Mindset in Organisations

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Mindset in Organisations

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James Woodeson

Coach, Supervisor & Programmes

Hit me with your mindset stick. Hit me! Hit me!

As so often happens these days, good intentions can have unintended consequences.

Take the excellent book Mindset by Carol Dweck. Now go into many organisations and you are almost guaranteed to hear the phrase “mindset” being used on a regular basis. I dare say it has also infiltrated the homes of many people.

Whether all those people have read and understood the nuances in the book or not is irrelevant. The phrase has become part of corporate culture today.

The fundamentally good thing about the concept of “Mindset” is that we have the ability to choose our response. Nobody can take that away from us. We are all powerful in this regard.

One simply has to read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl to get a real-life sense of this.

Yet, the concept can also be used in ways which can be harmful, cause stress and be counterproductive. How so?

Sometimes, the situation for people, teams or organisations is not good. In fact, it can be really rubbish. At these moments, using phrases like “we need to change our mindset!” can lack the value of acknowledging what is and how it is impacting people now.

It’s scary how often we hear leaders preach this. When they are in positions of power and relative safety compared to those who follow them. As what is implied is “we need to be positive even if we’re not”.

The paradox of this is that by acknowledging and giving time to the reality of the situation – however awful – the mindset shift is likely to take care of itself. By aiming for or (as we have seen) demanding mindset shifts, it often creates resistance, frustration and in some cases, stress.

By way of a simple example. We work with several organisations who regularly have transformations. The challenge for the people in those organisations is that the word “transformation” has become synonymous with “job cuts”, “cost savings” and “achieve more with less”.

Each time there is a transformation, the mindset stick gets brought out and is used by leaders in a vain attempt to motivate through compliance with positivity and change.

A wonderful 1:1 coaching client of mine once said to me…

"You can't polish a turd. But you can roll it in glitter!"

This rather sums up the situation with the mindset stick.

Sometimes you gotta call a spade a spade. Job cuts, cost cuttings… these things are sometimes inevitable and required. It’s tough for those displaced and compassion and care is required toward them. However, those remaining also need compassion and care for the reality of the situation which they are taking forward.

Else, we perpetuate this idea that we must accept our situations for what they are and put on a brave face. This is toxic for organisational culture. Those cultures which we see thrive are where frankness, honesty and time spent acknowledging the impact of situations – good and bad – develops trust, camaraderie and performance.

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