Leadership, Strategic HR, Training

Manager’s Guide: Coach Your Team with a Growth Mind-Set

We all know about the benefits of continuous feedback in creating high performing learning organizations. But do you feel you’ve started encouraging managers, employees, and teams to start sharing feedback but aren’t seeing the benefits?mind-set

Often, to truly create a strong feedback culture, you also have to consider if your workforce is ready for it. People may be receiving more and more feedback but may not have the tools to actually take in, absorb, and effectively use the feedback they receive.

This is where you can see growth-oriented workplaces leading the way. Did you know that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is credited with leading the company through a much needed culture change using a growth mind-set strategy and is now using it to develop the company’s next leaders?

Growth vs. Fixed Mindsets

Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking work on fixed vs. growth mind-sets sparked a paradigm shift in the way that educators motivate students to learn and improve. She found that students with a fixed mind-set believe that their level of intelligence and talents are fixed and cannot be improved.

Dweck does not deny the existence of natural talent. Some students may find that certain skills come naturally to them and parents or educators may mistakenly encourage them by recognizing their talent rather than their effort. This includes students who have been told they’re naturally smart or good at a certain task. However, these people are often deterred once they face an obstacle.

Fear of risking their reputation as being smart or skilled drives them to stick to tasks they know they can accomplish. People with fixed mind-sets believe their intelligence and skills are intrinsically linked to themselves as a person. Therefore, rather than being encouraged to develop further, they see constructive feedback as a personal attack. This can then trigger emotional reactions to feedback, blocking any personal gain that could be achieved.

On the other hand, rather than being deterred, people with a growth mind-set see challenges as a way to improve. They are open to feedback, seeing it as a tool to fuel their performance rather than seeing it as personal criticism. Through their belief that hard work and persistence can help them improve their intelligence level, these students are the ones who go on to achieve higher results as they move up in their educational career.

How Mind-Sets Impact the Workplace

Companies are now starting to realize that the difference between fixed and growth mind-sets in adults can significantly impact workplace performance. It’s very common for people to believe that we have fixed abilities. Think about when you hear someone say, “she has a natural talent for …”

In addition to the personal development benefits experienced by students, having a growth mind-set also makes employees better team players. (Check out this video for a brief overview of the concept.)

How having a growth orientation can benefit your team:

  • Motivated to learn and improve with feedback
  • Able to more quickly change and adapt skills, behaviors, and attitudes
  • Inspired by teammates’ achievements
  • Willing to share knowledge and help others succeed

To help your team develop a growth mind-set, ask yourself these four questions:

1. Are You Coaching with a Growth Mind-Set?

The first step is to take a deeper look internally. Are you coaching your team with a growth mind-set? It’s not until you take an objective look at your own practices that you can help others do the same. Taking this first step is essential to creating a growth mind-set environment in which your team can thrive.

Do you mentally divide your team into star employees and the rest? How many of your star employees are naturally good at certain tasks? Why not just let people work on their strengths?

Studies do prove that when employees get to use their strengths at work they are more engaged. But helping your team develop a growth mind-set has the added value of opening them up to new talents. Today skills need to be constantly updated and new tools are being developed that can streamline efficiency. But team mates who are resistant to new changes will fall behind.

This doesn’t mean that you should encourage your team to improve every skill in which they struggle. But it’s important that you understand whether what’s blocking them is a lack of interest or a feeling that they’re simply not good at a particular task and won’t be able to improve.

2. How Does Your Team Set Goals?

According to Dweck, the way your team sets goals can have an impact on their mind-set at work. Her research shows that people with fixed mind-sets are more likely to set performance goals rather than learning goals. While this may not sound so bad, the problem is that people with a fixed mind-set are more likely to create performance approach or performance avoidance goals. Setting learning goals on the other hand focuses an employee on taking on new challenges, experimenting, giving more effort, and ultimately, improving.

Rather than encouraging your team members only to set performance-based goals, it’s time to place a stronger emphasis on goals that will ensure they’re always striving to learn, improve, and try new things.

3. Are Your Performance Management Practices Hindering Growth?

Stack ranking is a performance management practice popularized by General Electric (GE) in the 1980s. The system essentially forces managers to rank their employees from top to lowest performing. Rather than encouraging high performance stack ranking, this system pits employees against each other, creating competitive environments steeped in fixed mind-set mentalities.

A number of major companies, including GE itself, have eschewed this practice moving instead towards performance management processes that encourage growth opportunities, autonomy, and risk taking to fuel self-motivation.

4. Is Your Feedback Helping or Hurting Your Team?

Everyone knows that praise is a highly effective tool that, when given correctly, can motivate teams into high performance drive. However, are there hidden dangers you haven’t considered?

Give feedback based on effort and not natural ability. Always explain exactly what they did that helped them achieve this level and what they could do to continue improving. Remember that even for your top performers, there’s no end to what they can learn.

Giving more detailed actionable constructive feedback and sitting down with the employee to find out what the actual problem is will help you know the best way to coach her or him to success.

Steffen MaierSteffen Maier is cofounder of Impraise a web-based and mobile solution for actionable, timely feedback at work. Based in New York and Amsterdam, Impraise turns tedious annual performance reviews into an easy process by enabling users to give and receive valuable feedback in real-time and when it’s most helpful. The tool includes an extensive analytics platform to analyze key strengths and predict talent gaps and coaching needs.