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How a growth culture surpasses a high-performance culture 

The same forces that are disrupting businesses today are also stirring up fear and anxiety among employees. It affects their confidence and compromises their performance at work. With new technology and economic uncertainty influencing businesses everywhere, there is an organisational tendency to push employees to perform faster and deliver more, often to their limit. 

Tony Schwartz said in a Harvard Business Review article that an organisational culture hyperfocused on performance is not as sustainable as many would like to believe. He asserts that a culture of growth is a far better way to yield positive outcomes in employee performance than a performance-based culture.  

In an environment where uncertainty is pervasive, a more reasonable approach to mitigate business risks and unleash better employee performance is to foster a growth mindset culture rather than a performance-based one. Let’s examine why. 


Performance-based culture vs. Growth mindset culture 

A performance-based culture is not inherently problematic. In fact, a common thread among a lot of successful companies is that they have highly engaged, productive teams attributable to a high-performance culture. A high-performance culture means the workplace’s values, environment, systems, and incentives are geared towards exceeding company goals. In a high-performance culture, efficiency is the name of the game and successes are rewarded. Employees are empowered and supported. They become motivated to perform. This creates a cycle of efficiency. 

The problem with this approach is that failures or mistakes can be easily stigmatised. Employees tend to develop a fear of failing or get embarrassed for making mistakes. 

In a growth mindset culture, successful outcomes are similarly celebrated, but additionally, failures and mistakes are acknowledged as important opportunities for learning. And learning is one way to produce good business results. An organisational culture of growth and learning empowers both leaders and employees to continuously innovate, ask the right questions, and seek better solutions without fear or shame. 


Being vs. Becoming 

Some leaders identify their employees as high performers or low performers. Some employees see themselves as individuals that either fit a given role or not. This is a symptom of a fixed mindset, where you distinguish yourself or others as ‘being’ suitable or not, qualified, or not – either, or. 

In contrast, there are leaders who see potential in their people, beyond suitability or right fit. There are employees who seek new ways to bring value to the organisation and who never settle even after smashing company targets. This is a sign of a growth mindset, where you endeavour to deliver the next development or solution, where you go through a continuous process of ‘becoming’ better than before. 

So, does a high-performance culture cultivate a fixed mindset? Not necessarily, but in a business environment rife with disruption and uncertainty, it’s easy for employees to succumb to pressure, blame others for mistakes, or to operate in silos.  

A growth mindset culture shines in the face of challenges because it allows leaders and employees to work through difficulties together, exchange ideas to improve processes and operate with a ‘we’ instead of a ‘me’ mindset. 


How to Develop a Growth Mindset Culture 

Our abilities are not static. Our intelligence is not fixed. We hold the power to improve our capabilities, overcome obstacles and change our future for the better. This is what it means to have a growth mindset on an individual level. 

And it also applies to an organisational level. To effectively turn this individual growth mindset into a large-scale organisational culture, leaders need to encourage learning, experimentation and support in the workplace.  

Here are a few ways to develop a growth mindset culture at work: 

  • Encourage the sharing of ideas and feedback. Everyone should be encouraged to speak up, propose new ideas, or raise red flags. A collaborative exchange of ideas and feedback can lead to better solutions and long-term growth. 
  • Connect performance with learning. Recognising growth and learning in performance reviews goes a long way in unlocking employee potential. Focusing on improvement rather than just outputs broadens the horizon for the overall growth of the company. 
  • Allow risk-taking. Trying something new is an act of courage. Empower your employees to be bold, to take action, and to experiment with new ideas or approaches. Whether they succeed or fail, evaluate the outcomes together in a supportive way. 
  • Invest in training and development. Upskilling and re-skilling should be seen as a career-long if not lifelong process. Putting your teams through workshops, seminars or experiential learning opportunities that improve skills helps internalise a culture of growth. 
  • Formalise support from leadership. This may take the form of workplace coaching, mentoring, training programmes, or simply leading by example. Employees must be able to look at their leaders and see that learning and striving for growth is, without a doubt, the way to go.