Dr. Carol Dweck coined the terms “Growth Mindset” and “Fixed Mindset” more than thirty years ago to outline the differences in how people tend to think about our talents, abilities, and intelligence. Her 2014 Ted Talk “The power of believing that you can improve,” has been viewed almost 10 million times, and her research catalyzed a major change in the field of Educational Psychology.

Dweck classifies two distinct mindset groups on a continuum: Growth and Fixed. Those inhabiting a Fixed mindset tend to believe that skills and abilities are innate — in other words, you’re born smart or talented. Individuals with a fixed mindset tend to view failure as permanent, generally choose to pursue easier tasks and are less likely to persist in the face of challenges. Growth mindset individuals, on the other hand, believe that you can develop skills through practice and effort. These individuals typically see failure as a chance to learn, embrace challenges as a way to experiment and use creative problem-solving. 

Beyond those behavior patterns, individuals identified as having a growth mindset also experience additional brain growth! In Mathematical Mindsets, Jo Boaler describes a study that shows when students with a growth mindset make a mistake on a math test, that mistake triggers “significant brain growth” that’s not present when they get the correct answer. 

Let me repeat: Those who got the wrong answer showed significant brain growth. 

So the question here becomes: How is your CRM like a math test? Well, how many times have you heard (or thought to yourself), “I’m just not good with technology” or “I’m not really a computer person” or “I want to actively avoid any and all data and just talk to people!” These statements are all indicative of a fixed mindset, and perpetuate the belief that “getting” technology, or a CRM, or working with data is something they are inherently lacking. It means they’re more likely to give up when they try to find something in the system and can’t, to feel badly about themselves when they select the wrong report type or make some other small mistake.

Coaching users into a growth mindset flips that script. It encourages them to persist in the face of difficulty and remove the association between their personal/professional value and their ability to execute a process in the CRM. So here’s how you can begin to do just that.

  • Reward actions over traits, and effort over talent. 
    • It’s easy to only focus on those users who are getting the “right answer,” since that’s the system we’re used to. But a growth mindset culture dictates that instructors have a responsibility to identify and celebrate those users who are working hard, even if they haven’t quite gotten to the desired end result just yet.
    • Say this:
      • When someone “gets it” easily: Great work; I can see that was really easy for you! I appreciate you doing this, and I want to make sure we give you tasks that are challenging moving forward.
      • When it’s a bit harder: You’re not there yet, but I appreciate the effort you’re putting in. Your willingness to keep going even when it’s difficult is admirable.
  • Replace Failing with Learning
    • I love Edison’s take on failure. In considering his team’s work on the lightbulb, he said that one of his discouraged associates expressed disgust over their failure to find out anything. Edison responded, “We had learned something. For we had learned for a certainty that the thing couldn’t be done that way, and that we would have to try some other way.”
    • In a Growth mindset, failure becomes an objective statement (Well, that didn’t work out), rather than a moral one (I’m bad at my job because I can’t do X), so it’s important that you’ve set expectations at your institution to reflect this. Make sure your stakeholders and leadership know that users will make mistakes, and in fact that you’re encouraging it during the initial onboarding phase.
  • Provide specific and actionable feedback. 
    • Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead says this perfectly: Clear is kind, unclear is unkind. As an instructor, be direct and share expectations with users up front. Tell them right away what they will need to do to be successful, and how that success benefits them in their role.
    • When users fail to meet expectations, or are struggling to get up to speed, ask them to walk you through their thought process, and then share your own insights as to why it is they may be having a hard time, and how you would like to see them change and improve.
      • Say this: “You’re not where we need you to be right now. Can you share with me any insights as to why you’re struggling with the material? I want to work with you to find a solution.”

One last thing: It’s easy to read some bullet points on a page and think that these sorts of strategies can begin to pay off right away. And in some cases they can! But not always. Cultivating a growth mindset, and establishing a culture of transparency, failure, and learning can take time. Be patient with yourself and your users as you start to implement these changes, and watch this space for more strategies for successful adoption.