There is an interesting bit of talent research discussed in the current Harvard Business Review (Nov. 2014). Stanford’s Carol Dweck, the lead researcher, has been looking at the issue of whether people perceive talent as relatively static or as something that can be grown and developed over time. She began looking at this in individuals in the 1970s. More recently she has teamed up with colleagues at Stanford and the consulting firm Senn Delaney to look at whether and how the concepts might translate to an organizational setting.
Dweck uses the term “fixed mindset” to describe those individuals and organizations that perceive talent as what you come with; the term “growth mindset” refers to the counter view that talent can be developed over time. The findings were intriguing: at the seven Fortune 1000 companies where they conducted their research, there was “real consensus about the mindset” among employees, according to Dweck. Those employees in a growth mindset company were: 47% more likely to “say that their co-workers are trustworthy”; 34% likelier to “feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment to the company”; 65% likelier to say that “the company supports risk taking”; and 49% more likely to say that “the company fosters innovation.”
We had an additional question: Is there a link between a company’s Higher Ambition and the growth mindset that Dweck and her team described? While this was not part of the research, we believe that the answer would likely be “yes.” The Center for Higher Ambition Leadership’s Mike Beer has done extensive work examining high commitment, high performance organizations and this has potent combination has become central to Higher Ambition thinking and practice. If a growth mindset helps increase commitment, as Dweck’s research indicates, adopting such an approach would bode well for an organization’s Higher Ambition aspirations.
The stakeholder value creation focus of Higher Ambition aligns with the growth mindset that emphasizes learning and collaboration. Investment in employees makes them feel more valued which, in turn, drives commitment that comes across in more positive relationships with customers, colleagues, suppliers, and the community. By contrast, employees in fixed mindset companies reported that they “regularly kept secrets, cut corners, and cheated to try to get ahead.”
Trustworthiness is another core component of the Higher Ambition approach. The finding that a growth mindset correlates with more robust feels of trust among coworkers thus reveals another benefit: Where trust is high, employees spend less time worrying about office politics and turf wars and put more effort into satisfying customers, controlling costs, conceiving new products and services, and other positive activities.
While Dweck and her team have not yet been able to definitively link the growth mindset to superior financial performance, they are working on it. Earlier work by Senn Delaney, presented by the firm’s co-founder Larry Senn at the Center for Higher Ambition Leadership’s 2014 CEO Conference, did tie a positive corporate culture to laudable financial outcomes. Dweck called testing the correlation between the growth mindset and superior returns “her burning question” and noted that, at a minimum, “growth-mindset firms have happier employees and a more innovative, risk-taking culture.”
The lesson for Higher Ambition companies: Valuing learning and development is a way of looking at business and the world. The related activities are an investment, not simply a cost. Research increasingly indicates multiple benefits and that “organizations focused on employees’ capacity for growth will experience significant advantages.”