Imagine you poured your heart and soul into a project only to discover that it’s a total flop. It doesn’t work. Your boss hates it. Feedback is abysmal.

Fortunately, you have time to fix it, but it’s going to be tight, and it’s going to be tough.

How are you feeling? Most people might feel defeated, lost, upset, angry, or embarrassed. But some would find, emerging from that smorgasbord of negative emotions, a gentle simmer of excitement, of challenge, and of potential.

Those people have what Carol Dweck calls a “Growth mindset.” Her book, Mindsets, has had a profound impact on how we think about personal and professional growth. She says, and I paraphrase, that there are two kinds of people in the world: ones with a growth mindset, and ones with a fixed mindset.

A growth mindset, as illustrated above, is the belief that talent is not something you’re necessarily born with — it can be achieved through commitment and hard work. Fixed mindset people, on the other hand, believe talent is either something you have or you don’t. They experience failure as a symptom of their lack of ability, rather than a call to action.

In the years since publishing her book, Dweck and a team of researchers have begun exploring whether it’s possible for an organization, like an individual, to foster a growth mindset. Can a company’s workforce be characterized as having one collective mindset?

The answer, it seems, is yes.

“Growth-mindset organizations are likely to hire from within their ranks, while fixed-mindset organizations reflexively look for outsiders. And whereas fixed-mindset organizations typically emphasize applicants’ credentials and past accomplishments, growth-mindset firms value potential, capacity, and a passion for learning,” says this Harvard Business Review article.

Potential, capacity, and a passion for learning. These are keywords for characterizing growth mindset people and organizations. And these traits tend to mean good things for the performance of a company, too.

“Growth-mindset firms have happier employees and a more innovative, risk-taking culture,” HBR staff write, summarizing Dweck’s research.

“Supervisors in growth-mindset companies expressed significantly more positive views about their employees than supervisors in fixed-mindset companies, rating them as more innovative, collaborative, and committed to learning and growing. They were more likely to say that their employees had management potential.”

One of the core ways you can foster a growth mindset at your organization is to emphasize career development and lifelong learning. That doesn’t necessarily have to mean you cover everyone’s tuition and hire an in-house tutor, although those things can be fantastic initiatives. Adopting a few simple habits can make a huge difference.

“Growth-mindset firms have happier employees and a more innovative, risk-taking culture Harvard Business Review

It’s never too late or too early to foster a growth mindset. Taking this worldview can help make sure your organization stays relevant and evolves with changing demands.

To do just that, you company can take a proactive and hands-on approach in leading career development programs. Offering great career development is important to team members, but it’s also a way to cultivate and foster a growth mindset for your company long-term.

Emphasize career development

“Job seekers from entry-level to executive are more concerned with opportunities for learning and development than any other aspect of a prospective job,” writes Monique Valcour in this Harvard Business Review article. “This makes perfect sense, since continuous learning is a key strategy for crafting a sustainable career.”

Despite how important career development is to employee productivity and satisfaction, many companies still don’t make it part of their culture. There’s a hypothetical conversation between a CFO and CEO, attributed to leadership expert Peter Baeklund, that goes like this:

CFO asks CEO, “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?”
CEO: “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

Companies that emphasize career development do so by offering more than just tuition reimbursement or annual skills assessments. Rather, career development is an ongoing conversations that managers can have with their direct reports, and that HR can lead throughout the organization.

Beyond an increased budget for training courses, leaders can emphasize career development throughout the employee lifecycle. Before an employee is even hired, attract candidates with a growth mindset by advertising your learning-based perks right in the job description.

Ask questions in the interview that relate to their commitment to growth and learning, including examples of courses they’re currently taken or challenges they’ve stepped up to that are perhaps beyond their current skill level.

Once they’re hired, ensure their managers have the training and resources they need to have consistent and effective career conversations with team members. Make sure the whole organization knows and understands that continuous growth is paramount to the success of the organization — and the individuals who comprise it.

And remember that career development programs are great, but only if your team members are committed to learning independently. You can lead a horse to water, as they say, but you cannot make it drink.

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How to make your career development plan great

Your career development program should suit your company and the people in it. Of course, regular career conversations between managers and their teams is important. But those managers (and HR teams) also need training and resources on how to have those conversations.

It’s also important that your career development program is that it’s consistent across the organization. For example, some organizations offer summits and conferences for their sales team, but much less for their operations teams.

If a growth mindset is important to your organization, it should be important across the whole company.

On top of that, your career development plan should be consistent with what employees actually need and want. If no one is taking advantage of the free courses you’re offering — despite your best efforts to communicate their availability and importance — then maybe it’s time to try a different route.

No matter what you choose to provide as a company, generally there are three core elements of a great career development program:

  1. Resources to level-up, whether that’s tuition reimbursements, courses within the company, connection with mentorship, conferences, etc.
  2. Opportunities to grow within the company, companies that promote from within and have lots of opportunity for growth
  3. Freedom and flexibility, for employees to work on stuff they’re passionate about (like Google’s 20 percent time, for example)

If your company is offering some combination of those three things — plus empowering managers to have regular, effective conversations with their team members — then you’re well on your way to having a remarkable career development plan.