Why You Need a Strategic Mindset

Why you need a strategic mindset

What if you could work smarter not harder and still succeed? New research from psychologists at Singapore University reveals that a strategic mindset can help direct your efforts more effectively and increase success in multiple areas of life.

Your last challenge

Think about the last time you took on a challenge or set yourself an important goal. How did you tackle it? Did you dive in enthusiastically, excited to get started but without much of a plan? Maybe you spent time planning and monitoring, using review points along the way to help you work more efficiently? If you routinely plan and review, it’s likely you’re already reaping the successes of a strategic mindset. If you’re not one to spend time refining strategy, the good news is you can increase your success by learning to cultivate a strategic mindset and here’s how.

Three questions you need to ask

Lead researcher, Patricia Chen, and her team assessed strategic mindset by asking how often 860 participants utilised these strategy-eliciting questions when faced with a challenge:

  • “What can I do to help myself?”
  • “How else can I do this?”
  • “Is there a way to do this even better?”

Growth Mindset at Work regulars won’t be surprised to learn that Patricia Chen is a former student of Carol Dweck. The research was done in collaboration with psychologists at Stanford University. Although growth mindset theory has already demonstrated the importance of analysing and learning from failures to achieve success, Chen’s research is exciting because it throws a spotlight on why some people use their strategies more than others at the right time. The research showed that participants with a highly strategic mindset utilised the three questions most of the time. Higher performance was linked to the use of these questions for educational and professional goals.

Successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople routinely use a strategic mindset. Think Elon Musk’s commencement speech at the USC where he advised, “focus on signal over noise, don’t waste time on something that doesn’t make things better.” They’re experts when it comes to analysing performance, pivoting in new directions and refining ways of working to achieve progress quickly and efficiently. In other blogs, we’ve also examined how companies successfully utilise a strategic mindset approach when managing failures. Carol Dweck explains,

“There are key points in any challenging pursuit that require people to step back and come up with new strategies. A strategic mindset helps them do just that.”

Can you learn a strategic mindset?

Chen’s research found that this mindset can be taught. Chen’s team randomly assigned participants to learn about strategic mindset in a training session. They were then assigned a challenge and asked to complete it as quickly as possible. Compared to other people in the study who didn’t receive the mindset training session, the strategic mindsets learners were quicker at completing the task, practised the task more before performing it (whilst being timed) and applied more effective strategies.

Assessing your strategic mindset

You can assess your own level of strategic mindset by answering the following questions that Chen and her team used, rating your responses on a scale from 1 (never) to 5 (all the time). The higher your score, the more strategic your mindset:

  • When you are stuck on something, how often do you ask yourself: “What are things I can do to help myself?”
  • Whenever you feel like you are not making progress, how often do you ask yourself: “Is there a better way of doing this?”
  • Whenever you feel frustrated with something, how often do you ask yourself: “How can I do this better?”
  • In moments when you feel challenged, how often do you ask yourself: “What are things I can do to make myself better at this?”
  • When you are struggling with something, how often do you ask yourself: “What can I do to help myself?”
  • Whenever something feels difficult, how often do you ask yourself: “What can I do to get better at this?”

Chen and Dweck continue to research the best ways for young people and adults to adopt this strategic way of thinking. In the meantime, routinely using the above questions to analyse your performance is a great place to start.

Want to discover more about growth mindset? Try our free Introduction to Growth Mindset Course.

Growth Mindset at Work provides practical strategies and tools to take your performance to the next level. Take a deep dive into all aspects of growth mindset with us and develop your business with our consultancy, online programs or a bespoke program, delivered virtually to your team, find out more now.

Growth Mindset Business Hacks

How international company KFC bounced back from failure with a growth mindset approach. “A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal.”

Back in early 2018 the Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) chain of restaurants changed their delivery supply chain. The disaster that followed was successfully addressed with a growth mindset business strategy.

Promising to set a new delivery standard, DHL the successful company behind the new delivery contract, were tasked with providing chicken to KFC’s 900 UK restaurants,

The Disaster

Four months after winning the KFC contract, disaster struck. Problems with deliveries meant that more than 600 of KFC’s restaurants were left without chicken for several days. Fried chicken fans were not happy. Some customers were reportedly so outraged by the KFC closures they even dialled 999 and reported the matter to the police. People took to social media to vent their frustrations. Not only were KFC fans disappointed and critical but competitors also saw an opportunity to capitalise on KFC’s misfortunes. Several rival companies seized the opportunity to advertise that, unlike KFC, they had fried chicken, it was tasty and ready to go. The situation quickly became known as #chickengate.

