Growth-Mindset is not enough, we need a Growth-System
His Excellency Abdulla Bin Touq argues that growth-mindset is just one piece of a puzzle. What we need is a growth-system - where key components of all organisations, from talent, development, finance, and strategy, are all restructured to enable growth.
Growth-mindset has been popularised by Carol Dweck’s research, as a key determinant of success in children’s learning and outcomes. Whilst there have been many attempts to translate the growth-mindset beyond the individual level and apply it to whole organisations - Satya Nadella has even referred to it as a key determinant in Microsoft’s turnaround success story - there are still many organisations struggling with making growth-mindset work on a practical, organisation-level.
In this post, I argue that growth-mindset is just one piece of a puzzle. What we need is a growth-system - where key components of all organisations, from talent, development, finance, and strategy, are all (re)structured to enable growth - to truly create a transformational growth organisation.
I unpack six elements that the Cabinet Office in the UAE is working on to create such a growth-system: growth mindsets, growth journeys, growth missions, growth experiments, growth boards, and growth management.
First, a few things to note:
- The antithesis of growth is to be fixed in place. If you look at our education systems, they are largely ‘fixed’, remaining similar to the model that existed 100+ years ago. Our mindsets quickly become ‘fixed’, based on our past experiences. Despite the billions of dollars spent on transformational agendas inside organisations, many end in failure, because it becomes hard to change ‘fixed’ organisations.
- The real legacy of the Covid-19 crisis is what laws, behaviours, processes and systems have we changed for the better. These unprecedented times offer us an opportunity to focus not just working in our organisations with a performance-based mindset, but instead working on our organisations with a growth mindset. On a related note, of course growth will once again return to the economies and organisations - but the question is what kind of growth? We have an opportunity to reshape inclusive, agile, and human-focused growth.
- It is important to understand that there is an interplay between all six components. Their impact on the growth of the organisation is connected and compounded.
1. From Methodologies to Growth-Mindsets
Give someone a tool, or a methodology, and its impact may last a few minutes, hours, days, weeks, or months. However, help someone to embrace a new mindset, and its impact can last a lifetime - or even generations. As H.H. Sheikh Mohammed said, “develop a mindset, (for) a change in mindset will change behaviours and outcomes”.
As part of creating a growth-system, it is simply not good enough to talk about the growth-mindset as an abstract concept. We should place an equal measure of importance on cultivating, shaping, questioning, designing, and shifting actual mindsets.
We need to create practical vehicles, like the Reglab, which enable the shift of mindsets. In upcoming posts, I will illuminate how #Speed, #Founders, and #Courage are some of the critical elements that make up the growth-mindset.
2. From Hierarchy Management to Growth-Management
The traditional, centuries-old, hierarchy-management structure is based on acting with permissions, fixed notions of job titles, and with power that is concentrated at the top.
There are a few hundred organisations who are choosing to experiment with alternative, decentralised systems, the most famous being Zappos. Zappos themselves recently redesigned some elements of self-management, keeping the essence of circular hierarchy but removing certain meetings. They claimed that the rigidity of meetings made them too focused on internal issues, as opposed to the customer. My hypothesis, based on readings in the public domain, is that this is partly because they have not embraced all the other elements that make up the growth-system.
The Cabinet Secretariat is now in its sixth month of shifting to growth-management. Already, we are seeing people grow to take on new roles that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Already, we are seeing initiatives blossom without being limited by the bureaucracy of permissions, agendas, and relationships. Already, we are seeing the growth of entirely new Circles, which in the traditional organisation hierarchy would have taken months to approve.
Zappos’ parent company, Amazon, views them as a sort of “internal incubator for management practices”. However, in government we don’t have examples of new models of management. We are offering the Cabinet Secretariat as a source of inspiration and imagination for the execution of practices which aid growth-management for other governments in the UAE and the wider world.
3. From Performance Reviews to Growth-Journeys
There is a tidal wave of large organisations ditching annual performance reviews. Our work within our organisations is changing on a monthly basis, and the KPIs and metrics we put down last year quickly become out of date. Managers don’t have time for them; employees fail to see value in them.
