Does Your Organization Have a Growth Mindset?
Over the past few years, almost everyone from school children to professional athletes has been encouraged to adopt a “growth mindset”—the belief that people’s abilities can improve with persistence, good strategies, and seeking help from other people. But mindsets don’t just exist inside individual people’s heads—they exist in certain places as well.
In fact, companies can have mindsets too—and these mindsets function as a cultural factor that influences employees’ motivation and behavior. In companies that have “cultures of genius,” natural ability is emphasized. These fixed-mindset organizations communicate that people either have what it takes to be a “star” in the organization or they don’t. But growth-mindset companies have a “culture of development” in which improving people’s skills and abilities is the central focus.
Organizational mindsets are communicated by powerful people in an organization—such as leaders and supervisors—and by the organization’s policies, practices, and procedures, including its hiring, evaluation, and promotion policies.
Our newest research shows that growth-mindset companies have more positive company cultures. We examined the mission statements of all companies in the Fortune 500 for fixed and growth mindset language. and then we paired those data with data from Glassdoor, a website where employees rate their company’s culture. We found that companies that espoused more growth mindset language in their mission statements had a more positive company culture according to the employees who worked there.
In another study, we asked over 500 employees working in some of the largest companies in the U.S. to report on their company’s mindset and culture. In particular, we were interested in how mindset predicts the behavioral norms for how the company’s employees treat each other.
Companies perceived to have a stronger growth mindset had employees who were more collaborative. This makes sense because collaboration facilitates learning and skill development—behaviors that are consistent with a culture of development. In contrast, employees in fixed-mindset companies were less collaborative, because when environments are focused on identifying and promoting “stars,” collaboration can make it harder for individual employees to stand out.
Even more telling, employees in growth-mindset companies were more innovative and willing to take intellectual risks without fear of failing. In a culture of development, mistakes are part of the learning process. On the other hand, employees in fixed-mindset companies were more risk-averse and less innovative because innovation increases the opportunity for mistakes. And, in a culture of genius, mistakes cast doubt on people’s abilities.
Employees in growth-mindset companies were also less likely to cheat, cut corners, and keep important information from other employees because these unethical behaviors undermine the learning process prized by growth mindset companies. In contrast, employees in fixed-mindset companies were more willing to engage in unethical behavior because getting ahead of others and being a star is what’s valued in these companies—even at the expense of ethical behavior.
Given these more positive company cultures and norms, employees in growth-mindset companies were more trusting of and committed to their company, which are important factors for job satisfaction, organizational productivity, and employee turnover.
One fascinating thing we discovered is that even people with little expertise can decipher a company’s mindset just by reading publicly available materials such as mission statements and job ads. Because people are more attracted to growth mindset companies, this has implications for recruiting new employees and investors.
The next big question is to understand how organizational mindsets are communicated and transmitted through an organization. How will adopting a growth mindset shape organizational success? In the future, we will examine these questions to provide new strategies for creating and sustaining growth mindset cultures that benefit employees’ and organizations’ success.
For Further Reading
Canning, E. A., Murphy, M. C., Emerson, K. T. U., Chatman, J. A., Dweck, C. S., & Kray, L. J. (2020). Cultures of genius at work: Organizational mindsets predict cultural norms, trust, and commitment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 46(4), 626-642. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167219872473
Murphy, M. C., Dweck, C. S. (2010). A culture of genius: How an organization’s lay theory shapes people’s cognition, affect, and behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 283-296. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167209347380
Emerson, K. T., Murphy, M. C. (2015). A company I can trust? Organizational lay theories moderate stereotype threat for women. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41, 295-307. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167214564969
Canning, E. A., Muenks, K., Green, D. J., & Murphy, M. C. (2019). STEM faculty who believe ability is fixed have larger racial achievement gaps and inspire less student motivation in their classes. Science Advances. 5(2) eaau4734. https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/2/eaau4734
Elizabeth A. Canning is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Washington State University. Her research focuses on how to create equitable and inclusive contexts that stoke motivation, persistence, and achievement.
Mary C. Murphy is the Herbert B. Wells Endowed Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University. She studies organizational mindset and how other features of the environment shape people’s motivation, behavior, and performance in educational and organizational settings.