Change the Mindset of Employees with These Three Simple Steps

Joost Minnaar
Written by Joost Minnaar December 07, 2022

The leader of a large manufacturing company recently complained to me, "I want our people to change their mindset, but they do not change." "Interesting," I said, "What are you doing to make this change happen?" The leader answered, "It's simple. We just tell them to be more autonomous. More entrepreneurial. More innovative. More agile. But nobody seems to listen to us." Hmm.

There is a questionable strategy we encounter quite often when we meet leaders during our client work.

The general strategy is as follows:

  • We first need to change peoples' mindset (i.e., "you have to be more autonomous").
  • When people change their mindset, they change their behavior (i.e., employees act more autonomous).
  • And when people change their behavior, they will then change the way they work (i.e. work practices and processes).
  • The Result? The business will perform better.

Unfortunately, this strategy is based on flawed logic. You cannot change other people's mindsets by telling them to do so. In fact, simply forcing people to change their mindset will not work. It is impossible.

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It is the exact opposite.

The logic is actually reversed because to change the behavior and mindset of employees, you first need to change the context in which they work.

That said, a better strategy would be as follows:

  • First, change the work context (i.e., ways of working, work practices and processes, etc.)
  • When people change how they work, they will have to change their behavior (i.e., employees will be encouraged to act more autonomously).
  • And when people act more autonomously, they will eventually change their mindset (i.e., employees will feel more autonomous).
  • Result? The business will perform better.

Blame the context, not the people

So, instead of blaming people for not changing their mindsets, leaders should blame the conditions and contexts in which their employees have to do their daily work.

Maybe even more importantly, they should realize that they first need to improve their outdated ways of working—the context to which people shape and adjust their behaviors—if they ever want their employees to change their mindset.

So, "how can we actually do this?" you might ask yourself. It is fairly simple. Just follow these three simple steps:

Change the Mindset of Employees with These Three Simple Steps
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1. Understand what employees do

Before changing anything in the workplace, and before changing the way people work, you will first need to fully understand what people are really doing at work.

You need to be able to understand, for example, how employees make decisions, how they run meetings, lead others, distribute tasks and responsibilities, allocate resources, how they manage, how they handle conflicts, how they solve problems, and so forth.

2. Understand why employees do what they do

When you have a good understanding of what employees are doing at work, then you need to understand why they do what they do—and in the way they do it. You need to understand why people behave as they currently do in the organization.

In other words, you need to understand why the particular working context and conditions shape the particular behavior you observe from the employees.

You need to understand, for example, why employees are looking for consensus when making a decision, why they do not take the initiative, why they micromanage, why they do not take risks, and so forth.

You need to understand the working context, why certain structures exist, and the practices and processes that shape the behavior and mindset of your employees in a certain way.

Instead of blaming people for not changing their mindsets, leaders should blame the conditions and contexts in which their employees have to do their daily work.
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3. Change the working context

When you understand which existing structures, practices, and processes shape the behavior and mindset of your employees in a certain way, then you can finally consider tweaking those particular elements in an attempt to change the behavior and mindset of employees in the desired direction.

Of course, there are many elements you can tweak here! If you do not know where to start, then feel free to take a look at our Academy for some inspiration.

You could, for example, change:

Whatever you do, make sure you no longer blame the people. Blame the context.

And then fix it.

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Written by Joost Minnaar
Joost Minnaar
Co-founder Corporate Rebels. My daily focus is on research, writing, and anything else related to making work more fun.
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