A Seriously Growth Mindset Approach

Many expected heads to roll at KFC. But what unfolded next was the exact opposite of a typical blame culture. KFC took a seriously growth mindset approach to the problem and deployed the following growth mindset strategies:

  1. The Apology – KFC squarely took responsibility for the situation, their first action was to begin their response with an apology.
  2. The No-Blame Game – they didn’t waste time looking to lay blame, they quickly established what had gone wrong and set about resolving the problem.
  3. The Development Strategy – KFC treated the problem as an opportunity to develop relationships with their partners, their customers and their restaurant teams.

The Apology

The first action that KFC took was to quickly inform customers about the real reason behind hundreds of their restaurants closing. Not only did they take out an ad in two national newspapers, they also rearranged the three letters in their logo to read FCK on an empty chicken bucket. They explained that they’d brought a new delivery partner on board but there had been teething problems. The company ran a series of Q & A type campaigns on social media, answering questions like, “You had one job KFC…How did you run out of chicken? Fix it now!” starting responses with “We get it, you couldn’t make it up.” Customers appreciated the honest, upbeat style and responded with a wave of positivity on social media. The growth mindset approach of the apology focused on clear communication, transparency and an open response to criticism.

The No-Blame Game

KFC didn’t blame their new delivery company, they acknowledged that delivering to 900 restaurants was a complex task and that transporting such large supplies across the country to so many destinations had caused temporary problems. Some critics publicly encouraged KFC to fire its new distributors. It would have been easy for KFC to adopt a finger pointing approach, be critical of DHL or take a punitive approach, instead they worked with the supplier to resolve the distribution problems as quickly as possible. Their growth mindset approach focused on examining what had gone wrong, establishing why systems had failed and ensuring the same mistakes wouldn’t be repeated once operations were up and running again.

The Development Strategy

KFC chose to prioritise the relationship with their customers, restaurant teams and distribution partners.

KFC were swift to support their new distribution partners by publicly acknowledging that they were working on a new contract, in its first week of operation and emphasising that everyone was working together to get things back on track. A focus on learning from mistakes to improve performance is key to a growth mindset for any business.

KFC made it their mission to regularly give a shout out to their hard working restaurant teams. They made it clear that teams were working flat out to re-open and publicly encouraged their perseverance to get the job done. Instead of only focusing on the problems of #chickengate KFC emphasised the positives of how effectively their teams were working to rectify the situation – a motivating growth mindset strategy that encouraged their teams by acknowledging their efforts.

Frustrated customers were constantly kept in the loop at each stage of events and a dedicated page on KFC’s website provided information on when each restaurant would re-open its doors. The #chickengate failure was used to creatively interact with customers on social media and KFC’s response to what had initially been a PR disaster was widely applauded as a social media and PR success. KFC acted consistently to reassure customers and keep them engaged in the problem solving process. It’s easy to think of companies that go on the defensive when criticised by customers – think United Airlines in 2017, when the then CEO Oscar Munoz, initially blamed but later compensated a doctor who was assaulted and forcibly removed from the plane.

KFC took things to a whole new level with their growth mindset approach of transparency, listening and responding to criticism in such a unique way, enabling them to learn from failure. By refusing to allow themselves to be defined by failure they turned #chickengate around.

Want practical strategies and tools to take your performance to the next level? We’ve taken our growth mindset programs to some great companies large and small, including Spotify, the Natural History Museum, the School for Social Entrepreneurs and the Institute for Global Change. Take a deep dive into growth mindset with us and develop your business with our online programs or a bespoke program delivered on site, find out more now.

When a Great Business Falls Into The Fixed Mindset Trap

Fixed Mindset Business

If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen

Think Volkswagen (VW) and what immediately springs to mind? The Ferdinand Porsche designed ‘people’s car’, inspiration for the iconic VW Beetle? Perhaps the market dominating manufacturers emphasis on safety? Reliability? An environmentally friendly ethos?

