Stephanie Reeves (PhD) is a social psychologist with expertise in organizational culture and climate, motivation and achievement, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. She has conducted research efforts for a variety of clients, including the Army Research Institute, the USDA Forest Service, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the Department of State, and more. Prior to joining FMG, she held a National Science Foundation post-doctoral fellowship in which she examined how growth and fixed mindsets impact organizational climate and culture in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) organizations.
Leaders in organizations increasingly recognize organizational culture as a critical determinant of their success. But how can leaders transform their cultures to best position their companies to succeed? Researchers have shown that one underappreciated driver of organizational culture is an organization’s growth or fixed mindset, or the beliefs that people in organizations hold about whether traits and abilities are fixed or malleable.1
What Are Growth and Fixed Mindsets?
People who believe that certain traits, such as intelligence or leadership ability, are fixed and unchangeable are referred to as holding a “fixed mindset.”2 Those who hold a fixed mindset about intelligence, for example, tend to believe that people have a set amount and there is very little one can do to increase or change it.
Conversely, those referred to as holding a “growth mindset” believe that traits are malleable and can change in response to learning, effort, or experiences.3 For instance, people with a growth mindset about intelligence tend to believe it is possible to become more intelligent in response to effort and learning.
In general, research shows that holding a growth mindset tends to be more adaptive than a fixed mindset across a wide variety of settings.4 When individuals hold a growth mindset, they are more likely to view effort positively, engage in learning and development behaviors, and persist in the face of challenges, setbacks, and obstacles. In contrast, when people hold a fixed mindset, they tend to view effort negatively, see learning and development as unnecessary, and give up in the face of challenges, setbacks, and obstacles. Researchers have linked growth mindsets to a variety of important benefits in the workplace, including greater employee engagement and satisfaction,5, 6 higher self-efficacy,7 increased willingness to engage in growth and development activities,8 and improved performance.9
How Mindsets Impact Organizational Culture
Although mindset is typically thought of as specific to an individual, recent research has shown that growth and fixed mindsets can manifest in broader organizational cultures.10 These “organizational mindsets” are the shared beliefs that people in organizations hold about whether abilities are fixed or malleable. Directors, executives, leaders, supervisors, and others of influence often communicate an organization’s mindset through policies, practices, procedures, and messages.11 Organizations with fixed mindset cultures tend to convey the idea that people’s traits and abilities are fixed and unchangeable—that people either “have it” or they don’t, and there is little they can do to change this.
In contrast, organizations with growth mindset cultures tend to relay the idea that people can grow and develop their traits and abilities with time, perseverance, and impactful professional development strategies. Compared to fixed mindset organizations, growth mindset organizations typically have more positive organizational cultures, characterized by higher levels of collaboration, innovation, and integrity, and greater trust in—and commitment to—the organization among employees.
Organizational culture is a critical driver of several important indicators of organizational success, including employee satisfaction and retention, as well as company productivity and profit.12, 13 As such, fostering a growth mindset culture may lead to greater organizational success across a broad range of metrics.
Given these potential benefits, how can organizations create growth mindset cultures? Leadership can communicate a fixed or growth mindset by implementing a variety of policies, practices, and procedures. For example, messages about an organization’s mindset culture can often be found in guiding principles or documents, including:14
- Mission statements
- Organizational values
- Messages from leaders
Organizations that describe themselves as focused primarily on performance, talent, and productivity in these guiding principles are likely to communicate and embody a fixed mindset culture. On the other hand, organizations that emphasize the importance of growth and development as well as of learning from mistakes are more likely to communicate and embody a growth mindset culture. A critical first step in creating growth mindset organizational cultures is for leaders to evaluate these foundational documents and principles to determine what types of mindset messages they may unintentionally communicate to their employees.
Organizational Culture Shifts in Action
For a real-world example, Fors Marsh Group (FMG) is currently working with the U.S. Army Research Institute (ARI) for the Behavioral and Social Sciences to examine the critical role that Army noncommissioned officers (NCOs) may play in fostering growth or fixed mindsets among their Soldiers. By providing NCOs with the tools and resources to foster growth mindsets among their Soldiers, we aim to improve professional development among Soldiers and ultimately increase their readiness and success.
Research on growth mindset provides a powerful new tool for transforming organizational culture and increasing business success. By fostering growth mindset cultures, leaders may gain greater trust and commitment from their employees, improve their organizational culture, and allow their organizations to reach their full potential. Stay tuned for additional posts from FMG’s Organizational Research and Consulting Group about improving employee experiences and promoting more successful organizations.