Growth Mindset Lessons from the CEO of Microsoft

Last week marked a milestone for Mindset Leadership as we became one of the select few partners across the globe to be accredited to deliver Matthew Syed’s Psychometric Tool (Mindset Advantage) as part of our comprehensive list of leadership services. The tool was designed by Matthew and his terrific team and is the only tool available on the market today that is designed to specifically measure and build a growth mindset at an individual, team and organisational level.

Perhaps where the concept of Growth Mindset is most recognised is in our education system where the research by Carole Dweck and insights by Syed have led to large scale intervention programmes and coaching to educate teachers on the critical importance of nurturing a Growth Mindset from an early age. When children believe they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger. Therefore they put extra time and effort in which ultimately leads to higher achievement. In addition, neuroscientific research backs this up. We now know that the brain is much more malleable than originally thought. In other words, we can make the connection between neurons more robust and create new neural pathways through experiences, forming new healthier habits, practising etc. In short, just because you think you were born struggling with maths does not mean you can never be good at maths! Practice really can make perfect!

Now we have understood how fostering the growth mindset in schools can help us create a future generation of resilient, intelligent individuals who believe in the power of purposeful practice (a concept coined by Syed) to create high performance, one may wonder how this same theory lends itself to the corporate world?

The most impactful example of a leader who dramatically transformed his organisation through a Leading Change programme based on Growth Mindset was Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. We were privy to Matthew Syed’s account of his recent meeting with him whereby Nadella discussed the approach he took to turning around a pretty depressing situation: falling share prices, a decade of flat growth, a siloed culture rife with inertia and internal bickering. In less than five years, Nadella had successfully raised share prices to an all time high and in June 2018 reported revenue was up to £540 billion representing growth of $250 billion (McKinsey). A big part of Nadella’s success in driving such high performance was that he wanted to create a learning culture which embraced failure. A culture of innovation whereby everyone believes there is always room to learn more and no one is scared to fail. An interesting article by Ibarra and Ratan describes pre-Nadella culture to be so political that ‘it forced you to make sure that your colleague failed so you could succeed’. A harsh reality which many of us become accustomed to and is not just limited to Microsoft.

Essentially, such organisational transformation and surge in high performance was created out of Nadella’s fundamental belief in establishing a Growth Mindset amongst the company. It all started in 2015 when Nadella’s wife gave him a copy of Dweck’s book ‘Mindset’ which she had found insightful in thinking about creating conditions for success for one of their daughter’s who has learning difficulties (Ibarra&Ratan).

In July 2015, Nadella revealed a fresh company mission “To empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more…it’s about every individual, every one of us having that attitude – that mindset -of being able to overcome any constraint, stand up to any challenge – that will make us grow individually and as a company” (Nadella, 2015). Nadella’s team defined what growth mindset meant for Microsoft, in real terms and out of this came three pillars of change that Nadella wanted to establish across the company.

  1. Customer Obsession. pre-Nadella culture thrived off back stabbing and contributed to the formation of an elite, inner circle which was responsible for taking all of the decisions. This dysfunctional behaviour which was very much part of the Fixed Mindset camp was thought to have contributed to Microsoft’s stall in innovation and lack of growth. Nadella wanted everyone to be become customer obsessed. “At the core of our business must be the curiosity and desire to meet a customer’s unarticulated and unmet needs with great technology”. We need to listen to our customers and make the impossible, possible.
  2. Diversity and inclusion. We are at our best when we actively seek diversity and inclusion. If we are going to serve the planet as our mission states, we need to reflect the planet. (Forbes)
  3. One Microsoft: We are one company, one Microsoft – not a confederation of fiefdoms. Innovation and competition don’t respect our silos, so we have to learn to transcend those barriers (Ibarra&Ratan).

Previous performance management processes were thoroughly reviewed in line with Growth Mindset principles and coaching was implemented across platforms. Managers were empowered to influence more which served to break down the elite inner circle. People were encouraged to ask whether the topics of conversations held in meetings were done so with a Growth Mindset or a Fixed Mindset and other processes were rolled out which established, reinforced and encouraged Growth Mindset principles. A Learning Culture thrived as did the bottom line and Microsoft continues to keep trends in line with this momentum to date.
We are extremely proud to be partnering with Matthew Syed’s team and supporting organisations to implement, develop and sustain a Growth Mindset Culture so that they too can drastically improve the overall health of their organisation.

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