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What is a growth mindset & how to encourage it at work [+quiz]

8 min read

“Growth mindset” is one of those frequently heard buzzwords while talking about engagement and work culture. But what is a growth mindset and what does cultivating one actually mean?

The term was originally coined by Stanford psychology professor, Carol Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

In her book, Dweck argues that there are two attitudes toward failure which ultimately predict your success. Those with a fixed mindset view talent and capability as limited; when they perceive failure, they feel defeated. “For some people, failure is the end of the world,” writes Dweck, “but for others, it’s this exciting new opportunity.”

Those with a growth mindset meaning they believe success is determined by time and effort, feel invigorated and eager to tackle new challenges.

In this post, we’ll help you and your employees to develop a growth mindset so your business can flourish.


What is a growth mindset? A definition

The growth mindset meaning is the belief that skills and intelligence can be improved with effort and deliberate practice. People with a growth or an open mindset embrace challenges, overcome obstacles, learn from criticism, and seek out inspiration in others’ success. Dweck 2015 writes of the growth mindset definition:


People with this mindset are not discouraged by failure. Moreover, they don’t actually see themselves as failing even when things go south. Instead, they see themselves as learning.

Adopting a growth mindset isn’t only important at an individual level. It is also vital for businesses at an organizational level. Studies show that when management promotes the right mindset among team members, they encourage learning, development, and new ideas. When Dweck’s book came out, it made big waves in the business world, ultimately leading to Microsoft completely overhauling its business model.

Workplaces that cultivate a growth mindset at an organizational level are more innovative, inspired, and efficient. They don’t stick to the same-old just to preserve their fragile ego! Instead, they take on challenges and valiantly face risks, helping the business to grow.

Growth mindset vs fixed mindset

Those with a growth mindset constantly look toward new peaks to climb. Meanwhile, those with a fixed mindset are doomed to stagnate as they try to avoid failure at any cost. If they never try, they can never fail. And if they never fail, they can preserve their sense of being innately successful. On an organizational level, a fixed mindset can spell disaster.

While leaders with a growth mindset usually surround themselves with great teams they nurture and support, a leader with a fixed mindset prefers to be a big fish in a small pond. Further, these managers can be brutal. Their desire to avoid failure at all costs means they ignore the needs, feelings, and contributions of others.

They don’t want to hear outside perspectives or constructive criticism that might indicate that they are doing anything less than a perfect job. Closed off from growth or change, they punish or oust anyone who wants to shake up the status quo. Eventually, a fixed mindset can lead to performance anxiety and toxicity at work. How can any positive change come about in such an environment? In short: it can’t.

The fixed mindset takes a huge toll on an organization’s ability to grow and adjust. But, as Dweck writes, “Why waste time proving over and over how great you are when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them?” The difference between growth mindset vs fixed mindset? Growth-oriented leaders create an entrepreneurial culture, an environment that is open-minded and conducive to learning and growth. They know that skills can be learned and challenges overcome as long as they look the problems square in the face.

Why is growth mindset important?

Many ask: why is having a growth mindset important? HR leaders and managers should encourage the adoption of a growth mindset among their employees as it brings with it many benefits. Employees that adopt the right mindset are more committed to their work and possess the desire to learn, grow and flourish.

They will also feel more motivated to do their best work, as they know that from that comes progress. However, at the same time, they will understand that making a mistake does not mean failure, but an opportunity to learn from that mistake and improve. Meaning they will arise from the setback more determined and motivated than ever.

Research has demonstrated that employees that adopt growth mindsets go after more innovative challenging projects. They also work more collaboratively and behave more transparently.  This can deliver positive outcomes for small businesses that are often working with limited resources.

SMES that are trying to promote teamwork and increase workplace productivity might need to do everything possible to ensure that employees reach their goals and business objectives. For these businesses to advance and continuously move forward, they need employees with a growth mindset working for them.

Growth mindset examples

Now that we have a clear idea of the definition of a growth mindset, it’s important to understand the growth mindset meaning in the workplace. To start out, let’s take a look at examples of how a growth mindset can be applied to teams and organizations and how Microsoft develops leaders and a high-performance culture.

Growth mindset at work

Can an organization have a fixed or growth mindset?  Or is it a concept that applies to individuals?  The answer is yes, the concept is especially applicable to organizations.  Here are some examples of ways that companies can adopt Dweck’s findings in both their hiring processes and their management practices.

  • Assessing new talent:  One of the best ways to encourage a culture of growth at work is by considering it as a fundamental aspect of talent acquisition.  Many hiring managers and recruiters look at potential candidates’ technical knowledge and experience but do not look at their overall desire to learn, emotional intelligence, and hunger for new opportunities.
  • Management practices:  In her book, Dweck discusses the different mindsets and approaches that companies adopt, and how management styles can change the definition of their work culture.  Generally speaking, there is a division between companies that foster a “culture of genius” and those with a “culture of development”. The latter put continuous learning and hard work at the forefront of their cultural values.

