You may already have heard of mindset, and the work of Professor Carol Dweck, at Stanford University. However, have you considered that mindset could be key to successfully addressing the challenges of building a hybrid workplace?

Approaches to learning

Dweck defines two types of people, based on how they learn. Those with a ‘fixed mindset’ believe that talent and skills are innate: that you are given a fixed amount of talent, and no amount of work can improve it. They see ‘failure’ as absolute, and impossible to overcome. Those with a ‘growth mindset’, by contrast, believe that they can learn and develop their skills. They see mistakes as a way to learn, and ‘failure’ as a temporary setback.

Most of Carol Dweck’s work focuses on helping children to develop a growth mindset, as a way to encourage them to learn and become more resilient. She describes the power of framing ideas, including the ‘power of yet’. This is the idea that when you do not achieve something, you can think of it as not being at the required standard ‘yet’, rather than failing to reach it at all. That is, ‘now’, at this point in time, you have not reached that standard, but in the future you can do so.

Growth mindset in organisations

This is all very interesting, but fairly abstract until you realise that organisations, too, can develop a growth mindset, in the form of a ‘learning culture’. This means that they tend to be focused on learning. They allow people to try things out, and don’t worry when they make mistakes, which tends to encourage innovation. The opposite is known as a ‘performance culture’. Organisations with this type of culture are focused on results. 

On the face of it, a performance culture sounds positive, and it is clear why organisations might start to focus on results. However, the problem arises when results are poor. At that point, these organisations tend to look for people to blame—and that leads to lack of risk-taking. Performance-focused organisations therefore tend to be very cautious, and not at all innovative. The result is that organisations with a learning culture tend to perform better than organisations that are focused on performance and achievement.

Hybrid workplaces and learning culture

It seems likely that a learning culture will be an essential part of developing successful hybrid workplaces. This is because almost nobody has really done this before. There is a lot to learn—for everyone involved. You are unlikely to get good results if people are afraid to try things out. But how can organisations create this kind of culture?

First, there must be an element of ‘leading from the front’. Work from McKinsey suggests that to develop a learning culture—one where learning is truly valued—people need to see their leaders actively learning. The key here is asking the right questions. These include questions like “What are we missing?”, and “How could we do this differently?”—and these must be asked routinely, about everything that is going on. Asking these questions needs to become part of the culture. 

This is not just about looking to improve each individual project. It is also about encouraging a culture of reflection and development—which in turn is an important part of successful learning and development.

There is, of course, also an element of leaders being willing to try out new things. One common issue in companies that are trying to move towards a hybrid culture is that many of the senior managers and leaders are uncomfortable with being out of the office much of the time. For a hybrid culture to develop, leaders have to ‘put their money where their mouths are’, and work from home themselves. If your manager is always in the office, the chances are that you will feel you need to be there too. 

Finally, leaders need to create a culture where people feel comfortable sharing new ideas. This means being open to and welcoming ideas, even if they are counter-intuitive or counter-cultural. This creates psychological safety, which is important for sharing ideas. 

A focus on learning

We suggest that organisations looking to develop a hybrid culture would do well to focus on encouraging learning and experimentation, not the nature of work. We are all in uncharted territory here. Moving with confidence means being prepared to take risks, and learning from mistakes. In other words, it requires a growth mindset, and a bit of bravery.