The ‘mahna-mahna’ effect: how to keep your top talent from exiting!

If you can, take a quick break and watch this video. It’s fun. It’s also a wonderful demonstration on what happens when we stifle talent and force it into fixed schemata: talent exits! A 2009 Corporate Executive Board survey shows: one out of three high potentials feels disengaged from their company. According to research of the Corporate Leadership Council, if you ask top talent at any given point in time, one out of four is contemplating to leave their current employer within the year.

Considering the huge amount of resources that are set aside and used to grow the future leadership bench, loosing these A-players comes with a significant cost to organizations (recruiting them; training them; recruiting their replacement; and loss of productivity during the transition – not to mention indirect costs related to motivation and loyalty of the three out of four top-talent people who can observe the above from front-row seats).  What is worse: not only do companies lose their investment in their top talent, research shows that the most competitive firms grow most of their talent in-house. So replacing these vacuums from the open market has a significant negative impact on bottom-line in the long run.

Fostering a growth mindset in your organizational culture may be an approach you want to take a closer look at if you wish to engage and retain your top talent. Carol Dweck, Stanford professor, is a renowned expert on motivation. As part of her research on what engages individuals, she has shown that there are two basic forms of mindset: a fixed mindset (where people believe that basic qualities such as intelligence or extraversion are a fixed trait and behavior needs to follow a certain ‘protocol’) and a growth mindset (where people believe that qualities can be cultivated, and have a sense of perceived control over their life).

A highly gifted student herself, Dweck shared, she had developed a ‘fixation’ that without intelligence she was not worth much, and that she had to do everything she could not to lose it. Being of a fixed mindset made her feel safe in different situations. It was attractive as it promised that she could know herself and know the world in rather simple terms. It offered her a sense of security. But as she points out in a recent interview: “A fixed mindset in terms of reaching one’s full potential can be a real trap.”

The limiting effects of a fixed mindset become irrefutably apparent when it comes to dealing with challenges and failure. As challenges and failure present themselves, individuals with a fixed mindset tend to feel threatened. They often opt to avoid taking risks or changing anything that might put their status (and the status quo) at jeopardy. In many ways, it is a learned helplessness built upon doubts as to whether we can impact and steer our destiny. Self-determination is ‘outsourced’, and often these individuals feel de-motivated and deflated.

Growth-oriented individuals in the face of such obstacles, while they also find failure to be very disappointing, do look for the learning from these experiences. Even more so, they do seek challenges out. A growth mindset assumes that training will foster the likelihood of success and that while not everyone will be able to reach the same level, it generally fosters innovation and creativity. So, to return to the video  at the beginning of this blog: allowing top talent to experiment, to take calculated risks and to explore options is prone to make your leadership bench strong. In fact, not only does it build emotional resilience, it also promises to promote overall health and well-being.

The good news: even if we are born with a fixed mindset, we can choose to adopt a growth mindset. The brain is like a muscle, every time it stretches itself, it learns something new.

If you want to learn more, consider exploring Dweck’s book ‘Mindset – the psychology of success’ … and don’t forget to riff a bit next time you have a mahna-mahna moment.