Shifting Mindsets: How to Make Culture Change Real

New Mindset PhotoOne of the new roads I drive every day to and from work had been only partially finished for almost a year. There was a good-sized bump in one place. It became a habit to slow down every time I came to the bump. The road is now finished and the bump is gone, but I catch myself applying the brakes even though there is no need to do it anymore. Why does this happen?

The twice-daily repetition and reinforcement created a “bump” mindset. As I learned at a coaching conference some years ago, once the interaction of our thoughts and emotions and the corresponding images we create become routine, a neural network forms, keeping our mindset on “autopilot” that gets stronger with repetition. When the road situation changed, my “bump” mindset needed to be knocked off autopilot so my foot would stay on the gas pedal when approaching where the bump used to be. It is easy to say, but not so easy to do. The good news: once I intentionally gave it some focus, my mindset began to shift.

This simple story illustrates that shifting mindsets is about intentionally creating new neural networks on a personal level so that a desired change can be realized. Everyone needs to have this capability—even more so to keep pace with continual advances in technology and the changes it brings to how we live and work every day. For organizations to make real culture change, shifting the collective mindset is where the change work begins.

On a personal level, some things you can do to make it easier to shift your mindset:

  • When you feel resistance to change, recognize it as the strength of your neural network that makes you feel that way.
  • Stop and notice what is going on in the moment without judgment or discomfort—it will help you prevent old habits from taking over.
  • Give attention to the mindset you want to have, it helps to pull attention away from the mindset that no longer serves you well.
  • Get emotionally engaged in the mindset change you want to make, it will help you learn faster and change your habits easier. Neural networks facilitate not only automatic thoughts and actions, but also emotional reactions. This means changing your mindset involves processing and shifting your feelings behind the mindset, too.
  • If you have a major mindset shift to make, find a smaller and easier shift you can make to get a feel for the work involved.
  • Share with someone the shift you want to make and get their candid feedback on how you are doing.

Organizational leaders who achieve the greatest collective impact approach shifting mindsets in the following ways:

  • Acknowledge that each person comes to an organization with their own thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and habits. Organizational change begins with individual change.
  • Gather evidence in the form of data, stories, and lessons learned to help others better understand the shifts that are needed.
  • Make sure the repeat behaviors seen in the workplace represent the organization’s expected behaviors. By changing the most critical behaviors, the mindset will follow.
  • Help individuals and teams create new “now vs. then” stories through continuous learning, improvement, and growth opportunities.
  • Use the power of questions to help shift conversations when they go off track or get bogged down. If you sense this may happen in an upcoming meeting, take a few minutes before the meeting to jot down a few questions you could ask to improve the situation or understand it better.
  • Get all levels involved in a new change initiative and develop practices that can be used every day as part of the flow of work to reinforce new mindsets.

Individual and collective mindsets impact how we think about things, how we make sense of situations, how we learn, how we experience the workplace, and how we perform. From a personal and organizational perspective, it takes focused attention to shift the way people think. When organizational leaders show encouragement and give recognition for making the change, it is a whole lot easier for everyone to create new neural networks.

What shift in mindset is needed in your organization? How will it impact your current culture?

Written by:
Kathryn Johnson
Human Capital Advisory Services
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