The Secret to Organizational Agility

The Secret to Organizational Agility

The Leadership Trait You Need for Success

Imagine if your organization was able to change more rapidly, innovate in new and exciting ways, and anticipate the skills you would need to continue to do it in the future. If your organization were able to achieve true agility it would have to come from everywhere, senior leaders, managers, and employees. You would need to become an organization open to change, learning and growth at every level. While this may sound lofty, there are many who believe it can be achieved when organizations develop high-trust, learning-centered organizational cultures, the key to which might not be in complex strategy or change initiatives, but in individual minds. Changing the mindset of individuals in your organization might be just what you need to transform.

Mindset is a simple idea explained by psychologist Carol Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She establishes two different mindsets at work in all of us: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. In a fixed mindset, people tend to believe that traits, like their intelligence and abilities are fixed and unchangeable. These people are more likely to focus on establishing and proving themselves rather than looking for ways to improve. They tend to focus on strengths and talents before considering opportunities for development or change.

Leaders with the fixed mindset are more likely to:

  • Strive to prove themselves, and make others do the same
  • Emphasize hierarchy in groups
  • Claim credit for accomplishments, often not sharing success with others
  • Take actions to prevent others from gaining power

The growth mindset on the other hand, leads people to believe that their abilities can be developed and changed through effort. They tend not to focus on innate talents, but seek out opportunities to improve and are more likely to believe that they can change things about themselves. This view supports curiosity and learning that tends to lead to great innovation and accomplishment.

Leaders with the growth mindset tend to:

  • Constantly seek ways to improve
  • Surround themselves with able and talented people
  • Admit their mistakes and look for opportunities to learn from them
  • Ask what skills they and their teams will need in the future

The Importance of Mindset in the Workplace

When managers exhibit either of these mindsets they are impacting the culture of their teams, and the organization overall. In her book, Dweck uses examples from Jim Collins and Tom Porras' acclaimed book Built to Last to illustrate examples of mindsets in action in the corporate world. One example of a fixed mindset leader comes from David Rockefeller, CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank in the 1960s and 70s. Rockefeller was notorious for disapproving of his employees to the point that they lived in fear of his reactions. If he didn't like ideas he would yell and bang on tables, dictating everything to his liking. This environment stifles innovation, and inhibits an organization's ability to react to change effectively.

Growth mindset leaders however, create environments far more conducive to change. Jack Welch, renowned former CEO of General Electric, was known for his frequent visits to factories where he would talk with employees about their experience. He used his learnings from these trips to inform the decisions he made for the organization. He wasn't afraid of admitting to anyone that he had more to learn, even an employee on the assembly line. Growth-minded leaders, like Welch, believe in the potential of continued learning, both for themselves and others. They use the organization and their teams as vehicles for growth and accomplishment, not for the validation of their own ideas.

Truly great organizations with high levels of ability to innovate and stay agile in rapidly changing times are those that not only have growth minded leaders at the helm, but throughout the organization. To become a true learning organization, a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself, the growth mindset must be active at all levels of management, and encouraged among all employees. This is the behavior change that will stimulate innovation and organizational agility, regardless of external competition or pressures.

Changing Your Mindset

How do leaders develop a growth mindset? The key challenge is to transition thoughts away from judging and reacting, toward a more curious and accepting perspective. To do this, individuals must gain a better awareness of their own behaviors and motives, which requires a lot of personal work. However, there are simple ways to start the process. Dweck poses the following ques tions as starting points to consider when seeking to change mindset in your organization:

  • Are you in a fixed-mindset or growth-mindset workplace? Do you feel people are just judging you or are they helping you develop? To transform your environment, start with yourself.
    • Are there ways you could be less defensive about your mistakes?
    • Could you profit more from the feedback you get?
    • Are there ways you can create more learning experiences for yourself?
  • How do you act towards others in your workplace? Are you a fixed-mindset boss, focused on your success more than on your employees' well-being?
    • Have you ever reaffirmed your status by demeaning others?
    • Have you ever held back high-performing employees because they threaten you?
  • Consider ways to help your employees develop on the job: Apprenticeships? Workshops? Coaching sessions? Think about how you can start seeing and treating your employees as your collaborators, as a team. Make a list of strategies and try them out. Do this even if you see yourself as a growth-mindset boss.

Asking questions like these to assess current mindset across your organization will give you a good idea of how prepared your leaders are for change. Those who tend towards the fixed mindset are less likely to course correct when the unexpected arises, leaving their teams and the organization at a loss for effective leadership when the environment demands it most. While companies are investing in innovation trainings and agility assessments, its might be that your time is more wisely used revaluating how you encourage managers to approach situations and actively learn from them on a regular basis.