How to Change Employee Mindsets to Improve Performance

Posted by Penn Foster on August 31, 2018

Do you want employees who tackle challenges head-on, who stay motivated when the going gets tough, who see feedback as constructive and take responsibility for their mistakes?

Of course you do.

Employees with those traits have a growth mindset. As a result, they are more engaged at work, dedicated to their personal success and the success of the organization. Finding these types of employees isn't always easy.

Fortunately, a growth mindset and its benefits of engagement, tenacity, and creative problem solving are something you can cultivate in your existing employees using a three-pronged approach that includes policy, leadership, and training.

The problem is that some companies talk a great talk on development and training, but then don't deliver.

Your mission statement may claim that your organization is growth-minded, that you value innovation and development, or that the most important part of your business is your people. However, if your employees don't believe in these things, they're nothing more than pretty words.

And that mismatch of word and action is reflected in employee engagement rates. Only 33% of U.S. Employees are engaged at work according to Gallup's State of the American Workplace Report.

To insight a growth mindset revolution in your workforce, you'll need to take a hard look at the environment and opportunities your providing to your employees.

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What is a growth mindset?

Ever since Professor Carol Dweck first explored the concept of growth versus fixed mindsets in the mid 1980's, employers have been looking for ways to add more growth-mindset employees to their teams. With good reason.

Employees with a growth mindset believe that they are capable of rising to the occasion. They know that they can learn and grow. In fact, they are hungry to do so. They recognized that their abilities are not set, but are constantly evolving in response to their environment, learning opportunities, and experiences.

When your employees have a growth mindset, they embrace challenges as opportunities for growth and learning. They expect that hard work will lead to success over time. On the other hand, employees with a fixed mindset view challenges as tests of their ability. They'll avoid testing their skills in case those skills don't make the grade.

While employees will come to you with a tendency toward one mindset or the other, you can influence their mindsets through environment, feedback, opportunities, and policies.

How to know if your employees have a mindset problem

It might be easy to spot mindset issues in individual employees, but how do you know whether your workforce as a whole is in need of a mindset shift? Take a look at a couple of key metrics to get a good idea of where your employees stand.



Low employee engagement rates can be a telltale sign that your employees lack a growth mindset. Employees disengage when they feel they have little room for advancement, their leadership isn't listening to them, or their efforts are not being recognized.

While national engagement rates are epidemically low, it's possible to realize engagement rates of 70% or higher. The world's best organizations (as defined by Gallup) regularly do.


A high turnover rate can be another sign that your workforce needs a mindset shift. When a growth mindset is nurtured employees don't feel like they have to change jobs to get ahead. They know that they can succeed where they are because they have the tools and support to do so.

Turnover rates vary by industry, so check to see what the average is and pay attention to how your business stacks up.


Finally, poor, or stagnant, overall performance may indicate that mindset is an issue. Employees with a fixed mindset may shy away from new challenges or difficult tasks because they're worried about looking incompetent.

They may blame circumstances for their failings rather than taking responsibility for their actions.

Keep in mind that many factors can influence engagement, turnover, and performance, so problems in these areas don't prove that mindset is the issue. However, if you're company is struggling with some or all of  these metrics, implementing a strategy for improving employee mindsets could help.

Three-step process to elevate employee mindsets

Step one: Set the policy

Just talking about growth mindsets can help influence your employees to have one. While this can't be the only strategy that you employ, it does set a solid framework for the other two steps.

Create a documented policy that encourages employee growth and development. If possible, implement a tuition assistance program or offer employees other learning opportunities. Make these offerings part of their benefits package so everyone knows what to expect.

In your employee conduct policies, encourage productive feedback, the asking of questions, and continuous improvement. Make it clear that employees are not just encouraged, but expected to make mistakes and learn from them.

Step two: Get leadership on board

If your leadership isn't modeling a growth mindset, it's likely that employees won't have one either. Everyone from the CEO to the line managers need to embrace the idea that talent and intelligence can be cultivated.

Teach managers and supervise to give growth-oriented feedback. Instead of "Great job on the report, Dave. You're clearly a math genius." Try, "Great job on the report, Dave. You clearly worked hard on it."

The first feedback gives Dave a label, which he will strive to live up to, sometimes by avoiding tasks that might show him as anything less than a math genius. The second feedback praises the work he put in, implying that by working hard he got a positive result, and encouraging him to do so in the future.

Make sure managers are encourage employees to take advantage of growth and development opportunities. They should be checking in regularly to get a sense of employee goals. Managers should also be aware of resources available to employees including training programs, tuition assistance, workshops and online courses.

Step three: Provide training opportunities

Give employees plenty of opportunities to improve and grow. Apprenticeships, online courses, mini-courses, and mentoring relationships help encourage growth and push employees to embrace learning.

If you're not sure where to begin, Penn Foster can work with you to develop a customized training program for your employees.