Harnessing the Growth Mindset of Agile during COVID-19
Many of us have been feeling the highs and lows of socially–distant living for the past few months. We’ve been adjusting to this new COVID-19-necessitated lifestyle since March, and we don’t yet know when it will end. Some days are good, some are not so good, and the underlying question for most seems to be “How can I feel like I’m moving forward, when every day feels like the one before?” Despite our Groundhog Day-inspired existence, there are ways to continue progressing, especially when it comes to our work. By utilizing the growth mindset embedded into Agile, we can help ourselves and our teams navigate this challenging time and continue delivering projects successfully to the best of our abilities.
It is no surprise that COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on Americans’ mental health. In a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in July 2020, 53% of Americans say stress related to COVID-19 has impacted their mental health (up from 39% in May 2020).1 This increased psychological load has certainly affected job performance, especially for workers who can no longer go into the office. A 2015 survey by Linsday McGregor and Neel Doshi found that employee motivation suffers when employees are forced to work remotely: “…when people had no choice in where they worked, the differences were enormous. Total motivation dropped 17 points, the equivalent of moving from one of the best to one of the most miserable cultures in their industries.”2 In the current environment, when we’re all battling the uncertainty of life in a global pandemic, and we can’t work from an office, employee motivation is undoubtedly suffering.
Another drastic change brought on by COVID-19 is the type of tasks on which employees are comfortable focusing. McGregor and Doshi found that when workers are faced with significant ambiguity, the default is to focus on tactical tasks rather than strategic ones. This makes sense – if you don’t know what your life or your project will look like in a week/month/year, it’s easier to make sure you’re checking smaller, time-bound items off your to-do list rather than trying to tackle large, complex issues. But this may ultimately hurt the overall organization – in times of uncertainty it becomes even more important to think of the bigger picture, to understand the constraints and problem–solve potential paths forward.
Organizations and managers should help their employees adapt to this new way of working to continue seeing progress on projects and company goals. If the conditions are right3, work can provide a sense of purpose during uncertain times. According to McGregor and Doshi’s study, if an employee’s work is engaging and they feel empowered to tackle problems on their own or in collaboration with their teammates, this kind of work can be motivating.4 One way to build this empowerment among project teams is to encourage adoption of a growth mindset, which is the idea that we can continuously learn and improve our abilities (versus a fixed mindset, which is the idea that our abilities and intelligence are static and inherent).5 With respect to worker motivation, incentivizing growth mindsets gives managers an opportunity to reward processes, not just results.6 Adopting a growth mindset with respect to your team’s practices can motivate your workers during the COVID-19 era, and will likely continue to benefit your organization in the future.
While there are many ways to incorporate growth mindsets into your teams’ practices, teams that utilize Agile methodologies have an advantage. The Agile principle of continuous improvement highlights the need to regularly reflect on and adjust the teams’ processes, which is essentially a team-driven version of a growth mindset. Agile teams and organizations can emphasize these specific Agile practices and tools to motivate their workers and ensure that project milestones are being met:
- Retrospectives – give teams the opportunity to review project processes
- Reviews – give teams the opportunity to review project products/outcomes with the customer and get direct feedback to increase customer satisfaction
- Stand-ups – allow teams to identify and remove obstacles, giving the team space to continue meeting their project goals
- Backlog – aligns workers’ tasks with project/team goals, motivating workers to complete those tasks
These Agile practices not only give managers and teams a chance to optimize for continual improvement, they also break down larger strategic goals into small, discrete tasks which workers seem to prefer during highly unpredictable times.
Working through a global pandemic has forced workers, managers, and organizations to innovate and be flexible in their practices and expectations. At RefineM we believe in caring for the whole person, not just the employee who shows up to work. Mental health is an extremely critical part of our well-being and managers of Agile teams can take the steps outlined here to support their workers’ sense of purpose and motivate them through adoption of a growth mindset. Luckily, Agile readily lends itself to emphasizing continual improvement and growth.
We hope these strategies are helpful, and would love to connect to discuss how your organization or team can implement them. We also invite you to download the slides from our webinar, Using Agile to Stay Resilient During Challenging Times, for more guidance and discussion of this topic.