A key to learning in organizations is the belief system of managers and their employees. Yes, training and other kinds of on-the-job experiences are important interventions that contribute to learning and performance improvement, but without a belief that all people can grow and change, the best designed and delivered learning interventions will have little lasting impact.
In her HBR post titled, “People Won’t Grow If You Think They Can’t Change”, Monique Valcour writes:
Have you ever worked hard to improve a valuable skill and made real progress, only to have your development go unnoticed by the people who told you that you needed to improve? Perhaps this led you to look for a new job. Or maybe you’re a manager who’s been disappointed by poor performance and concluded that your low-performing employees are simply over-entitled? So you gave up on trying to help them improve and vented your frustration with colleagues behind closed doors.
Both of these commonplace experiences point to problems caused by a fixed mindset, in which we find it hard to believe that people can change. In the first scenario, an employee is judged as having low potential—and this assessment blinds leaders to the progress he’s made. In the second, the manager’s conviction that her employees will never change makes her less likely to engage in leadership behaviors that support development. The bottom line in both cases is that employees are less likely to reach their potential.
Valcour is making us aware of the self-fulfilling prophecy that is a result of having either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. Carol Dweck has addressed the fixed-mindset vs. growth-mindset dichotomy in her book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” She makes the point that whether one has a fixed mindset or a growth mindset has a profound effect on learning. I wrote about this in a previous blog post:
Organizational leaders can talk about training, learning, and performance improvement all they want but unless they confront the underlying beliefs that are a barrier to learning, all of that activity will have little impact. Those with a fixed mindset do not develop themselves and do not support the development of others. They do not value training and other types of less formal learning opportunities because they don’t believe people can learn and change. They do not create and encourage learning experiences because they believe it’s a waste of time and resources.
The expectations managers have for employee learning are critical to the impact of any learning intervention (This is the “Anticipation” element of the 5As Framework.). If managers expect that employees can’t or won’t become more effective in their jobs, then this becomes a barrier to the acquisition of new knowledge and skills and to applying that learning in the workplace. If managers expect that employees can and will become more effective in their jobs, then this becomes a driver of learning and performance improvement.
If you want a high performing organization, you need managers who believe in employees and employees who believe in themselves. This starts with hiring and promotion. Look for people who have a growth mindset. Belief systems can change, so make sure your leaders communicate their own beliefs about growth...if they believe that employees can learn, change, and become more successful in their work.