Does Your Association Have a Growth Mindset?

July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021 Staff Writer

Are you thinking about your goals for next year? I challenge you to consider changing your approach to growth.

In the wake of the pandemic, when many tried-and-true strategies (like in-person meetings) have failed, you have a great opportunity to determine how your association will face the future. Will you aspire to a standard growth rate of “a little better than last year,” or are you working to position your organization for a much higher return?

We know it sounds outrageous to consider reinventing things when we’ve had a tough year. And, yes, we experienced the same pandemic you did. But we also know that now is a great time, in the middle of outside disruption, to reinvent the way you do business through experimentation (lemons, lemonade) or rebuilding. Both approaches start with developing a growth mindset throughout your organization.

What Is a Growth Mindset?

Carol Dweck, the Lewis & Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, defined the dichotomy of a growth mindset and a fixed mindset as part of her research. She writes in a Harvard Business Review article: “Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning.”

She continues that when entire organizations develop a growth mindset, amazing things happen. Employees feel more empowered and committed and feel supported when they collaborate and innovate. In contrast, employees at fixed-growth companies are more likely to cheat and deceive their colleagues, presumably to get ahead.

Three Misconceptions About a Growth Mindset

Dweck identified three misconceptions that abound about growth mindsets. The first is how people confuse a growth mindset with being flexible or open-minded. You might be both, but that isn’t a growth mindset. A growth mindset keeps you curious about what you don’t know. No one, she says, is all one way or the other. Instead, everyone is a combination of both fixed and growth mindsets.

The second misconception is that a growth mindset is just about praising and rewarding effort. She cautions that outcomes matter. It isn’t about unproductive effort. It is about learning in order to develop new skills such as trying new strategies, seeking help, and capitalizing on setbacks. These new approaches directly affect the bottom line, which is the ultimate goal.

Finally, you can’t just talk about a growth mindset for positive things to happen. The aspirations in your mission statement must be actionable by every member of your team. If the team innovates but the project doesn’t ultimately succeed, team members should be rewarded for the important and useful lessons they learned. Development and advancement opportunities should be available to every employee.

How Do You Create a Growth Mindset?

Saga Briggs gave a concise guide for creating a growth mindset in an article for informED. She wrote, “It’s not how good you are. It’s how good you want to be.”

Here are Briggs’ top ten ways to develop a growth mindset:

  1. Acknowledge and embrace imperfections.
  2. View challenges as opportunities.
  3. Try different learning tactics.
  4. Replace the word “failing” with the word “learning.”
  5. Stop seeking approval.
  6. Value the process over the end result.
  7. Cultivate a sense of purpose.
  8. Celebrate growth with others.
  9. Emphasise growth over speed.
  10. Reward actions, not traits.

More than anything, however, fear can’t exist as a guiding principle in a growth-minded organization. Employees who are fearful of reprimand, reprisals, or other punitive reactions to mistakes will stop trying anything new. Innovation flourishes when people are allowed to wonder and then create, test, and refine their ideas.

So when the pandemic shut down face-to-face conferences and you pivoted to virtual meetings, did you start thinking about new audiences you might engage? Were there members you could serve better virtually than in person? Did the forced restrictions of the pandemic open new opportunities for you? Did you consider that you might find better ways of conducting business than you had before the pandemic?

Culture Plays an Equal Role in a Growth Engine

In our guide to surviving the pandemic, Association Apocalypse: The 5-Step Guide to Rebuilding Your Association Post-2020, we discuss how you can turn a growth mindset into a growth engine that drives positive change in your organization. We suggest that you can develop a positive culture so that you can integrate it with your strategy and execution. By this, we mean that culture – the collection of words, actions, thoughts, and “stuff” that clarifies and reinforces what is truly valued inside your organization – should work with strategy and execution to elevate your goals to new heights. And make it possible to achieve more than you thought possible.

First, however, you’ll need to know what your culture is. At PROPEL, we use the WorkXO Culture Assessment to capture what it’s like to work at your organization – the patterns, the experiences, even the contradictions inherent in how you do things. It’s based on years of research, testing, and feedback from nearly 100 organizations. This assessment helps associations focus on what’s working for them and changing what’s not.

The assessment takes your employees 15 minutes to complete, and the results come back in days, not weeks. The platform allows you to slice and dice the data any way you’d like.

What Are Your Next Steps?

We think that a culture assessment is the logical first step to defining and nurturing your culture during radical change, particularly if you want to create a growth engine. The results can be the starting point for critical conversations that can change your organization. You can incentivize your employees by asking if they’d like to have a great place to work. It’s amazing what people will do if they can affect positive change.

Of course, you might not be ready to spearhead the change your organization needs. PROPEL is ready to help with the change part – if you need us. We have developed a Growth Mindset Bootcamp that teaches leaders who to foster boldness and innovation both in themselves and in their organizations.

We’d love to talk culture with you. Contact us to learn more.


Photo by Meghan Holmes