Seek Growth, not Perfection

December 16, 2011

In my last post about goals, I noted that there needs to be a conversation between the employee and manager, discussing why a particular goal is important and how it will help the employee grow through a combination of experience and learning. Nurturing and growing people is definitely a good thing!

There is a difference, however, between growing people and perfecting people. I think that most of us would attest that most performance management systems in place today tend to lean in the wrong direction by spending too much time pointing out flaws that may or may not be important in the grand scheme of producing results.

After twenty or thirty years of performance reviews where individuals have had their imperfections pointed out to them repeatedly, you would think that many of us “seasoned” (yes, I’m in this category) employees would be damn near perfect by now. But we’re not. Well, I’m not anyway.

Growing people means expanding their capabilities and creating new strengths for the mutual benefit of the individual and the organization. If there is a serious flaw that is a true impediment for someone reaching a long-term goal, then by all means addressing that shortcoming is an important, near-term goal.

Growing means putting yourself in new situations where you are seeking to expand your abilities versus seeking situations where you can succeed based on your current abilities—where you are really looking for confirmation of what you can already do. This difference is the distinction between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset.

In his book Little Bets, Peter Sims describes a study by Dr. Carol Dweck, who developed the growth/fixed mindset distinction by studying how schoolchildren reacted to failures and challenges; if a student got a low grade on an exam, the student with a growth mindset reacted by saying and feeling something along the lines of, “I need to try harder next time.” The student with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, would say and feel something like, “I’m a failure.”

If you want to reach your full potential, you need a growth mindset because you are focused on the destination and not as concerned with setbacks that can and will occur along the way. And you won’t worry about whether you have “natural skill” or “innate talent.” A fixed mindset can stop you dead in your tracks and limit what you could become.

Do you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset? In their book, Switch (How to Change Things When Change is Hard), Chip Heath and Dan Heath provide a short test for you. Read the following four sentences and determine whether you agree or disagree with each one:
  1. You are a certain kind of person, and there is not much that can be done to really change that.
  2. No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially.
  3. You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed.
  4. You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.
If you agreed with items 1 and 3, you’re someone who has a fixed mindset.

If you agreed with items 2 and 4, you tend to have a growth mindset.

If you agreed with both 1 and 2, you’re confused.