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Hiring People Who Have a Growth Mindset

Posted by Bob Corlett on August 23, 2010

I'm cheered by a positive trend sweeping through our search work.  First, there is quite a bit more hiring going on - I always like that.   But more importantly, there is more thinking going on.  And I really like that.  Across the spectrum, we see more thought going into job definition.

During the past 18 months of cost cutting, a survivalist mentality crept into some workplaces. Some employees were gripped with a “scarcity mindset” - characterized by fear and risk aversion.  This outlook is counter to what is really needed at this point in the economy: restarting growth. Companies must refocus on growing existing customer relationships and creating new ones, revitalizing products and services, and reaching out to new markets. But to do so, they have to have the right people with the right attitudes and skills, to support these growth initiatives.

In an article in Chief Learning Officer Magazine, authors Andrew Sobel and Guido Quelle suggest that you look for 5 key qualities in the people who will lead your growth initiatives:

1. An aspirational mindset:  This is a belief in possibilities rather than in limitations, in the concept that growth is ideas-constrained, not resource-constrained, and that a rising tide lifts all boats. To encourage the aspirational mindset, company leaders must share an upbeat vision that powerfully engages employees. To encourage long-term, out-of-the-box thinking, they must then reinforce this behavior through the performance management system.

2. A customer bias: All companies say they are customer-centric, but most actually are not. A key driver of customer bias is the culture. What is more important: internal meetings or dealing with customers? Do your leadership team members spend large amounts of time with customers, or is their time spent focusing on internal politics? Also, does everyone in your organization receive regular, unfiltered feedback on customer satisfaction, retention, and attitudes toward your company? Without this, say Sobel and Quelle, you risk living in an insulated bubble that fosters an internal orientation.

3. The willingness to take risks: Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, used to have a sign on his desk that read, “If you haven’t made at least one mistake today, you’re not trying hard enough.” His point was that to grow, you had to try new ideas and new approaches — only a few of which would actually pan out. In some organizations, the cultural and economic sanctions for making mistakes create a paralysis that prevents any new or creative thinking. Leadership must make it acceptable by modeling this behavior and by supporting measured risk taking through the performance and reward system.

4. A collaborative spirit: Employers need to remove the barriers that keep employees from collaborating around the things that drive revenue growth, such as key customer relationships and new product initiatives.

5. An intense curiosity: Albert Einstein once told a friend, “I have no special talents; I am merely very curious.” As adults, note Sobel and Quelle, we tend to lose our sense of curiosity and wonder, yet this is what drives much innovation. For example, in 1948, Swiss amateur mountaineer George de Mestral was going for a hike in the Alps. After his walk, he noticed his socks — and his dog — were covered in burs. Curious about how they stuck to his clothing, he examined them under a microscope and observed the tiny hooks that allowed the burs to hang onto the fabric. In 1955, he patented Velcro, now a billion-dollar industry. Stimulate curiosity by eliminating complacency and constantly encouraging your people to do things better and differently. 

If you want more on how to hire people with a growth mindset, read my previous posts on "How to Hire People Who Thrive in Downturns" and "Hiring People with Resilience."

Topics: Interviewing Executives, Innovation and Change