For a long while the word ‘perseverance’ has played on my mind. However, our education system at large does not really talk about it or consider it very important. As a society we have not always lauded hard work over IQ and, while I would like to believe things are changing, reality forces me to face the fact that we are still a long way from that ideal world.
Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth has been studying grit along with her team and believes that it is the quality to be able to sustain one’s passions, and work really hard towards them even in times of extreme challenges or disappointments. Come to think of it, it is easy to hold on when things are going smoothly. It is also reasonable to hold on when you know that you need to work hard towards certain outcomes. But to be able to do it in spite of (repeated) failures, challenges and disappointments is another quality altogether. It is a quality that can make our workforce immensely strong.
It is the correct thing to say that we value grit and perseverance. However, that does not necessarily mean that your organizational culture actually fosters this quality. Here are ways that you might want to test for it.
- Does your organizational environment shun failure?
A lot of the times we may say that we value grit because it seems like the right thing to do. Failure is only inevitable. However, your workforce (or your leadership) could be full of people who are the kind of high achievers and perfectionists who do not leave much room for any kind of failure, neither their own nor others. Failure is looked down upon and taking risks means those that are calculated. Through conversations between team members check if they look down on failure or encourage each other to move ahead from failures. Unfortunately a lot of the times we might have been conditioned to fear failure when we have been young and we project that in our own work as well as those of others.
Encourage conversations and a culture where one is able to see that failure is not the end. Create open forums with team members where external speakers can share how failure, and thereafter grit, was indeed a stepping stone to where they are at the moment.
- Do your managers function with trust and autonomy?
Managers in our organizations may also be functioning from a space where they are afraid to let their team members fail and learn from those failures. These might come from a fear of failure on their part or from a place of protection – the need to protect their team members so that they do not fall.
Encourage your managers to see examples of success when team members are given a sense of autonomy, perhaps even their own experiences of this. Essential to be able to see grit play out in your organization is the fact that you actually allow for it to be displayed. To be strong, your team has to face challenges and difficulties and learn from them. To be better, one needs to know one’s areas of development.
- Does your performance management acknowledge contribution even if it does not hit the bull's eye?
A mistake we make many a times at work is when we treat our performance reviews like examinations in school. Just like our current education system acknowledges the number of correct answers we have got (and only that), avoid a performance evaluation track that only acknowledges the right answer. Talk to your teams about what they have learnt when things did not go as they expected it to. Talk to them about what they did when a project went wrong. Talk to them also about what they will do differently if they were to do the same project again. Acknowledge how hard they worked on it the first time and tell them that you’re there to catch them when they fall, but that you won’t stop them from learning because that is how they will learn the most.
The knowledge that failure is not the end is essential to the fabric of our organizations. Mechanical actions by people who are terrified of risks will not take your organization to the next level. That leap is possible when you have people with grit - people who know that in spite of adversity and challenges, in spite of times when they do not want to do what they must or when the goal and its means are terrifying, they must persevere and come out at the other end.