Champion Development

Attitudes about employee talent could have far-reaching consequences

Three people in hot air balloon launched out the top of a building.

Adopting a “growth mindset,” the belief that success is driven by effort rather than just brains or talent, can have a profound effect on how people perform. Haas Professors Jennifer Chatman and Laura Kray have discovered that the same applies for organizations.

In their recent paper “Cultures of Genius,” the authors show that Fortune 1000 companies that indicate they believe employee talent is innate (or fixed) rather than something that can be developed are perceived as less collaborative, less innovative, and even less ethical than growth-mindset organizations. What’s more, employees in fixed-mindset companies reported they were less trusting of their employer, less committed to their jobs, and generally less satisfied with their workplace culture.

The researchers also found that employees will alter their own behavior based on their perceptions of their company’s mindset type. In fixed-mindset organizations, this may mean they’re more competitive with each other and less likely to share credit. Their supervisors, in turn, also tend to view their workers as less collaborative, less innovative, and less ethical.

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck originated the idea of growth mindsets 30 years ago, but until recently the concept was applied only to individuals, not groups. How, exactly, does mindset manifest itself in an organization?

Through its policies, practices, and behaviors, according to the research. Mission statements that emphasize the role of employee talent in the overall success of the company suggest a fixed mindset, for example. Statements that champion opportunities for professional development indicate a growth mindset.

Chatman and Kray say that, ultimately, their goal is to help business leaders recognize the value of growth mindsets and how organizations may cultivate cultures that enable employees to grow in knowledge and ability over time.

“We know from prior research that there are ways to change mindsets and to move people into more of a growth mindset, which can lead to stronger performance,” says Kray, who holds the Ned and Carol Spieker Chair in Leadership. “The good news is that we now have compelling evidence for how organizations can invest in their cultures to produce positive returns.”