From the outset we developed VFQ to focus on making progress towards specific outcomes. Not on the implementation of any specific methodology. Ultimately, a VFQ-based change is measured in Increased Value, Improved Flow and Enhanced Quality. This focus is based on a Growth Mindset and leads to a more resilient and robust change that delivers better results.
What is a Mindset?
A Mindset is a set of beliefs. It guides you on how to act and behave based on your established attitudes. Carol Dweck describes how mindset impacts the beliefs about yourself and your most basic qualities. She’s studied whether intelligence, talent and personality are fixed traits and carved in stone, or whether they can be cultivated over time. She has conducted experiments in education, sport, relationships and business, and has demonstrated the impact and limits of a fixed mindset. Her work has even been used to get conflicting groups, to collaborate better.
The problem with being too fixed
Dweck describes people with a fixed mindset as those who believe their traits are just givens. They might believe they have a certain amount of brains and talent and nothing can change that. If they have a lot, they’re all set, but if they don’t there’s nothing that can be done. People with this mindset worry about their traits and how adequate they are. They have something to prove to themselves and others.
Typically, children with a fixed mindset were mostly praised for delivering great results. However, when things don’t go perfectly well, they find it hard to bounce back. And, they weren’t resilient. In studies with children at school, Dweck found that children with a fixed mindset tended to not try as hard and when confronted with tough problems they gave up far easier. Anything that signalled that they’re not as good as they think they should be, crushed them.
How a Growth Mindset increases performance
Alternatively, Dweck demonstrated that some of the children dealt with trial and failure in a more positive, robust and resilient way. These were defined as having a growth mindset. They saw their qualities as things that could be developed through commitment and effort. People with this mindset grow up to understand that great things are accomplished after years of passionate practice and learning. It turns out that the children who showed this resiliency were more often praised for effort and tenacity. They were encouraged to show up and try rather than majoring on the results.
It was this that helped cultivate the Growth Mindset. Basically, the behaviors and activities that lead to long-term success were the things that were praised. After all, it has been said that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.
The danger of on-time and on-budget success metrics
Mindset can be cultivated at a large scale within enterprises by the way people are motivated, promoted, rewarded. It is enshrined in the system of work. One sign of a Fixed Mindset Enterprise is one where there is an obsession around fixed performance targets – on-time and on-budget metrics are the classic example. Departments who build these as the primary KPIs and then build direct reward systems around meeting such objectives create the same phenomenon that Dweck describes by praising results, not the effort in making positive progress. It results in people who are less prepared to try things, become less collaborative as they try to hit the targets. This can lead to projects that add time and cost buffers and ultimately drive poorer performance in both cost and speed-to-market.
This doesn’t mean, in some cases, being on-time isn’t absolutely essential for a business. It just means that it shouldn’t always be the primary driver. It certainly shouldn’t be the thing that employees are thinking about in the shower every morning.
Why focusing on methodology leads to a Fixed Mindset
Another signal of a Fixed Mindset is one which promotes standardized process and practices as the only method for scaling greater performance. However, the amount of work time dealing with exceptions in work rather than staying on process is growing. If we only focus on processes, it leads to the problem of not having the necessary skills to truly deal with a specific context. Methodologies tend to create this Fixed Mindset. The focus on the ‘best practice’ gives the impression that it should be followed at all cost. In the worst case, people are led to believe that the practices promoted are fixed – they certainly don’t promote and help people adapt and adopt unique solutions.
The typical goal for people enforcing a methodology is to ensure each practice has been implemented and the checklist has been completed. Unfortunately, this results in a tendency to not teach people how to discern if the practice being put forward is right or relevant for their context. It doesn’t promote a critical or creative thought promote. The ‘one-best-way’ approach hampers learning and disempowers people to own their work processes.
The designful question behind the VFQ growth mindset
Curt Carlson says on his site Practice of Innovation that “Our most important innovation is the way we work.” Enterprises need more chefs, not always more recipes that people should just follow. When people own their own working processes it improves engagement and performance. This doesn’t mean I’m advocating the wild west. There should be standards. And, there should be mechanisms to scale learning, context and allow sharing of practices. The goal should be to help teams and people pull the right tools and techniques that work for them.
In a previous post I talked about how powerful questions create energy and momentum. The pro-forma question we use in Emergn is:
In this context, how might we Increase Value, Improve Flow and Enhance Quality?
When we unpack this question and look at each part it forces us to examine the context first: Where are we? What are we good at? What are the challenges we’re facing right now? The context is also about what you are trying to achieve.
So this might turn into:
Given the current skills and capabilities we have today, and the need to deliver X, how might we best organize ourselves to meet the needs of our customers?
Or, you might choose to look at the whole process of the whole delivery organization.
The idea is to be as specific as possible, but the format and focus of the question helps us to remain focused on creating a contextually relevant solution rather than implementing a specific methodology.
If you’re trying to implement a new method or framework, consider constructing a question that helps set the context, and improvements in Value, Flow and Quality. This will help you and your team develop the Growth Mindset and ensure you remain focused on implementing solutions that best meet your goals. And remember, praise the efforts that move you in the right direction!