You might have heard of the board-level talk or maybe were even part of it: Top leaders agree that it is time to change the mindset of the organization. If you listen to all the good reasons why, it sounds so easy. Yet it’s one of the most challenging but also most pressing tasks if you are aiming high with your organization in the future.
The tricky thing with that task is this: It requires just slightly more time than many other tasks on your monthly objectives. You can’t delegate it to anyone and can only act as a model with your own behavior. Finally, you have to treat almost every employee individually. Maybe with the help of this recipe, you can find a good path to change the mindset of your organization in order to lay the foundation for the real transformation that can only be built on this new mindset.
1. Mindset is individual and collective at once.
Let’s first get clarity on the definition of mindset: Looking up the term in the dictionary, it refers to a person’s way of thinking and their opinions. Changing the mindset of the organization is a very individual task in the end because you need to change the habits and perspectives of every single person. It’s the sum of all the individuals and their mindsets that makes up your organization’s mindset! To change in this context means to replace the old way of looking at things, the old patterns of doing things, the old principles and values with new ones. For example, if it’s common in your organization to say “I have to do what I am told to,” then this might have to change to “I am empowered to take decisions within my team.” Despite these being two simple sentences, it’s like decades of leadership practices are between those two different approaches!
2. Mindset drives action and vice versa.
Organizations developing toward more agile structures aim for self-leadership and individual responsibility on the individual and team level. As much as you can shift values in your hallways or in your shiny company presentations, there is not much impact if you don’t let the behavior reflect the new values as well. Changing the mindset is only visible when it causes a change in the behavior of each individual — top to bottom and vice versa. So let’s say you aim to make fewer decisions as a boss of a team (the old pattern) and want your team to become more self-driven and have them make their own decisions (the new pattern). In order to achieve this, you have to reduce the number of times you apply the old pattern and replace it daily with the new pattern — in this case, encouraging your team to come up with their decision and take responsibility.
3. Mindset asks for embarking on a fragile journey.
Critical voices often claim that it is not good to change the mindset of people. Some say it is even forbidden to do so. It’s said to be woo-woo and bad practice if you are trying to change how people think and behave. These are all valid points if you don’t care for the critical three: transparency in what you do, how you do it and why you do it. Always accompany any kind of mindset shift with loads of communication. There is no such thing as over-communicating, and in this context, it is essential to spend more than just a fair amount of time on doing the talking, getting everybody on the same page.
And even if you’ve done more than enough of explaining why, how and what, it is still every individual’s right to decide whether they want to join you on this mindset-shift journey. They say yes and embark on this rocket ship? Make sure you acknowledge their commitment and don’t let them stand in the uncomfortable dark, in this fragile in-between-two-worlds. Offer them high-quality support along the way with professional coaching and executive sparring. Top-level leaders especially are so used to knowing how to do things, it’s the most daunting task for them to say “I don’t know.” Explore with them how the new way of doing could unfold, even without having a clear plan of who does what and when. Give them a professional partner who nudges them toward the right structures and habits that are then in line with the new mindset they are trying to adopt and put into practice.
4. Mindset sticks with positive reinforcement.
It’s the oldest learning mechanism: Do something right and get a nice treat; do something wrong and get punished. When it comes to implementing a new mindset in your organization, the same logic applies: Make sure you incentivize individuals in a smart way for demonstrating behavior that is in line with the new mindset. For example, if you continue to treat them with promotions for doing what the boss says (the old pattern), you will hinder the mindset shift that you are trying to implement. Encourage them to make decisions themselves (the new pattern) and don’t punish them if things don’t work out perfectly well; you then reinforce the new behavior that reflects the new mindset.
5. Mindset of the organization starts with your mindset.
There is nothing more powerful than to model the change you’d love to see in others. So instead of wasting more time in board-level discussions about the importance of changing the mindset of your organization, get over it, define what’s needed and start implementing and driving your own behavior in a way that is more and more in line with the new mindset. Be authentic in how you do it. Allow for throwbacks and troubles. Communicate why you do what you do and how important it is for others to join. By doing so, you will kick off a transformation that is much more than “simply” changing the mindset of your organization but preparing your teams for the real transformation that’s still ahead of 99% of all organizations. Well done!