Promoting a growth mindset business culture in a fixed mindset society

Contradictory messages are everywhere

Last month Fairfax ran the feature article, How phonies and self-promoters came to rule the world.  It discussed how “our obsession with money and susceptibility to charisma, over-confidence and surface gloss have propelled us into an age where sham, spin, trickery and twaddle have become the new norms.”

Essentially, this picture paints the reality of a Fixed Mindset – which is the belief talent alone creates success, without effort. But we are constantly receiving messages that success is earned, our talent is the starting point, dedication and hard work is the catalyst. In the IT industry, a Growth Mindset is the norm.

This concept was developed by renowned psychologist, Carol Dweck and has been widely embraced. Kids in primary schools are learning about Growth Mindset, along with executives in the corporate sector. Organisations are running seminars promoting it to their teams – discussing the benefits including increased engagement, development, innovation and comradery.

I’m one of the people delivering the Growth Mindset message. The challenge for me, and my IT audience, is making Growth Mindset work in a world that seems keen to remain Fixed Mindset – where many have become so cynical, it is dismissed as another item belonging to the ‘sham/spin/trickery/twaddle’ pile.

Growth mindset and the IT industry

It’s easy to see the appeal of Growth Mindset. In the IT industry, where companies live or die by their innovation and risk taking – how can a Fixed Mindset culture work?

Yet Fixed Mindset surrounds the industry. It’s in our financial institutions, laws and negotiations.

Shareholders, investors and banks typically don’t forgive companies for taking risks that fail to pay off. Clients typically expect their vendors to deliver to the agreed terms. These terms include the expectation that budget blow-outs are absorbed by vendors, while still meeting the client’s demands around scope, quality and delivery dates.

IT projects might be agile and embrace many Growth Mindset attributes – but any IT project (particularly fixed cost) is fundamentally stifled by Fixed Mindset shackles. A project’s value can often run into hundreds of thousands, so one small mistake can have major impacts on an IT company’s bottom line. “Our company today just experienced a bug because of one minor change on our website. This uncorrelated minuscule change made an entire system malfunction,” explains Erica Scott, an operations manager at ezLandlordForms. Case and point.

IT managers trying to balance the budget, scope, delivery date and quality expectations, will generally respond by asking their team to commit to long and unbilled hours. They rely on an engaged and dedicated team to agree. Stress in now seen as part of working in IT industry – just as it is part of working in hospital emergency departments. Long hours, fatigue, big consequences for mistakes – part of the job.

Added to this mix of stress and fatigue, we have technical experts with a reputation for underdeveloped people skills. The stereotyped IT professional (yes, there are many exceptions to this – please forgive and bear with me) likes to be agreeable and to please. “Yes, that should only take me a couple of hours to do for you,” he’ll respond to a client’s request for an out-of-scope extra that ends up taking him eight hours. He won’t complain, he’ll avoid conflict and will suffer in silence as the unbilled hours drag on. I’ve seen it happen all too often.

Read more: Kiandra IT experiences full year growth drop, hires more staff

Any negotiation is built around worthy laws to protect the consumer. IT companies have to balance those laws while balancing workplace laws designed to protect their workers. Into the juggle, they balance their company’s bottom lines. Whether they can they keep those balls in the air depends on their management and leadership skill.

Let’s be honest here. Most IT companies have been around for less than 10 years, some for 20, a few for 30. They’re not managed by finance, legal or business experts. Most IT companies are run by IT people who stumbled into leadership when their software product/app/whatever idea they had took off.

And when their idea took off they were propelled into all the ‘surface gloss’ our society could throw at them, making them susceptible to the overconfidence that our age celebrates. I’m not suggesting that these IT leaders are the phonies and self-promoters that came to rule the world – far from it.

Most successful apps and IT products are built on phenomenal commitment, hard work, perseverance and sacrifice. Once they’ve achieved recognition, these IT entrepreneurs find themselves plucked out of the real, hard work environment into a stage managed by the phonies and self-promoters – all too keen to take a piece of the action with their ‘whatever it takes’ approach to achieving and maintaining a Fixed Mindset notion of ‘success’.

So onto the plate of these managers and leaders of IT companies, grappling to run their suddenly expanding business, while managing their legal, financial and contractual demands, sorting out the phonies from the authentic in their recently expanded social network – we ask them to embrace Growth Mindset.

Read more: Kiandra sets sights on state, federal ICT services contracts

I feel for them – this is a big ask. The Growth Mindset concept is so appealing, yet the execution is so challenging. Growth Mindset is the antithesis of the phoney, instant success culture we now live in since it’s based on the traditional social values of the apprentice model of learning a craft: including perseverance, hard work, continual assessment and feedback, practice, and the development of wisdom gained by experience.

So what does the IT industry do to continue to move towards success?

The relationships IT companies have with their clients should be based on solutions, not widgets, and on trust, not blame. Let’s be open with our clients about our stories, what made us successful, the lessons we’ve learned and the way we work together to solve problems. Let’s not promise the world to our clients. Instead, let’s promote our experience and expertise based on our Growth Mindset approach and inspire our clients to join us on this path.

A Growth Mindset is about being honest up-front with our clients about the possibility that things could go wrong in this journey – we may underestimate the time needed or we may not recognise the impact of a particular requirement that later causes out-of-scope alterations. It’s about being frank with our clients about what we’ve learned and most importantly, let’s not pretend that it was ever easy and that it will be easy.

Judy O’Leary-Shepherd is Kiandra IT’s learning and development manager.


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