Q&A with Chip McFarlane MCC | Investing in a growth mindset

In their latest Q&A session, Chip McFarlane MCC and Nicole Sitosta tackle why mindset really matters in the financial services industry. And how in this VUCA world, financial services organisations can rise to the challenge of embedding a growth mindset in their people.

Q: Chip, let’s begin with what is the ‘mindset challenge’?

Chip: You may find that in the current environment, where things are ambiguous, people typically respond to ambiguity by leaning towards what they know, than what they want to know. This often results in a limited approach and response. It’s like looking back in the rear-view mirror and thinking “It worked better there”. In this space of ambiguity and volatility, people say they are comfortable with ambiguity, but actually they often aren’t. When they are placed in such situations, they look for certainty, and what they rely on is a perspective of “I’ve learned what I can, this is the limit of where I’m hitting right now, maybe I just need to do what I keep doing”. It is not a resourceful response for what the environment requires of them. So, the challenge is for people to reach the mindset that puts them in a more resourceful and receptive space, that helps them to recognise “Yep, I need to keep learning. For me to be successful, it requires continuous learning and an openness to learning”. This is what’s going to ensure that regardless of what’s going on around them, they can have a more centred and resourceful response to their environment. 

Q: The financial services industry operates in this VUCA world you speak of. You have years upon years of facilitating leadership development programs and coaching in this space.  Is the industry facing the mindset challenge?

Chip: We’ve been working with some organisations recently in this area, where they have very directly begun to address this mindset challenge, by taking on the building and development of Carol Dweck’s idea of a growth mindset in their culture. Carol Dweck has been able to crystallise and make the parameters of a growth mindset accessible, so people can get it. When the growth mindset is more overtly used, and overtly sought and created within a culture, then you will find that people at various levels, leading up all the way up to Executive, will feel a stronger push towards continuous learning, and an openness to learning. The openness to allowing mistakes to happen and knowing that’s part of the journey. Organisations going through transitions want it to be perfect. They forget that it usually requires iterations, and sometimes making a mis-step or mis-take, and the need to do another “take”. Any form of learning requires mistakes, as learning happens faster, and resourcefulness is gained in an ambiguous environment. When it doesn’t happen, it will devolve into new opportunities collapsing, and marketplaces and market sectors not being addressed because they don’t know how to get out there.

Q: What then needs to be overcome in organisations to foster a growth mindset in their people?

Chip: Now remember, this idea of the growth mindset is newly crystallised, its been around but has not had the research behind it to make it more than just a theory until now. The most recent neuroscience and neuroplasticity research provides evidence that the growth mindset is actually something that is useful.  It was only a few years ago that we were told we had fixed intelligence. Now we can see (through brain research into neuroplasticity) the brain growing, as opposed to theorising on this. Most of the organisational systems in the past, and many systems around us still foster a fixed mindset. When you have organisations that use forced ranking, like a bell curve, there’s only certain people that will be in each section of the bell curve. When you say that’s how it is going to be, for the most part you will find that people will typically fall in the same part of the curve. So, in a way it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, because everyone thinks “Well, so and so got that and they are doing well and I’m not quite there. I do all these things but they’re not being tracked, not being given credit for, so why should I try any harder if that’s the parameters of the game”.

If organisations truly want to be in a growth mindset, there must be follow through. It needs to be demonstrated by the Executive, to allow their people to truly learn and make mistakes. For the growth mindset to be successfully embedded it needs to show up in the systems in place, how they foster culture, their training, the skills they develop in people, in their values and beliefs.

Q: Final question Chip!  What’s your advice for today’s People/HR Leaders in the financial services industry on how they can raise awareness and identify how they are progressing towards embedding a growth mindset in their organisation?

Chip: The first place I’d typically start is “Does our vision include that we are moving towards an environment and a culture where growth mindset is how we operate?” and then “Are the systems that we currently have in place those that will take us towards this vision?” The systems that are supportive of a growth mindset can continue to be used. The ones that are not so supportive, well over time these need to be removed or changed. If these aren’t changed, then it will ensure that no matter what your rhetoric is, the behaviours and culture will remain the same. Put on a systems-thinking hat!  It’s wonderful to have vision, but even more important is having in place the actions that will get you there. Let the system enable, not inhibit, your way to your destination.

Contact our Financial Services Industry Client Development Partners Alex Mason-Jones and Ellen Birdsall to find out how IECL can support you with your leadership and people development needs.