Culture at Microsoft

When Satya Nadella became CEO of Microsoft workplace in 2014, he credited Dweck’s ideas as the inspiration for Microsoft’s culture change. “You need new ideas and you need new capabilities, but the only way you’re going to get those new ideas and new capabilities is if you have a culture that allows you to grow those,” Nadella told Caixin Media.

Nadella helped to implement a top-down growth mindset orientation, not only by rolling out new coaching and mentoring expectations for managers but also by practicing what he preached when Microsoft made a big boo-boo.

In 2016, Microsoft unveiled Tay, a Twitter bot with “conversational understanding.” It was a cool idea: Tay would learn to converse through conversing. However, when people on Twitter began tweeting the bot with misogynistic and racist remarks, the bot began repeating this and posting its own hateful tweets. Microsoft was then forced to shut the project down after just 16 hours and issue a big apology. In a profile with USA Today, Nadella shared part of the email he sent out to staff after the debacle.

“Keep pushing, and know that I am with you,” he wrote. While he asked employees to keep in mind “deep empathy for anyone hurt by Tay,” he reminded them that the “key is to keep learning and improving.” Rather than dwell on past mistakes, the team would use them as a learning opportunity. With Nadella’s support and a growth mindset, Microsoft developed Zo, a chatbot with nicer things to say.

How to develop a growth mindset: Applying Carol Dweck’s findings

Professionals who adopt the right mindset put in the time and effort to understand why they failed. That allows them to rebound quickly from setbacks and avoid repeating similar mistakes in the future. Meanwhile, those with fixed mindsets believe their successes and failures are tied to their self-worth. They had a hard time recovering when things go awry. Further, they tend to see themselves as victims rather than agents of their own fate, which can inhibit psychological safety and a healthy work environment.

Author Maya Angelou said: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” Our personal “psychology of success,” determines how we behave in order to achieve success. Adopting the psychology of success in the workplace means taking action to cultivate a growth mindset.

Be more than a mission statement

Mission statements are good and well. But if you want to cultivate the psychology of success in your business, you need to do more than talk the talk. Offer managers and employees training in the growth mindset and other forms of intrinsic motivation, in order to create a business agile enough for any challenge.

Never stop learning

No one enjoys failure, but if you’re not failing sometimes, you probably aren’t challenging yourself enough. Rather than avoid failure, view it as an opportunity for learning and growth. When things go wrong, meet with the team to make sure everyone knows what happened. Avoid placing blame! The point is not to dwell on the past, but rather to create a better future.

Don’t be afraid to try new things

Experiment! In order to find out what works, we often need to find out what doesn’t. When implementing big changes, use change management strategies to make sure the shift stays smooth.

Growth mindset questions

The first step to encouraging growth in the workplace is by taking stock of your team’s mindset.  A great way for managers to informally gauge their team’s mindset is by asking growth-related questions in their weekly one-on-one meetings with their direct reports. Here are some examples of questions to ask:

  • Are you working on anything that challenges you?
  • Have you tried doing anything new lately?
  • How are you working on your personal and professional development?
  • What skills would you like to improve?
  • Is there anything that makes you feel stuck? If so, what are some ways to overcome the situation?

Growth mindset interview questions

Additionally, it might be helpful for hiring managers to incorporate mindset questions into screening interviews with potential candidates. Not only does this help to find candidates with a strong work ethic and hunger for development, but bringing on candidates with a positive attitude helps to cultivate workforce resilience and company-wide learning culture. Here are some suggested questions to ask while interviewing potential hires:

  • What do you consider to be good constructive criticism?  Can you give me an example of when you received constructive criticism from a manager?
  • Do you feel inspired to learn something new? If so, what is it?
  • Can you tell me about a mentor, family member, or important figure that inspires you? Why?
  • How do you see yourself growing in this role?
  • In what ways do you adopt continuous learning?

Additionally, managers might want to consider using a quiz to assess the mindset of current and future team members.  Like a 9-box assessment, a mindset quiz can be especially helpful while measuring employee potential and performance.

Growth mindset quiz: What’s your mindset?

The first step of cultivating a growth mindset is to find out where your team members are at. The best way to do so is to evaluate employees with a mindset survey or questionnaire. With a mindset quiz, you’ll be able to see where you can offer training and how to best make the growth mindset meaning clear.

Here, we’ve created an assessment to measure the mindset of you and your colleagues.

Remember, adopting the growth mindset means thinking critically about your ability to learn and grow. Let go of the idea of perfection in favor of an attitude that embraces lifelong learning.

Download Factorial’s growth mindset quiz 

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