?

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