Baseball is often called a game of failure. Even the world’s best hitters only get a hit about three out of 10 times, striking out, flying out or getting walked the rest of the time. While failure is a common occurrence in baseball, it’s also an important part of the game. The same applies to leadership: Failure is an inevitable part of your experience as a leader. It’s also a critical aspect of your organizational performance.
How you respond to failure is what matters! Only those who approach failure and challenges with a growth mindset come back stronger. For growth-oriented teams, failure is temporary — a pit stop on the path to getting better.
In a previous post, we defined growth orientation, traits of a growth-minded leader, and how to cultivate your own growth mindset. In this post, we shift from that individual perspective to an organizational one, exploring how you can nurture a culture of growth orientation in your teams.
Building a culture of growth orientation
We can glean great lessons from a sport of failure when attempting to create a growth mindset within an organization. Let’s use the example of the St. Louis Cardinals — one of the most successful teams in baseball history, with 11 World Series championships, 23 National League pennants, and a winning record every season (but one) since 2000. They have a long history of developing and retaining talented players as well as a culture of accountability and growth orientation, where players are expected to continuously improve their skills.
Building on what we’ve learned earlier, a growth-oriented organization is centered around the belief that intelligence and abilities can be developed through hard work and effort of the people in the organization. Growth-oriented organizations aren’t afraid of challenges. Rather, they see failure as an opportunity to learn and get better. They are also most likely to persist in the face of setbacks.
The benefits of a growth-oriented culture are vast and well documented. They include:
- Increased innovation. Organizations with a growth mindset are more likely to innovate because they are not afraid to take risks and try new things.
- Improved employee engagement. Employees in a growth-minded organization are more likely to be engaged in their work because they feel they are constantly learning and growing.
- Greater productivity. Organizations with a growth mindset are more productive because they are more motivated and energized by their work.
- Stronger culture. Organizations with a growth mindset are more collaborative and supportive of each other.
Employees in a growth mindset company are:
Harvard Business Review
- 47% likelier to see their colleagues as trustworthy
- 34% likelier to feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment to the company
- 65% more likely to say the company supports risk-taking
- 49% more likely to say the company fosters innovation
A Nielsen/Harris Poll survey of 300+ senior executives supports this: When given a choice between mindset and technical skills/expertise, 68% of surveyed executives said mindset plays a much bigger role in long-term success. It makes sense, then, that successful executives score high on growth mindset and move quickly to upgrade talent, reports the Harvard Business Review.
Building your organization’s Growth Orientation “muscle”
Creating and sustaining a growth mindset culture can be difficult, particularly in the midst of adversity or in environments with a low tolerance for risk. And yet, it’s your best chance of creating conditions that support continued improvement, innovation, engagement and creativity. (Not to mention a work environment that employees are happy to show up for and stick with longer term.)
The following practices can foster a growth mindset in your teams and organization:
▷ Emphasize learning and development.
Provide employees with opportunities to learn new skills and grow their knowledge.
▷ Encourage employees to take on challenges and try new things.
Challenges are stepping stones to growth. Show employees that you value their willingness to take risks and try new things. Provide them with opportunities to stretch themselves and try something new.
▷ Create a culture of feedback.
Encourage employees to give and receive feedback in a constructive and gracious way. When delivering feedback, it’s important to focus on their efforts and progress rather than their intelligence or abilities. This will help employees see that they are capable of learning and growing.
▷ Celebrate mistakes.
Mistakes are an inevitable part of learning. When employees make mistakes, organizations should celebrate their efforts and find new learnings. This will help employees view mistakes as opportunities for growth rather than failures.
▷ Reward innovation.
Encourage employees to come up with new ideas and solutions. As they do so, create psychological safety around mistakes and failures, so they aren’t afraid to experiment and step out of the “box” in search for unconventional solutions.
▷ Create a positive, collaborative environment.
Employees are more likely to adopt a growth mindset if they feel supported and valued by their colleagues and leaders.
A growth orientation culture requires intention + investment
It’s worth noting that growth orientation — improvement, innovation, creativity — isn’t something you can expect to happen organically or through wishful thinking. There’s a level of organizational investment into resources, space, time and conditions that drive growth. The growth process must be fed!
Sometimes, leaders get frustrated with middle managers: Why can’t they come up with breakthrough solutions? The reality is that often they’re too busy juggling other priorities, or the organization has little tolerance for risk, or high aversion to change. Perhaps they’re stuck operating in a bubble, with little exposure to external or cross-functional perspectives. In such conditions, it’s tough to see possibilities beyond the emergency du jour.
How can you help your teams see at a higher level? How are you exposing them to outside ideas? And how can you encourage thinking time and interactions beyond their day-to-day responsibilities?
We’ll conclude by drawing once more from the baseball theme: You might strike out three times in a row, or you might make an error on the field. The real test of leadership, however, is not giving up. The best players and best leaders are able to persevere through tough times, dust themselves off, and try again to emerge as champions.
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