Great managers recruit and retain great people. Employees stay with a manager when they can learn and grow. If you learn how to build an employee growth culture, you will retain more of your best employees. To understand how people learn, we need to look at Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy. Khan knows people learn by solving problems. He's helped them solve more than 3 billion problems.
While I have always felt that being a better manager made me a better parent and being a better parent made me a better manager, I didn't connect both of these to the importance of creating growth mindsets until I read Salman Khan's blog post,The Learning Myth: Why I'll Never Tell My Son He's Smart. Khan's article is a helpful reminder of how the lessons one learns from teaching people online apply very strongly to our employees and our kids. Khan discusses the importance of creating a growth mindset, something he feels is more important to instill in our kids than anything else we teach them. I couldn't agree more and think it also applies to the cultures we build at companies. A company is most successful when it adopts a growth-mindset embracing tasks regardless of the risk of failure knowing that learning will occur.
Although I've written about employee retention before, I didn't cover some of the mistakes that many managers make when it comes to building a growth culture. Most importantly, your employees need to be growing and learning. If they are not growing, they will and should leave for more challenge.
Here are 5 lessons that I have learned over the years that create a growth mindset:
1. Actively encourage learning in every employee
Having a growth culture gets better short-term results. It is also the strongest way to retain employees. According to research Khan found, people learn more by simply being aware that the brain develops when there is struggle. If people are aware of how the brain learns, they will learn more. When people realize they are learning more, you will retain your employees. Many times, I had employees get offers at other companies only to stay at Bill.com after we discussed my philosophy of growth and how Bill.com can offer more future growth. They acknowledged Bill.com had already helped them to grow. Some of the things we do are offer training, mentorship, and regular employee reviews to ensure that the employee has the support to learn actively. One of my life's mottos is that if I am not learning, it is time to move on to something else. Making this part of the culture is the only way good companies become great.
2. Taking risk means failure, support your team in both
Khan references research that found neural connections form and deepen the most when we make mistakes. Repeatedly having success doesn't result in as much learning. In my personal life, one of our family values is perseverance. It is at the core of who I am. The business success I have had is based on this value. Teaching perseverance to staff is not easy, but it is essential. It is the culture in Silicon Valley that failure is not just okay, but encouraged. Investors and employees want to know that someone will persevere when things get tough and not just quit. By building a growth culture with employees who persevere through tough times, you will help them grow only if they trust you to support them when they fail.
3. Do not give false praise
There's a balance between motivating staff through tough times and giving empty praise. False praise will foster the development of false skills. Empty praise creates no skills. Khan refers to research from Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University. She's been researching people's mindsets for decades. Mindsets are easily changed. A few simple comments can have a long-lasting impact on a person's mindset. Instead of casually giving out empty praise, managers have to work harder to give specific praise. The manager will have to invest the time to know what the employee did and praise specific actions only when praise is warranted.
4. Reinforce behavioral traits that reinforce your culture
According to Dweck, praising the work process acknowledges the effort. The work process involves how the person completed the task. Those characteristics are core to all the projects that the individual will take on at your company.
To understand how to improve a process, Khan looks into how our brains operate. The brain is a muscle. Stretching that muscle is the only way to grow your career or team. While I think it is important to acknowledge specific talent, it is more important for the brain to praise the character that produced the talent.
It is the character that will help the individual acquire new skills and talent. If you only praise the talent you are reinforcing the idea that a person can succeed based on fixed traits. By consistently praising specific work processes/behavior/character such as tenacity and grit, you create a growth culture.
5. Don't make the mistake of managing activities
I've heard over the years that managers are only aware of 10% of what their employees do. I think it is less than that. Since a manager can't effectively know what employees are doing, a manager's job really becomes focused on leadership. By talking to employees about the proper types of behavior when tackling a type of problem, the employee learns how to solve increasingly more complex problems on their own. The employee benefits from the experience of their manager on a much deeper level than simply correcting the problem. That is the type of lasting impact and coaching all leaders want to have.
Employees are the most valuable asset in a company. Attracting and retaining top employees is the best way to ensure success in the future. Building a growth culture by investing time, being specific, and taking a genuine, personal interest in their career growth will help any manager to succeed.