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Adopt the growth mindset + act already!

Jeff Jokerst | Dec 21, 2017 Jeff Jokerst 12/21/17

As a consultant to several restaurant, retail, and grocery brands, I have the opportunity to present employee survey findings to executive teams almost 50 times a year. This has provided some unique opportunities for casual data collection based on meeting observations. Through my observations, I have come to realize a great predictor of growth—not only related to employee engagement, but also to the business in general—is how the team responds to their data and commits to action. Whether those teams know it or not, they’re demonstrating many of the qualities of a “growth mindset”—a principle made famous by Carol Dweck.  


This observation has been affirmed over my last three weeks of travel. During this time, I had the wonderful opportunity to connect with three executive teams, all of whom lead businesses that are excelling in their respective domains. In each case, it was quickly apparent that the executive team was comfortable with one another as evidenced by nearly everyone in the room providing input. Again and again, there were 4 key actions that differentiated these teams from those who find less success in benefiting from survey findings:

1. Accept (don’t debate) the measurement number

It was also apparent in each case that everyone was comfortable with an established high bar of performance. For example, SMG utilizes a standard of “Top Box” (or “Strongly Agree”) responses as the measuring stick, because this best predicts business performance—but it’s also a very high bar. In contrast, I’ve been a part of teams that endlessly debate the measuring stick (“Is it fair to look only at Top Box?” “Averages don’t mean anything,” “Favorable responses are overly positive”—the list goes on…).

The amount of energy exerted on this debate generally ends up serving as a divider in the room, and I’ve never seen it positively impact the organization. The conversation almost always stalls a meaningful conversation of the results and derails the true benefit of the survey findings, which is to understand where we can improve the workplace for our employees! Dweck speaks to this in her research regarding how a “fixed mindset” gets overly focused on scoring rubrics, while those with a “growth mindset” are focused on learning from the assessment.   

2. Acknowledge initiatives that have contributed positively to results

The high-performing executive teams I’ve observed throughout the years are “tuned in.” They can quickly reference programs that have been implemented recently and detail how those could have impacted the results, and they acknowledge those in the room that may be responsible in a rewarding way. In other words, they celebrate where they acted and scored.

On the other side, teams that struggle are largely unaware of programs/initiatives happening within the organization. As a result, they miss out on opportunities to understand what works well enough to potentially replicate in other areas of the business. According to Dweck, a key dynamic of a “growth mindset” is the ability to attribute successes to actions you have taken. 

3. Discuss “WHY” a number may be underperforming

The best teams are dialoguing about systematic low-performing areas or areas that have dropped. I often hear things like “I bet this has something to do with our discontinuing of X program” or “We have been changing a lot recently, which means our systems aren’t as streamlined as they could be. I’d guess this is impacting our result on Y.” This sort of discussion gets the team primed to further diagnose the opportunity and add their rich perspective of what they see on the “ground.” It also starts to fuel a later discussion on what can be done to improve. 

On the flip side, teams that struggle with benefiting from their data busy themselves with talking about how the number could be sliced differently to create different results. This almost always results in a key finding or opportunity being ignored or downplayed because the focus is having survey results provide a “silver bullet” based on just the right cut of data. A key characteristic of the “fixed mindset” is not wanting to appear wrong. In fact, those with a “fixed mindset” in some cases end up lying to avoid appearing wrong. 

4. Take quick action based on the results

The best teams, including those I visited with recently, walk out of the room with actions they have agreed to take based on the results. This process occasionally happens organically throughout the presentation. For example, while recently reviewing data associated with recognition and “why” results may be lower, an executive immediately brainstormed ways to help managers better give recognition to their teams. Even better, the response from the room was a quick “Let’s do it.” There were no committees, no long debates—just agreement to try something quickly to address an opportunity. And by the way, they assigned someone who was responsible for seeing it through. 

Other times, the process is more planned: after spending 45 minutes or so reviewing data, another 45 minutes is spent listening to executives share their takeaways from the presentation and discussing initial actions they will take to address the key findings! Again, ownership of the action is assigned to someone sitting in the room. Teams that are less effective almost never leave the room with actions— only items scheduled for debate or put on hold due to a desire for “more data.” Again, Dweck’s research shows that those with a “growth mindset” take ownership of changing their circumstances.      

A final thought:           

As a data geek by choice, I admit I’ve found myself occasionally falling into the trap of paralysis by analysis. I’m thankful that throughout the year I have a chance to see great teams in action, so I’m reminded to stay focused on what is really important in sharing back results. I hope that you adopt the “growth mindset” within your teams and challenge them to use employee surveys for growth within the organization, rather than an exercise in data gymnastics. 

To see what it looks like when brands take these 4 key actions, check out our case study: Employee engagement program delivers quick wins for Wisconsin-based Festival Foods

Jeff Jokerst
VP, Client Insights