‘Learn the lessons and then move on’: why a growth mindset is an asset in business
Laura Hinton, UK tax leader at PwC, is championing a culture where staff feel free to innovate and take risks safe in the knowledge that things don’t always work out as expected
The phrase “growth mindset” has become an often-touted buzzword, cropping up in everything from business to education, but what exactly does it mean? And can it really make a tangible difference to an organisation?
, a growth mindset encourages people to learn from mistakes and setbacks, be open to new ideas, coach others and respond positively to change. It sees challenges as exciting rather than threatening.
PwC is one business that has embraced the concept, embedding new ways of doing things into its working practices in the tax line of service, which also includes the legal and the people and organisation practice. For Laura Hinton, UK tax leader, it’s about creating a culture where staff feel comfortable to innovate, take on new challenges and never feel as though making mistakes is a sign of weakness. It’s all about shaping an environment where everybody can reach their full potential. “That’s the big picture,” says Hinton. “Create the right environment, the right culture and ultimately the business will be more successful as a result.”
Many changes are being implemented to embody this approach, and to ensure ideas and differences of opinion see the light of day. Staff are encouraged to generate and share their thoughts about how to deliver work differently. These might be small suggestions – such as automating a particular process – or more far-reaching ideas that can be submitted centrally and PwC will decide which of these to incubate and develop. The firm also aims to involve clients in developing new ideas together. “Can you deliver something differently?” says Hinton. “Can you collaborate with clients in a different way? Can you co-develop things?”
A shadow leadership team is in the process of being established within the tax practice in an effort to involve more junior team members in major decisions. Linked to this, a simple but effective move is to make sure that, during meetings, the most senior person speaks last. Otherwise there’s a tendency for everyone to agree with what they say. “Let your team speak first, get different views into the room,” says Hinton.
Another innovation is “horizon scanning workshops”, where staff take time out from their day-to-day work to get together and predict how a particular specialism or industry might take shape in the future. They’ll discuss: what will that market look like in five years? Where is PwC at now in relation to that and where are the gaps? How should these gaps be covered?
The digital future is never far from people’s minds and this goes hand in hand with the tax team’s efforts to adopt the growth mindset. Everyone at PwC, from partners to new joiners, attends one of PwC’s digital academies, where participants develop the skills needed to leverage technology and drive the adoption of a digital/growth mindset across the firm. It’s about understanding “the art of the possible”. The firm has identified more than 60 staff members as “digital accelerators” – those driving the use of technology to transform how the firm works by, for example, automating onerous processes. One of their successes came in pensions audit work where the digital accelerators saved more than 9,000 hours a year, freeing up team members to focus on innovation in delivery for clients.
Challenging the status quo and finding smarter ways of working is further driven by innovation workshops that are held throughout the year. These aim to harness knowledge to facilitate the creation of ideas that don’t yet exist – but have the potential to drive PwC’s future success.
If that’s the overarching picture, what does it look like on the ground? How does it affect the way employees work? For Amishta Aubeelack, an associate in PwC’s legal department, it’s about having the freedom to evaluate when something doesn’t go to plan.
“When I first started, I was asked to present my screen for a client call,” says Aubeelack, who joined the graduate scheme in September 2022. “We’ve all been there, you’re on mute, your cursor won’t work and your video is the giveaway – your ‘look calm and composed’ facade has gone.
“I remember feeling anxious and annoyed at myself for not knowing how to manoeuvre the tech properly and I decided I had to do a trial run before the next call.”
However, her seniors were quick to reassure her, she says. “If you’re committed to learning how to fix your mistakes and take the time to evaluate what went wrong I don’t think anyone can fault you. After all, effective growth is exactly that: self-evaluation and an eagerness to learn better ways of doing what you do.”
Ask Hinton what growth mindset means, and her description includes the need to be curious, to ask open questions and also to be prepared to be wrong. For her, the concept is about creating transparency, allowing mistakes to be discussed and acknowledged rather than swept under the carpet.
“It is about creating an environment where we always recognise and value the fact we tried something,” she says. “Previously, if something didn’t work we would have pretended we didn’t ever try as opposed to actively talking about it, celebrating it, learning lessons and then moving on. It’s about experimenting, investing and knowing that not everything will pay off. But it’s about being transparent and learning. That really is quite different culturally for us.”
To help embed this way of thinking, experienced partners are asked to share stories of how things that went wrong have shaped their careers or redefined their approach and taken them in a different direction. Individuals at local level are then encouraged to share their experiences to normalise the discussion of the learnings that can come from “intelligent failures”.
Aubeelack mentions that it’s also key to evaluate what went right, as well as what went wrong. “It could be something minuscule, like me sending a chase email and my manager loving the wording. I think: ‘OK, I’ll make a note of it and build it into my way of working’.”
She feels she has benefited from being able to push her boundaries and be stretched despite being relatively new. “I was brought on to some existing accounts to drive activity after only two or three months into my role. My seniors were keen to hear my ideas and welcomed a new perspective. I remember being praised for challenging a certain process – this is entirely indicative of the tax business’s dedication to championing different perspectives.”
Despite PwC having a record year in the 12 months to June, Hinton is conscious that clients’ expectations are ever growing, and success may mean doing things differently. “We have lots of experts in their field. But that isn’t going to be enough to differentiate us in the future because clients’ issues are more complex and multi-dimensional,” she says. “You need to bring different views into a room to get to a better answer … it’s asking every single partner to think about how they could approach things in a different way.”
That use of growth mindset to forge success individually is something Hinton sees on a wider scale. For her, growth mindset for an organisation isn’t about chasing numbers and success, but about creating an environment that almost produces those as a by-product. “What I’m keen to point out is that it’s not about hitting targets. It’s about a mindset, a state of mind that if we really embrace it, the business will grow. We won’t have to worry about the numbers – they will follow.”
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