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The Growth Mindset Revisited

Organizational Culture: Cultivating an Environment that Nurtures Psychology Safety to Facilitate a Climate Conducive for the Growth Mindset.

In April 2021, as I studied Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset Philosophy, I struggled to apply it to a corporate or organizational setting. As a former educator, I can understand and evaluate my and other colleagues' mental and emotional posture related to the growth mindset philosophy. However, working in the corporate setting, the personification of our business was both challenging and eye-opening. I’ve learned that the “mindset” of an organization is its culture. 

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) states a company’s culture consists of shared beliefs and values of the leaders, which are then communicated and reinforced to shape employee perceptions, behaviors, and understanding. In other words, a company’s culture defines the proper way to behave within the organization. It also sets the context for everything an enterprise does and all that it doesn’t do.  As I paused to reflect upon previous schools, districts, the positions of leadership I’ve held, and my current status, I realized there was sometimes a disconnect between our mission statement and our organization’s culture. In other words, our mission statement spoke of a “growth mindset,” but our corporate culture loudly demonstrated the contrary.

Dr. Carol Dweck, Stanford professor and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, stated, “There are so many ways the fixed mindset creates Groupthink. Leaders are seen as gods who never err. A group invests itself with special talents and powers. Leaders, to bolster their ego, suppress dissent. Or workers, seeking validation from leaders, fall into line behind them.”

 

Dweck goes on to say, “Groupthink can also happen when a fixed-mindset leader punishes dissent. People may not stop thinking critically, but they stop speaking up.”

 

When employees, team members, or students are afraid to speak up, growth, innovation, and creativity become stifled. This atmosphere can create a climate of fear, alienation, and frustration. So now, when we begin to look at the fixed mindset versus a growth mindset in corporations, we see some notable trends. These trends tend to stifle growth and creativity and encourage stifling conformity. Why? There is a fundamental lack of a climate and culture of psychological safety.

In the Fall of 2021, Crucial Learning (formerly VitalSmarts, publishers of Crucial Conversations) published a free e-book entitled, Unafraid: How to Speak Up About Things That Matter. The book states that over the last 18-months, 9 out of 10 people surveyed felt emotionally or physically unsafe to speak or share thoughts. In other words, it is not “okay” to be wrong, and differing viewpoints are not welcomed. Some shared that they resorted to coping behaviors to protect themselves emotionally. Crucial Learning suggests that some protective coping skills create a defensive barrier or wedge that facilitates a broader divide between parties. Thus the need for a culture of psychological safety.  

What is psychological safety? From the  Harvard Business, Amy Edmondson defines psychology safety as a "shared belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes." In other words, a place where employees or team members feel safe to risks to speak up and speak out in an atmosphere of openness, trust, and mutual respect. Edmondson suggests that leaders must be willing to model transparency, vulnerability, and active listening behaviors to create psychological safety.   

 

Timothy Clark, founder, and CEO of LeaderFactor, further expounds on Edmondson’s work regarding psychological safety.  Clark suggests four stages to psychological safety. The four stages are:

  • Stage 1 – Inclusion Safety: Inclusion safety meets the basic human need to be accepted and belong.

  • Stage 2 – Learner Safety: Learner safety fulfills the need to learn, grow, receive feedback, and make mistakes.

  • Stage 3 – Contributor Safety: Contributor safety ensures the member feels safe to make a meaningful contribution. 

  • Stage 4 – Challenger Safety: Challenger safety assures an individual feels secure to speak up presenting opposing or new ideas.

 

The greatest resource of any organization is its human capital. Investing in people has positive results. Edmondson and Clark both suggest that when there is a culture of psychological safety creates a foundation of respect and permission where people are valued and appreciated, thereby creating an environment full of creativity, innovation, and relevancy.

Resources

Clark, T. (2020, November). What is psychological safety | intro to the 4 stages of ... Retrieved November, 2021, from                                                 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Enrosv7iLTE

Crucial Learning. (2021, December). Unafraid: How to Speak Up About Things That Matter. Retrieved December, 2021, from                                    https://go.cruciallearning.com/12092021-MD-Unafraidebook.html

Dweck, C. (2017, March 06). Carol Dweck on "Developing a growth MINDSET culture IN organizations": Talks at Google. Retrieved 2021,              from https://youtu.be/Mjv7TBoAYSY

Edmondson, A. (2014, May 05). Building a psychologically safe workplace | Amy Edmondson ... Retrieved November, 2021, from                             https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhoLuui9gX8

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