‘Learning from ‘Spring’; Developing a ‘growth mind-set’ to be a more psychologically informed organisation’…

‘Learning from ‘Spring’; Developing a ‘growth mind-set’ to be a more psychologically informed organisation’…

01.04.2022: As I write this week’s PIE blog, as the lead for Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE), at the national youth homeless charity — Centrepoint, I have been noticing on my daily dog walks that ‘Spring has finally sprung’. Even in an urban landscape like London, there are plenty of signs of nature, with stunning blossoms on the trees when I look up and daffodil bulbs exploding from the ground all around my feet in the local parks. All these signs of nature renewing itself after winter has got me reflecting upon the concept of ‘growth’ and how as the year passes whatever is happening in the wider world, nature carries on regardless. I have been thinking about how we ‘learn to live’ with COVID-19 post pandemic, we have an opportunity to reflect back on the challenges of the past couple of years and how we can renew and continue to develop moving forward.

In particular, I have been thinking about the concept of ‘growth’ in psychological terms, which led me to consider the importance of having a ‘growth’ rather than a ‘fixed mind-set, which can enable us to move from the past and reset with a positive outlook for the future. There are many reasons to be positive, professionally at Centrepoint our Psychologically Informed Environment (PIE) is starting to embed across the organisation (although we still have further work to do as this journey is far from complete yet!) and I can see positive changes on a day-to-day basis. Our PIE training offer (PIE day and PIE modules) continues to be well received by staff and there is evidence that they are utilising the knowledge and tools gained from this to build on their existing good practice when working with homeless young people.

Our reflective practice offer remains well attended, particularly frontline staff teams, who appear to value the time together to consider their work and gain a deeper psychological understanding of the homeless young people they are supporting. We are slowly expanding our research and policy work, and the physical environments continue to improve significantly with suggestions of improvements from staff and the young people that work / live in these spaces. However, it remains important that we do not become ‘fixed’ on the successes so far and continue to grow our PIE offer across the organisation. For example, with the consideration of how we can embed PIE within our education, employment and training offer via the input of an educational psychologist.

Therefore, within this blog I am thought it would be helpful to reflect further on the importance of developing of a ‘growth’ mind-set, which I believe relates to other work within Centrepoint (e.g. within the People Strategy and our work on ‘emotional intelligence’ as well as within our broader strategy to #EndYouthHomelessness by 2037). In order to achieve these important aims, as well as continue to develop PIE, I think trying to maintain or hold a ‘growth’ mind-set across the organisation at whatever level we work will be helpful. So what does this mean? What is a ‘growth’ mind-set according to psychologists?

Advocates of the concept of a growth mind-set (e.g. Dweck, 2016) argue that it is critical to be ‘open’ to change, and that success is the result of hard work, learning, training and tenacity / perseverance. Fixed mind-setters on the other hand believe that success just relies on a natural ability, and consequently can be limiting with regard to achieving organisational goals (c.f. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1CHPnZfFmU or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qlCa4LIabg). To put it another way, individuals who believe that their natural talents and skills can be developed further have a growth mind-set (Keefe et al, 2018) whilst those that believe any talent or skills are just the result of an innate gift have a fixed mind-set. Growth mind-setters worry less about ‘looking smart’ to others, and worrying about failure. They do not see challenging feedback as a personal attack, but rather a chance to learn and improve (i.e. I can’t do X ‘yet’) and therefore are more willing to put energy into learning new things. The good news is that our brains do keep developing, even when we get older(!), and this neuroplasticity allows us to keep growing and learning new things.

The concept of a growth mind-set is important not only at an individual level but also at a systems or organisational level. It is important to highlight that when we think about a growth mind-set at this level, we are differentiating it from ‘growth’ generally in an organisation. In other words, we are not referring to an organisation necessarily getting bigger in a concrete sense (i.e. winning more tenders, increasing income or expanding in size in terms of staffing). Rather, we are considering it specifically in psychological terms; it is actually more about its approach to work. Organisations that embody a growth mind-set encourage appropriate risk-taking, as part of learning (and reflective practice), and reward employees for important and useful lessons that may have been learned even if something does not quite meet its original goals. They also support collaboration across organisational boundaries rather than competition or silo working amongst employees or departments, and are committed to the growth of all of those within the system through development and learning opportunities (via investment in staff), trying our new strategies or ideas, and learning from challenges or set-backs. However, a growth organisation does embeds these psychological ideas with concrete policies and procedures.

Moreover, the evidence suggests that when entire organisations embrace a growth mind-set, they can be more successful. This is because it enables employees to feel far more empowered and committed, and there is far greater organisational support for collaboration, innovation and culture change (Harvard Business Review, 2014; Dweck, 2016). Having a growth mind-set also has further benefits to employees and organisations as it builds resilience, increases willingness to take on challenges, creates space to learn from ‘failures’ and increases intrinsic (internal) motivation to invest effort and time required to achieve goals. All of these set the stage to create an organisational climate for more traditional positive outcomes (e.g. Key Performance Indicators) to improve.