What we need to do is less ‘measuring’ performance and more empowering growth-journeys. At the Cabinet Secretariat, we created a new model, moving away from Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to Key Growth Indicators (KGIs):
- Growth-dots, with each dot made up of 3 questions. What did you do/test/put out there to the world? What impact/success/failure did it have? And what did you change as a result based on your learning?
- Growth-types, where we colour-code growth-dots to represent growth at the individual, organisational, and industrial level. In our case, ‘industrial’ would apply to the rest of the government.
- Growth-maps, where the collection of these different growth dots allows us to quickly visualise different typographies of growth.
- Growth-development, where the employees can select from a menu of opportunities - for instance, bonuses, experiences, conferences, training and new ‘stretch’ projects.
- Growth-stories, where, instead of the current system, we have performance reviews which remain in a ‘closed’ loop between the employee and HR, these growth-stories are opened for the rest of the organisation to learn from each other’s growth.
In short, this is a full shift away from measuring performance to empowering growth.
4. From Projects to Growth-Experiments
Every organisation is littered with projects: a few successful ones, many that might be struggling, and a few that should have been shut down years ago. The problem is that we’ve been trained to think that as soon as we have an idea, we should go straight to ‘starting a project’. What we should be doing instead is going to the ‘search’ phase. This involves starting with an experiment. The surest way to de-risk our ideas is not by thinking or talking, but by testing and putting something into the world, and then seeing, not asking, how the world reacts.
Yet, the shift from a project-first to an experiment-first approach is not easy.
The Cabinet Secretariat has created a ‘Head of Experimentation’ role, made much easier because of the shift to a new growth-management model (see point 1), whose job is to support employees across the organisation, run easier, faster and better experiments. However, these are not ‘operational’, product type experiments; they are not the kind of experiments in which one may change a website and see conversions improve. Instead, they are strategic ‘growth experiments’, which have the potential to grow the entire organisation, ranging from Reglab to Minimum Viable Policies.
When it comes to the following two areas of the growth-system, we are only at the beginning of our thinking and experimentation.
5. From Yearly Budgets to Growth-Boards
Any system is only as strong as its weakest link. All too often, our procurement and financial processes are the last to change. The best way to understand how decisions are made is to see how financial capital is allocated, often in yearly cycles. Instead of allocating yearly budgets to departments and projects, there is an alternative under the growth system: to allocate funding according to a growth criteria.
The Cabinet Secretariat is currently exploring ways to pool some of its non-operational projects' budget into a “growth-budget”. It comprises the “Circle Leads” (which we will discuss more in future posts) acting as the board members of this budget. It invites teams of 2 or more employees to pitch experiments in order to access the budget. If you are successful in that experiment, you come and pitch again for higher amounts of money. The ‘growth board’ acts like an internal VC, making smaller bets with a portfolio-driven approach, granting funds according to a thesis, and asking the right questions at the right time for the idea or solution proposed.
6. From Strategies to Growth-Missions
Every organisation has a strategy, but all too often it ends up becoming merely a lengthy document. These strategies are often all-encompassing, and difficult to use as a guide to day-to-day decision-making. If you don’t agree, ask your immediate line manager this question: what’s the company strategy? Observe how it is articulated.
The reality is that a strategy is a bit like a mirror; often, we are creating reflections of what or who we are today. What we need are growth-missions, which act as more of a window into the future you’d like to create.
Missions are quantifiable, inspirational, cross-sector, and require multiple solutions that work together as part of a value chain to deliver.
The famous mission from the 1960s - to ‘be the first to land a man on the moon and return safely, within the decade’ - is a great example of defining a mission intent that can inspire and create novel solutions. Likewise, the Cabinet Secretariat is exploring ways to turn the current challenges this country faces into exciting new missions. These missions are quantifiable definitions of the future we are working towards.
I hope this article has given you a snapshot of what it means to go beyond the simple talk of growth-mindsets and towards implementation of a growth-system: where all the six elements outlined in this post are empowering one another to ensure that we are not just reacting to the future, but purposefully growing it.
Before you go: These blogs are a new series of thought-experiments, with the goal of writing a book on a growth-system. Please like, comment, or share with those in your network if you think that they too would benefit from our collective learning and sharing.