It’s been about 50 years since the digital revolution began changing our world at an increasingly rapid pace. I still remember visiting the local library, which was the magical keeper of all knowledge in my childhood. A few families in the neighborhood were lucky enough to own a set of encyclopedias, the 1970s equivalent to having anytime access to information. In our house, it was the Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia (circa 1976), and, boy, did I have a leg up on my classmates in completing homework. Today, we carry more computing power on our wrists or in our pockets than used to fit in thousands of libraries and millions of pages of reference books. The pace of change continues to accelerate, and the once predictable cycle of whitewater rapids followed by periods of calm are gone for good — creating huge challenges for organizations.
Accelerating change slows down organizations
As tools change faster than organizations can assess, select and implement them, many organizations experience “analysis paralysis.” Historically, leaders of large organizations have made decisions by gathering all the facts, assessing them against a rubric, planning for implementation and moving forward. In our ever-accelerating world, this model no longer works. Instead of rapidly deploying advanced capabilities to improve their operating and/or competitive position, they grind the gears of analysis and evaluation, with little to no ROI to show for the effort. My colleague Emily Lewis-Pinnell talks about this issue in her article “Cloud Adoption Across the Enterprise.”
Emily and I agree that it is people and company culture — not the tools selected — that determine a company’s success in today’s whitewater rapids of change. Success also heavily depends on how well you implement and use whatever tools you have chosen and, perhaps most importantly, how well prepared your people are to handle change.
Organizations must adopt a growth mindset ― a belief that whatever we are doing, we can get better at it. This must be true at the organization level and at the individual level. People and organizations with a growth mindset see the value of constant improvement. They recognize that the best work we do today is the best work, until it’s not anymore. And then we do even better work because we know we can do better — be better. Technology selection and adoption, in a growth mindset culture, are all about constant evolution vs. stepwise movement from one steady state to the next.
Do you have a growth mindset?
Cultures with growth mindsets organize to support and celebrate evolution. An expectation to stretch — and to fail ― exists at every organizational layer. Recruiting looks for potential, instead of narrow technical certifications and capabilities. Since the half-life of any given technology skill is only about two years, the best candidates are those who are curious, adaptable and quick learners. Org structures become more flexible, networked and lattice-like, moving away from traditional hierarchical ladders. Learning and development changes from formal, static classes delivered by a centralized team to shorter, less formal and ubiquitous learning opportunities that are as likely to be created by a colleague than the HR department. How employees are evaluated and rewarded changes, too. Instead of exclusively focusing on “what” is achieved, growth mindset cultures increasingly focus on “how” things are achieved. An example of this would be measuring employee engagement or the number of prototypes built rather than just on how many products were launched.
Five steps to adopt a growth mindset in your organization
- Lead by example. Recognize that a growth mindset culture starts with leadership behavior at all levels. Leaders must work on themselves to help their organizations change. Shift from being the expert in every room to being the one who draws out, inspires and motivates others to become experts by focusing on changing your language from declarative sentences such as “We’re going to do it this way,” to questions such as, “I’m not sure, but I know Sue knows this area well. Sue, what do you think?”
- Implement rewards and celebrations for trying new things. Separate the outcome from the process to encourage people to take chances and try new things. Celebrating only the outcomes handcuffs people to incremental changes to the “way we’ve always done things.”
- Seek out alternate approaches and views. General George Patton said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” One way to do this is to appoint a member of the team to challenge each idea or decision. This can be a rotational assignment or could be a set time period in a regular team meeting.
- Swap out “fail” for the phrase “not yet.” Carol Dweck, whose research led to the concept of a growth mindset, says it has become one of her favorite phrases. Individuals and organizations with a growth mindset recognize setbacks and failures as opportunities for learning. The phrase “not yet” anchors everyone to the possibility for growth.
- Create space for reflection. A growth mindset requires that individuals and teams make time to understand what has happened, what is happening now, and what we want to happen in the future. This goes beyond giving lip-service to “lessons learned.” Asking someone from another team to participate in a project review following implementation is one way of doing this. Another method to make space for this is to ask your team to carve out time in their calendars for reflection. Perhaps you declare the 8:00 a.m. hour of Monday, Wednesday and Friday as reflection time, and create an agreement that meetings will not be scheduled during those times.
If you want to win in the every-changing digital world, create a growth-mindset culture. After all, as the late great Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
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Editor’s note: A similar version of Kim’s blog post was recently published by VMBlog.
Post Date: 2020-03-10