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A mind for change

Do you fear change or look forward to it? Do you break out in a cold sweat when someone asks you to go ‘above and beyond’ or does your heart beat with excitement at the opportunity? By Marc Oakley, Head of Eskdale Centre at The Outward Bound Trust, Fellow of ILM, FinstLM and CIPD Education Advisor for Cumbria.

According to Carol Dweck of Stanford University, the answers to these questions depend to a large extent on your attitude to your own intelligence and learning potential. Prof Dweck argues that most people fall into one of two categories: those with a tendency towards a fixed mindset and those who lean towards a growth mindset. Those with a fixed mindset believe they have a finite amount of intelligence and that their success is based on innate ability, whereas those with a growth mindset believe intelligence is something can be developed through effort, study, instruction and mentoring. The insights from this work have been an important component of much of the experiential development programmes delivered by The Outward Bound Trust in recent years, in working with both schools and businesses.

It’s fascinating to note that we may not be aware of our own mindset but our language and behaviour is likely to give us away, especially in our responses to failure. If your mindset is fixed, you will probably regard failure as a negative reflection on your capability. If yours is more inclined towards a growth mindset, failure is seen not as a negative endpoint but as a learning stage on the way to success and growth. So far so interesting, but how does having this knowledge benefit individuals or organisations? In the current economic climate, companies need to be nifty when it comes to keeping a competitive edge and they are more likely than ever to need their emerging talent to be receptive and smart when it comes to changes in direction, strategy or culture. But evidence has demonstrated disturbing gaps between intended change and the capability of managers to implement it. For instance, a 2010 McKinsey survey found that 75 percent of companies do not believe they are effective in handling change and feel that many training programmes fail to build change management capability.

The Outward Bound Trust has been utilising the Mindset approach in their recent work with a number of companies and organisations, with impressive results. The cornerstone of their ethos is the way they explore the benefits of taking change leadership issues out of the office, enabling individuals and organisations to experience real challenges in new, often difficult situations. It uses wilderness environments to demonstrate the real and immediate consequences of individual and team decisions. Within this overall approach, instructors at The Outward Bound Trust help individuals to develop using a growth mindset approach to experiential learning. By introducing Mindset early in the course, participants can become aware, perhaps for the first time, of the implications of the way they think about their abilities. They go on to experience the link between effort and reward, and instead of being inhibited by challenge, have a chance to experience and practice what it feels like to push past feelings of uncertainty and emerge from difficulty a stronger person. Failure can be experienced not as the end but as the beginning. What is fascinating is how far those with an apparently fixed mindset can go on to develop flexibility and growth given the beneficial environment of an Outward Bound course.

Employers have reported real and tangible benefits to their companies. The Bristol Port Company wanted to build motivation and trust within one of their key leadership teams, in fact to transform the culture of one of the team and introduce a new way of working that would boost productivity. A 3-day course with The Trust highlighted different ways of thinking and working together. It aimed to test delegates’ responses to change in powerful outdoor situations and develop leadership and coaching skills. The company reported a number of benefits: greater delegation skills, clearer focus on the task, and higher levels of motivation and confidence. Most importantly, the Bristol Port Company saw much higher levels of production, way above the company’s own targets.

Another useful tool to have up your sleeve when looking at change is to identify and develop change ambassadors. Ambassadors are the early adopters of change, who advocate it among their peers and the wider business. They are instrumental in smoothing a transition process and are therefore seen by many organisations as key employees to retain. Organisations such as Airbus and National Grid are already working with The Trust to develop change ambassadors. Using tools such as transactional analysis along with mindset theory, The Trust have successfully developed cohorts who can understand their peers emotional response to change and can explain the benefits of change to an individual. As a result, with the support of a change ambassador, even those who previously tended towards a defeatist attitude in the face of unfinished tasks or challenging goals, learned to employ a problem-solving can-do attitude, which they carried back to the workplace. Surely, a worthwhile investment for any organisation.

Top Tips for Change Management:
Support your talent to develop a growth mindset – encourage them to think ‘I really can achieve this’. Support employees to break down large tasks into smaller actions, reflecting the way in which they can break down the change process into manageable chunks. Those who are resistant to change often have low confidence, allow them to experience the emotional high of success. It can also be useful to build your employees’ emotional resilience to deal with failure, thereby supporting them to deal with change.

Developing change ambassadors: Select your ambassadors carefully – they’re likely to have already undergone other business changes and are equipped to deal with forthcoming challenges. Develop their communication skills, they’ll need to be adaptable and communicate effectively with both management teams and their peers. Develop their awareness of others they’ll need to be able to empathise emotionally with their colleagues. Boost their influencing skills – this will help their peers to look at the positives and see the ‘what’s in it for me’.

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