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Mindset Change: The Foundational Shift for L&D

February 04, 2019 9:28 PM | Anonymous

By Heather Adams, the Arbinger Institute

There is so much advice out there for L&D leaders and professionals:

  • Become learner-centric!
  • Incorporate micro-learning!
  • Use virtual reality!
  • Employ design thinking!

The list goes on. And the advice is good. These are all ways to make it easier for learners to engage with, absorb, and implement learning content.

Mindset Drives Behavior

It’s generally clear that behavior drives results: our actions lead to the outcomes we achieve. What’s less well understood is that mindset drives behavior. Our mindset—how we see ourselves, others, our work, and our organization—determines how we choose to respond to our environment. 

Two Mindsets

Based on decades of research into the psychology of human behavior, the Arbinger Institute identified two mindsets from which people and organizations can operate: a self-focused “inward mindset” and an impact-focused “outward mindset.” 

With an inward mindset, we think only about our own needs, challenges, and objectives, without consideration for our impact on others. We see others not as people with their own needs and goals, but as objects. We see them as:

  • Vehicles to achieve our own objectives
  • Obstacles that are in our way or causing problems
  • Irrelevancies that can be ignored

Because our mindset drives our choices and behaviors, having an inward mindset leads to all kinds of challenges for both individuals and organizations. Inward-mindset organizations, for example, tend to have low levels of innovation, poor employee engagement, and poor collaboration. 

Inward Mindset in L&D

In learning and development, the self-focus of an inward mindset invites many employees to resist or disregard learning opportunities. When we fail to see the larger context of our work, we can ignore or dismiss the need for learning: “I’ve always done things this way and it works just fine. Why should I learn this new system?” Or, “My performance is already great! I don’t need this new content.” 

What’s more, an inward mindset invites L&D professionals to see learners as objects. We might see them as vehicles if they’re learning the way we want them to, or as obstacles if they’re not. The problem is that if we are seeing our learners as objects, we can implement the best instruction available—we can even invest in virtual reality, install the latest LMS, implement design thinking, etc.—but we will never be able to truly support their learning needs and goals. Which is too bad, because all those tactics are designed to do precisely that: help us speak more directly to learners’ needs, objectives, and challenges in order to deliver the right content, in the right format, at the right time for maximal learning. With an inward mindset, though, we will apply these tactics in service of our own needs and goals rather than our learners’. 

The same principles apply to leaders of L&D functions. One of the most widespread pieces of advice to talent development leaders is, “Become a strategic partner to business-line leaders and the C-Suite.” This isn’t possible with an inward mindset. To the extent that we are self-focused, we fail to see what others in the organization are trying to accomplish. Rather than strategically partnering with them to move the business forward, we tend to go about our work in ways that make it harder for others to achieve their goals. Overall organizational performance suffers as a result. 

Outward Mindset: The Foundation for Effective L&D

With an outward mindset, individuals and organizations focus on collective results. We see others as the people they are, rather than as objects. We are alive to the impact we have on them—especially to our impact on their ability to do their jobs effectively. 

When we have this awareness of our impact on others and on organizational results, we become curious about how we might adjust our efforts to be more helpful. It becomes easier for us to change. This applies to learners, instructors, and leaders alike.

Wipfli, an accounting and business consulting firm headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has achieved incredible results by incorporating outward mindset into “the Wipfli Way.” A senior learning leader at Wipfli commented: 

"Wipfli’s learning philosophy has always been to offer the right training, at the right time, with the right focus. To do this, we focus on the learner…what dotheyneed? In addition, we see learning as a critical part of the larger organizational strategy. To this end, we established a learning and development strategy based on the competencies necessary to achieve two major organizational goals: growth in the markets we serve, and greater engagement for all associates, from entry level to partner. Shifting to an outward mindset as an organization and building that mindset into our day-to-day work has been a huge enabler for these new, improved ways of thinking and operating.”

Imagine if everyone in your organization were alive to each other’s goals and challenges. What would become possible? What could you accomplish? 

The Arbinger Institute’s two-day introductory workshop, Developing and Implementing an Outward Mindset, is being offered to the public on April 3-4, 2019, in downtown Chicago. Learn more:


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