Be Agile: Free Your People From the Tyranny of Now

Recognize This! – All humans have the capacity to grow, learn and develop but are too often held back by fear of failure. A growth mindset in an agile work environment is key to working more human.

I heard a fascinating podcast recently on applying the agile software development method to your family. (Here’s the TED talk version.)

My company, Globoforce, applies the agile method to nearly every part of our business, far beyond our software developer group, and I can see how it could easily apply in other areas of life, too. The agile method is all about continuous feedback – try, learn, deliver, iterate, try, fail, learn, deliver, and so on. Agile works because it keeps people focused on consistently moving forward.

This dovetails well with research and emerging thinking on how best to help our employees succeed. Changing the decades old performance review process is just one element of this shift in the workplace to a more continuous conversations model in which employees continually receive and give feedback across the full spectrum from constructive to praise. One of the foremost thinkers in this area is Dr. Carol Dweck with her “growth mindset” approach.

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As Dweck explains in this TED talk and in her book, people with a growth mindset fail, learn, and try again. People with a fixed mindset fail and resist trying again. This can be particularly problematic with people managers who perceive their employees through a fixed mindset lens, rarely allowing employees to grow and develop beyond preconceived or early-established notions of skills and abilities.

Dweck speaks in terms of “the power of yet” (we may not yet have achieved the success we desire, but we’re on the path to it) vs. “the tyranny of now” (if I initially fail, then there’s no point to continue trying). If our intention at work is to help our people be agile, to continue to grow and develop, we must free them from the tyranny of now. Here are four tips to get started:

  1. Develop our own growth mindset – Practice an agile development model in our own work. Look for ways to perceive challenges and failure as opportunities to learn and move forward.
  2. Help managers change perceptions of others for growth – Per Dweck, look for managers who “embody a growth mindset: a zest for teaching and learning, an openness to giving and receiving feedback, and an ability to confront and surmount obstacles.”
  3. Praise wisely and reward process instead of results – Don’t recognize people for their intelligence or talent. Praise their process, effort, strategies, focus, perseverance, and improvement. Again, per Dweck: “…praise for taking initiative, for seeing a difficult task through, for struggling and learning something new, for being undaunted by a setback, or for being open to and acting on criticism.”
  4. Transform the meaning of effort and difficult from “dumb” to “helping neurons make better connections and become smarter.” Reward progress in an agile development model, regardless of the job role or function. What did you learn? How did you improve?

Ultimately, thinking in terms of agility and growth is a far more human approach to work – and life. As Dweck says (bold comments added by me):

The more we know that basic human abilities can be grown, the more it becomes a basic human right for everyone to live (and work) in environments that create that growth, to live (and work) in environments filled with yet.

You can find more from Derek Irvine on  Recognize This!

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.

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