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Pete Weston


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Behavioural change: why growth mindset is not simply a training course


Nurturing a 'growth mindset' has become de rigueur in L&D circles, but many businesses are failing at it due to a fundamental misunderstanding of the core principles. Here's how to embed the growth mindset in your organisation. 

The idea of having a growth mindset (i.e. the belief that you can develop your intelligence) is a popular one. It’s an appealing theory, it’s beguilingly simple, and it aligns well with many human resource initiatives.

Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck has conducted growth mindset research over a number of years in education, looking at how students maximise their potential. Recently the idea has become of interest to business leaders. The result is that organisations are looking to implement the growth mindset theory in adult environments.

Is there pressure to add growth mindset to your L&D curriculum? Do you already have growth mindset assets available for your community, but utilisation and participant response are average? If so, what should be your next steps?

A good growth mindset implementation offers the chance for everyone to find a route to maximise their potential.

We see two important challenges for the L&D professional if your organisation commits to implementing growth mindset.

These challenges are related first to a misunderstanding about growth mindset. Stop for a minute and consider what you think growth mindset is. If you and the rest of your organisation think it’s about belief, you have a good starting position for a successful implementation.

In our experience many companies struggle to sustain the definition as the concept is rolled out.

If you are looking to influence belief, then it’s sensible to ensure the rest of your curriculum aligns with this belief. Our experience suggests that there is a confusion between growth mindset and the tools and strategies used to implement the concept successfully.

This potential confusion has implications for curriculum content and growth mindset deployment as well as in other areas of talent management.

There are actions you can take now to address the challenges of definition and alignment:

  • If the organisation has asked for growth mindset in the curriculum, does it know it is about influencing beliefs regarding intelligence? If not, you may need to reset expectations about what it is and what it offers
  • Does your existing curriculum, whether the content is bought in or designed in-house, align with growth mindset?
  • Do your growth mindset assets, or the ones you plan to source (workshops, eLearning, infographics etc.), offer content that distinguishes between growth mindset beliefs and the tools and strategies to implement a growth mindset approach to working?
  • Do your assets use appropriate teaching/learning paradigms to influence belief and encourage application?     

It is better to delay introducing growth mindset than have a poor implementation as it could make a remarkable impact on how the climate and culture of your organisation works. Rushing to implement will marginalise impact and the idea will soon be seen as a fad with no lasting impact.  

Growth mindset is about beliefs

The topic is popular: it is being sold as empowerment, self-efficacy, grittiness, agility, a route to success, and a creativity and innovation tool, all of which misrepresent what it is. It is important to understand why your organisation wants growth mindset at all.

  • Check your own understanding of growth mindset by reading some of Dweck’s original peer-reviewed research. Use reputable sources such as material on the Mindset Works site to understand what it is and why it isn’t all the other things
  • Clarify who in the organisation thinks growth mindset is important and understand why they think so. For important powerful stakeholders, meet with them to clear up any confusion about the concept or its application
  • Develop and promote appealing infographics or infomercials to explain what growth mindset is and how it can help organisations. Ensure these assets become the ‘go to’ resources for anyone with an interest in growth mindset 
  • If there is interest and demand, consider running some interactive awareness sessions

It’s important to ensure clarity: it will help to distinguish between the growth mindset beliefs and the tools to implement activity based on growth mindset.

Mixed messages in the curriculum

Do you have material in your curriculum that is sending fixed mindset messages? For example, do you have L&D assets that look at developing talent? Does the language convey ideas about innate talent? Do you have a sales force to train? Does any of your course content imply that selling is more about what you are born with?

  • Audit your curriculum content, identify problem areas, grade them based on the potential impact of the content and fix immediately where possible
  • If you have existing L&D suppliers, find out their position on growth mindset and encourage them to work with you to communicate growth mindset in their content and delivery. (Especially so if you have freelance workshop facilitators or trainers)
  • Practice what you preach: check your own growth mindset and ensure your own behaviour supports a growth mindset.

Beliefs versus tools

Business leaders want results, they want empowerment, self-efficacy, grittiness, agility, routes to success, creativity and innovation and all the other things that drive results.

They don’t want growth mindset alone. The challenge is to demonstrate that tools, methodologies and strategies are worthless unless people learn how to use them and use them well. We want them to be used by individuals who see challenges and obstacles as part of the job, that willingly accept feedback, and that change their behaviour and enjoy the success of others.

Without this capacity, teaching employees how to successfully use new tools, methodologies and strategies comes down to luck and randomness. Growth mindset elevates everything else, but is nothing in of itself.

While you need to explain growth mindset, it is not really a separate curriculum topic, it is not a just training course. Growth mindset drives the effectiveness and execution of tools, strategies and methodologies.

Learning paradigm    

If you are looking to help learners examine and change beliefs about growth mindset, it is probably a good idea to develop a mix of behaviourist and constructivist interventions.

Growth mindset is a validated theory: it has specific characteristics and the learner needs to understand what they are. This is particularly important as our experience suggests that growth mindset can be easily misinterpreted and deployed wrongly.

Growth mindset drives the effectiveness and execution of tools, strategies and methodologies.

Infographics, eLearning, directed-learning assignments and publicly available video material from Carol Dweck and other reputable growth mindset practitioners will allow your learners to gain a clear understanding of the theory.

This is only half the learning story. If you want your learners to examine and develop their growth mindset, it’s important for them to explore the implications of taking on the belief over time.

This is a core adult learning principle: it must make sense, have context and be useful. This normally means some form of discovery learning programme and an extended period of personal-work-based application, peer groups interactions and personal ‘sense making’. You should weave these opportunities into as many aspects of your curriculum as you can.     

A few final thoughts

An effective implementation of growth mindset requires the organisation to go beyond updating the L&D curriculum.

Over time it will impact many different areas of the talent management cycle. A training course should be only one facet of a growth mindset implementation.

A good growth mindset implementation offers the chance for everyone to find a route to maximise their potential. This will lead to a more engaged workforce and improved productivity. The idea has relevance across the whole gamut of human resource management activities.

For example, implementing the theory will help transform initiatives such as diversity and inclusion and succession planning into sources of competitive advantage.

The experience you build implementing growth mindset into the curriculum should be a source of expertise for the whole organisation. The knowhow you develop should offer you influence well beyond the confines of the L&D department.  

Interested in reading more about the growth mindset approach? Read Six steps to achieve real behaviour change at work.

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Author Profile Picture
Pete Weston

Senior Consultant

Read more from Pete Weston

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