Motivation and Mindset: Building Blocks of a Learning Organization

It is critical to understand how a person learns and what an organization can do to trigger, develop, and sustain the learning process in that individual.

“Through learning we recreate ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we re-perceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life”

—Peter M. Senge

One of the strongest predictors for long-term success of an organization in today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambitious) world is its learning culture. Peter M. Senge of MIT Sloan School of Management first introduced the term, “learning organization,” in his 1990 book, The Fifth Discipline. He proposed that to become a learning organization, a company must “discover how to tap people’s commitment and capacity to learn at all levels.” Only a learning organization remains flexible and adaptable to quickly changing needs of today’s hypercompetitive business environment.

Boris Groysberg, a professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, emphasized in a June 11, 2014, Harvard Business Review article that even for C-level executives, the most pressing question is: “How can you keep your skills current?”

According to Senge, the five disciplines that distinguish a learning organization from a more traditional organization are systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, building a shared vision, and team learning.

That leads to some important questions, including: How can a company start this journey of building a learning organization? Are there some basic building blocks of learning culture?

Let’s explore these questions through research work that can provide an understanding of this foundation.

Building Blocks

The Oxford online dictionary defines learning as “the acquisition of knowledge or skills through study, experience, or being taught.” So it is viewed as a process rather than an end product. The study of how learning occurs in humans is a part of neuropsychology as it is essentially a biological function and the brain is responsible for it. There are also other branches such as educational psychology, learning theory, and pedagogy that study the science and art of learning through behavioral or conceptual frameworks.

It is critical to understand how a person learns and what an organization can do to trigger, develop, and sustain the learning process in that individual.

One of the building blocks for learning is motivation.

Raymond J. Wlodkowski, in his book, “Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn: A Comprehensive Guide for Teaching All Adults” (Jossey-Bass; third edition, April 18, 2008) talks about a benchmark analysis done for students between fifth and twelfth grades for a sample size of 637,000 students where a 98 percent positive correlation was found between motivation and academic achievement. Even for an organization, attempts to enhance a skill or develop a new behavior for a group of employees may fail if there is a lack of interest from them.

So organizations need to ensure that:

The value and usefulness of desired skills and behaviors are clearly articulated.

Learning opportunities are aligned with an employee’s career aspirations.

Employees have shared ownership of the learning process.

The environment is supportive of the desired learning.

If motivation is one building block, the other important building block of learning is to have the right mindset.

Carol Dweck, a psychologist from Stanford University, discovered that mindset plays a vital role in developing skills (Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. RHUS, December 26, 2007). It can be used to enhance even basic abilities such as intelligence or talent.

Mindset is part of an individual’s beliefs. According to Dweck, people display two types of mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. People who have a fixed mindset believe that talents, skills, intelligence, or moral values do not change over a lifetime. On the other hand, people with a growth mindset refuse to accept that these are unchangeable. They believe that with dedication and sincere effort, all such abilities can be improved. They do not believe that any individual eventually can reach the level of Einstein or Mozart or Michael Jordan. But, at the same time, they believe that the extent to which an individual’s talents can be grown are unknown and unknowable.

So organizations that want to persuade its people to seriously invest time and effort in learning can take some of the following steps in line with Dweck’s recommendations:

Share anecdotes: In every organization, there are people who become highly successful in their jobs through exceptional learning—such stories and anecdotes should be shared to encourage people.

Recognize the right way to use praise: It is counter-productive to praise someone’s intelligence or talent; rather, we should focus on recognizing the effort put forth by individuals to enhance their intelligence, talents, or traits.

Build a growth mindset culture: Through various workshops and interventions, organizations should build a culture of growth mindset that:

  • Encourages people to challenge themselves to enhance their existing abilities.
  • Helps them learn from temporary setbacks.
  • Rewards efforts put in for continuous learning and development.

These measures can help in creating an environment that enhances motivation, as well as the right mindset of learning among employees. Once these prerequisites are present, the next step is to enable employees to design their own learning so they can take charge of their own growth and eventually establish a thriving learning culture within the organization.

Pranab Chakraborty is a senior manager in the Leadership and People Sciences team of Wipro Technologies. He has been associated with the IT industry for the last 20 years, during which time he gained extensive expertise in client engagement, program management, and delivery management roles. He is passionate about contextualization of learning using practical experience. He can be reached at