Therefore, how can we develop a ‘growth’ mind-set both within ourselves but also within the wider organisation so that our work, wherever it may be within Centrepoint, can be more psychologically informed? It is important to note that it can be hard to attain a growth mind-set and it is something that requires some effort for many of us. Some people are naturally more growth orientated than others are but all of us have the capacity to achieve this with reflection and motivation. Regardless of our own personal starting point, we all need to be aware of our own fixed mind-set ‘triggers’. It is natural when we face challenges, receive criticism or fail to achieve something that we can fall into the trap of insecurity or defensiveness, which can inhibit our growth. If a work culture is one of ‘talent’ spotting or ‘blaming’ rather than ‘potential’ spotting or ‘supporting’ it can be harder for employees to share information, collaborate, innovate, seek feedback or admit errors. Put another way, it is important that we create a culture that is based on trust and is ‘psychologically safe’ (c.f. https://drhelenmiles.medium.com/do-you-feel-safe-a6f17f92acb7).

Psychologists have noted that in order to work towards a growth mind-set, there are some steps we can all take both individually and within our teams or the wider organisation. The most important first step is to self-reflect and identify our current mind-set. What is holding us back from adopting a growth mind-set (e.g. anxiety, personal beliefs, past experiences) and what barriers might we need to overcome? Achieving a growth mind-set can often require us to have clear, realistic but yet challenging goals that can we can commit to and that will be motivating for us to work towards a desired outcome. Perhaps we can also be open to others’ views of us through requesting and accepting constrictive feedback, which can often provide an opportunity for us to grow (especially during the current ‘appraisal season’ at Centrepoint). No one is perfect or the finished article, so by engaging in constructive dialogue with others, their insight or alternative perspective can be helpful for us to grow further. We must also all be open to possibilities. For example, when we began our PIE journey at Centrepoint, I was not completely sure where it might lead us but I have tried to remain open to whatever opportunities there have been to embed PIE as well as demonstrate its value. Of course, this has meant that there have been times when I have been out of my comfort zone as a psychologist, such as being asked to comment on ideas for changes to a physical environment despite having had no formal interior design training!

Obtaining a ‘growth’ mind-set is also something that not only we can work on within ourselves as individuals, but is also something that those of us within any ‘leadership’ role can coach and support within others (c.f. Harvard Business Review, 2014). As leaders, it is important that we remain open-minded and are inclusive to the unique needs and perspectives of those within our teams. I would argue from having spent the last few years supporting an amazing group of staff (within both ‘frontline’ and ‘support’ teams) that Centrepoint’s greatest asset is its human capital — the people that work within the organisation. Their hard work brings about the positive change for homeless young people in the UK. What is therefore important in the future is that we can grow together with our teams, build and continue to invest in relationships with others (a key part of any PIE; Keats et al, 2012) and reduce excessive hierarchy or silo working. Silos and hierarchy are commonly barriers to growth because they can prevent the development of new or entrepreneurial ideas, and they can be a barrier to true inclusion.

A growth mind-set in a leader is also about becoming comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty, being willing to take appropriate risks and find previously unseen opportunities (e.g. our developing ‘Prevention’ work or ‘Independent Living Scheme’). Of course, this also requires strong situational awareness (i.e. the ability to see around, beneath and beyond what is immediately obvious). As leaders we need to be aware of the ‘bigger picture’ or what is really going on, and then effectively utilise the resources and assets of the organisation to create positive change. Other ways leaders at any level can become more ‘growth’ orientated are suggested to be having a greater sense of preparedness for transformation when needed and ensure that decision-making is strategic rather than just reactionary. We also need to be transparent within this and own / communicate our decisions, so that we can bring others on the journey with us because they understand why we are making the decisions we are making now. It is also key to encourage accountability, both in others, and ourselves, so we do not create a culture of mediocrity and complacency. We should always want to do better, to evolve and grow, and in PIE terms to evidence what we are doing and why (c.f. Keats et al, 2012; Westminster, 2015), so that we can achieve the best possible outcomes for homeless young people.

Finally, as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and into spring, I hope we can explore individually and as an organisation, how we can develop our ‘growth’ mind-set to bring about positive culture change and build on our successes to date as well as learn from what may not have worked so well. This is the season for renewal, a chance to reflect on what has gone before and plan for what comes next. Creating psychologically informed positive change is the responsibility of all of us within the organisation, and is the essence of how we can embed PIE within the wider organisational culture. Much of PIE is of course about delivery of specific things (e.g. staff training, reflective practice, changes to the physical environment and evaluation of our work), but it is also arguably about a shift in perspective or focus to be more psychologically informed in everything that we do. PIE requires us all to be willing to embark on a journey of growth and reflection whatever our role within the organisation, in order that we become a collaborative and reflective organisation, as per our original PIE vision back in 2019. Perhaps we can reflect this week on what a ‘growth’ mind-set means for us individually or perhaps it is something we can consider within our own teams or directorates? I hope that this will give us ideas about how we can allow spring to bloom or flourish in our own minds this week and not just in our gardens, parks or other outdoor spaces…

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Consultant Clinical & Forensic Psychologist & Centrepoint Psychologically Informed Environment (PIE) Lead @orange_madbird

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Dr Helen Miles

Dr Helen Miles

Consultant Clinical & Forensic Psychologist & Centrepoint Psychologically Informed Environment (PIE) Lead @orange_madbird

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