Mindset may the most overlooked strategic issue in business today. Getting yourself and your people into the right frame of mind is becoming a crucial determinant of competitiveness, thanks to two huge business trends.
The first trend:
For decades organizations have been growing flatter, with fewer layers of management and increasingly dispersed decision making. It’s a strategy that has reduced costs while making organizations more nimble and responsive to customer needs and market shifts. This deliberate move away from centralized control has weakened the power of the few in favor of the many, so that issues can be best addressed by those closest to the problem.
The second trend:
We’re now in the midst of a similar move to democratize the generation of new ideas, inside organizations and even extending outside. It’s driven by the need for innovation and the realization that to be effective, innovation must tap into many diverse minds and perspectives. Again, the effect has been to reduce the influence of those relative few who happen to be in R & D, new product development or marketing in order to create and capture more diverse possibilities
So both decision-making (Convergence) and idea generation ((Divergence) are becoming part of everyone’s job description. To a greater degree than ever before, employees have discretion to act as independent agents on behalf of the organization’s larger objectives, and to even help shape those objectives.
In other words, your business fate is no longer in the hands of an elite group of leaders with the power to impose their will. It’s now much more dependent on how effectively everyone generates ideas and makes choices—and how well those ideas and choices align.
Mindset is about how your people frame their experience and process what’s happening around them, with customers, suppliers, competitors and colleagues. This isn’t about IQ, or EQ or personality. It’s about attitudes, assumptions and beliefs that are often held subconsciously but that have a huge impact on how people behave.
Mindset can be the attitude of a software designer who sees your customers as stupid because they can’t figure out a new user interface. So she resists design changes. It can be the supervisor who sees requests for schedule changes as a nuisance unworthy of his time, torpedoing morale. It can be the sales manager who dismisses reports of negative customer feedback as the “excuses” of lazy salespeople. So he misses important signals.
Mindset can also be the executive whose first reaction to any idea is positive consideration, no matter what the source. So, everyone feels encouraged to offer their best suggestions. Or, it may be a manager who assumes that everyone is making well-intentioned reasoned decisions and who looks for those positive motives before passing judgment or assigning blame. So, conflict and misunderstanding are minimized
Mindset can be almost any assumption, good or bad, that defines how someone interprets a situation or event. It can have a huge impact on the performance of that person—and of your business. It’s often what most distinguishes your high performers, more than intelligence, training or expertise.
These mental models may be shared across organizations. They become the assumptions and orthodoxies that can create blind spots and undermine innovation. Or, they can lay the groundwork for a truly high performance enterprise. Consciously shaping those mental models is a powerful leadership strategy, but it requires that you identify prevalent attitudes and take specific intentional steps to shape or reshape them.
How are you managing this crucial business asset? What are you doing to measure, evaluate and enhance the creativity and decision making strategies your people use? Not just the decisions they’re making but how they’re making them—their mindset.
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