In 2014 one out of every ten cars sold was a VW, leading to the brand becoming the world’s top selling car manufacturer in 2015. The brand was solid, reliable and trusted around the globe. Rumbling on the near horizon however, were the dark clouds of ‘Dieselgate’.

The Dieselgate scandal

Dieselgate or ‘dieseldupe’ as some have dubbed it, is the story of an admired and trusted company secreting away in their diesel vehicles, a ‘defeat device’. The purpose of the defeat device? To detect when the car’s engine was tested for harmful emissions and to adjust the level of pollutants present to a less accurate but more agreeable level. The rigged test results almost halved the levels of some toxic emissions. In short, the defeat device served to cheat the testing software, the customer and the environment.

The fixed mindset trap

Fast forward to VW’s initial reaction to the discovery of the defeat device. The first response from those at the very top of VW laid bare a culture of fixed mindset thinking around the criminal activity. Here we’ll focus on three classic behaviours that highlight VW’s fall into the fixed mindset trap.

1. A Fixed Mindset Business – Accountability and a Culture of Blame

In October, 2015, the then CEO of VW, Michael Horn told a Congressional hearing in the United States, “This was not a corporate decision, from my point of view, and to my best knowledge today … this was a couple of software engineers who put this in for whatever reasons.” Rather than encourage an open line of inquiry, VW’s reflex was to deny widespread company knowledge of the unfolding scandal. VW pointed fingers and cast about for scapegoats. Instead of acknowledging just how deep the scandal was rooted within VW, the CEO deflected responsibility (even though he later admitted that he too struggled to believe it hadn’t been a corporate decision to install the defeat devices). Horn’s opaque approach only served to further damage the dependability of the VW brand.

After pleading guilty in 2017 to obstructing justice and violating the US Clean Air Act, senior managers at VW continued to deny involvement.

Even after former CEO Martin Winterkorn was indicted for conspiracy to fraud the US government and Rupert Stadler, head of VW’s Audi division was arrested on suspicion of involvement, VW steadfastly denied senior management involvement. Instead blame continued to be placed with lower level managers and engineers. The emerging culture of shame and blame set the scene that would reveal the further shortcomings of a fixed mindset culture at VW.

2. A Fixed Mindset Business – Cheating to Gain a Competitive Edge

Keen to gain a firmer foothold on the US market, VW emphasised the ability of their diesel cars to efficiently cover mile after mile, with impressive fuel economy, whilst keeping pollution to a minimum. VW had it’s eye on California, the biggest car market in the US but in 2010 the state introduced tough new regulations around nitrogen oxide emissions, an example that other states would soon follow. The car manufacturer that could confidently claim their vehicles could meet these new regulations with flying colours would have a huge market advantage. Desperate to corner the US market but unable to match the claims they’d made about performance, VW broke the rules to gain a competitive edge and illicitly included the cheat device in its cars.

Only when the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) commissioned researchers at West Virginia University to monitor exhaust fumes of diesel cars both in the lab and on the road was the truth discovered.

3. A Fixed Mindset Business – Zero Transparency

In the weeks and months that followed the scandal, journalists and commentators talked of corporate silence and a sense of the shutters coming down at VW. Many of those involved either left VW or were suspended. Those who remained were fearful of the impact that further disclosure or discussion might have on them and the company.

In 2018, lawyer, Larry D. Thompson, appointed by the Court to monitor VW’s corporate rehabilitation reported that there was still a lack of transparency within the company, detailing how “The wrongful acts and crimes that were committed in the United States were enormous … The cultural change is going to be enormous, and it’s going to require lots of work on the part of the company.”

Notably, there was still no effective whistle blowing procedure, enabling employees to discuss problems without fear of retribution. Thompson also encountered a “reluctance to share certain information” requested by the US Court and a failure to hold executives accountable. Even Mathias Mueller, the former CEO at VW, following Michael Horn’s short time in the post, described an old school ‘centralistic leadership’ style of thinking amongst some that continued to harbour a resistance to change, he asked “I don’t know if you can imagine how difficult it is to change the mindset.” 

Want your business to avoid the fixed mindset trap? Growth Mindset at Work provides practical strategies and tools to take your performance to the next level. Take a deep dive into all aspects of growth mindset with us and develop your business with our consultancy, online programs or a bespoke program, delivered virtually to your team, find out more now.