Build a growth mindset and learning culture

Across the last 6 months, individuals, teams and organisations have been faced with extraordinary levels of challenge and disruption. The pandemic has necessitated change on a massive scale across all aspects of life, including the world of work. It has made us question how and why we do things, and question whether what we’re doing is still relevant. Some organisations have been able to adapt and ride the storm and others have been barely treading water. What’s certain is that there are more challenges ahead, with continued uncertainty and an economic downturn. It’s critical that individuals and organisations are able to learn, adapt and innovate in order to survive, continue to be relevant, and thrive.

The number of organisations that have true learning cultures is surprisingly low – only about 10% of organisations[1]. A learning culture is one where people are encouraged through an organisation’s values, practices and processes to continuously develop their knowledge and skills. More specifically, people are given the opportunity to develop, encouraged to experiment and try new approaches, and are recognised and rewarded for learning. Learning happens every day not just on training courses. Cultivating a learning culture makes business sense – organisations with learning cultures are 30% more likely to be market leaders over time[2].

In a learning culture, individuals and leaders adopt growth mindsets – they believe they can develop new knowledge and skills through focused effort. They embrace rather than shy away from new challenges, they seek feedback, are intellectually curious and value learning from others[3]. They recognise that what they know and can do today is not what they need to know and be able to do in the future. Growth mindset helps us evolve and adapt to change.

As individuals, whether a leader or individual contributor, we can develop growth mindset attitudes and behaviours to enhance our knowledge, skills, and future employability:

Ways to develop growth mindset as an individual

  • Seek out and embrace new challenges:
    Create a map of your work responsibilities and rate the level of challenge associated with each area (1 = low, 3 = moderate, 5 = high). Where challenge is low, delegate or try to teach others to take on the activity. Replace these activities with ones that will stretch you.
  • Proactively and regularly ask for feedback: Feedback can offer valuable insight into where and how you can improve. Research shows that seeking out constructive feedback is associated with higher performance ratings[4]. One way to make it easier is to ask for “advice” on how to improve rather than “feedback”. The information provided tends to be more specific, actionable and future-focused[5].
  • Be aware of taking mental shortcuts:  People are biased towards looking for simple answers even when faced with complex problems, e.g. “the project failed because Bob was not up to scratch”. Instead, demonstrate curiosity and consider how multiple factors could contribute to problems – consider how people, the situation, processes, and the organisational culture contribute. This will help you create richer mental models of how things work, improve learning, and help drive continuous improvement by uncovering and addressing systemic issues.
  • Learn from others: In complex and changing environments, it’s impossible for any one individual to have all of the answers. Invite input and ideas from others, listen, and consider suggestions from others. Be a ‘learn it all’ rather than a ‘know it all’. This attitude will help you and those around you to view learning as an ongoing process.

To create a learning culture, organisations can build, as well as hire for, growth mindset:

Ways to develop growth mindset in employees

  • Build learning into organisational values. Change the language that is used to talk about challenges. E.g. “We’ve tried all of that before” versus “What did we learn? What can we improve?”, “It’s impossible” versus “What is possible?”. Language can have a powerful impact on behaviours.
  • Communicate the benefits of growth mindset to leaders and the need for them to role model the behaviours and promote the impact.
  • Give and receive feedback frequently.
  • Review and continuously improve the way things are done. E.g. regularly conduct after action reviews, use the marginal gains methodology to identify small but powerful improvements to operations.
  • Create psychologically safe team environments where people are encouraged to share ideas, learn from each other, and test things out.

Ways to hire candidates with growth mindsets

  • As well as developing growth mindset attitudes and behaviours in existing employees, hire people who have positive approaches to learning. This will help equip the organisation with an adaptable workforce who are able to tackle current and future challenges.
  • Use an assessment to measure attitudes and behaviours associated with growth mindset during the selection process.
  • Include structured interview questions that uncover challenges individuals have tackled in the past and what they learnt. What was the situation? What did you do? What was the outcome? What did you learn?
  • Ask candidates specifically about knowledge, skills or competencies that they have learnt or developed in the last 6 months to gauge their appetite for learning and curiosity.

Adopting a growth mindset helps us to approach problems and challenges from a different and more positive perspective and is fundamental to creating learning cultures within organisations. This continuous approach to learning and improvement helps individuals and organisations change, adapt and stretch themselves to tackle the challenges we face today and the ones that lie ahead.


[1] – Grossman, R. J. (2015). How to create a learning culture. Society for Human Resource Management. Retrieved from on 06/10/20.

[2] – Chamorro-Premuzic, T., & Bersin, J. (2018). 4 ways to create a learning culture on your team. Harvard Business Review, July.

[3] – Morison, L., Weeks, K, & Syed, M. (2019). Mindset Advantage. Matthew Syed Consulting.

[4] – Vande Walle, D., Ganesan, S., Challagalla, G.N., & Brown, S. P. (2000). An integrated model of feedback-seeking behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85(6), 996-1003.

[5] – Yoon, J., Blunden, H., Kristal, A., & Whillans, A. (2019). Why asking for advice is more effective than asking for feedback. Harvard Business Review, September.