The German car manufacturer has reported that ‘it has detected a mindset in some areas of the company that tolerated breaches of rules’. Andrew Hill, the editor of the Financial Times, writes widely about it in his column (15 December 2015) and is inclined to praise the mindset approach, on the back of a book of the same title by Carol Dweeck, Stanford professor of Psychology, published in 2006 and apparently in the reading list of Bill Gates. Wow! It must be good.
I have a problem with mindsets. I’ve been a clinical psychiatrist for a third of my professional life and I’ve never seen one. Have you? What does it look like? What does it do? Is in your mind? Your brain? When people talk to me about ‘changing mindsets’ as a way to create change, I don’t know what they are talking about. I see behaviours, I smell behaviours, I can like them or not, reinforce them or not, scale them, copy them, ignore them, do something with them. But mindsets? No idea.
But if you know about mindsets, you can offer your services to VW because apparently this is what they plan to do.
So the problem was that there was ‘a wrong mindset in some parts’. Really? There were lots of people getting away with murder and behaving in a visible way. A set of behaviours was visible, exhibited, allowed and reinforced (by not punishing it). It’s behaviours. Concrete, plain, observable, tangible and smelly. Don’t blame ‘the mindset’. The label, actually, is not helping at all. It’s diverting the attention to something we are supposed to have deep in, stuck with it, and at the root of something. The mindset does not explain anything, simply reframes the problem by attributing it to a non existing entity.
If you have a kid with constant tantrums, shouting, moving around the house crying for no apparent reason, hitting and kicking his sister and running around like a mad kangaroo, it is pointless and useless to say that ‘he needs to fix his emotional instability’, let alone, ‘we need to change his mindset’.
VW should look at behavours, no mindsets (sorry Andrew Hill) and find the non negotiable ones that need to be reinforced by the group, in the open. Behaviours may look individual but they are mainly collective, copied from others (Homo Imitans, Viral Change tm)
Mindset focus is as un-focused as Barclays sending his traders to training on ethics in an UK business school, which is the equivalent to sending arsonists to a course on the dangers of fire. Cultures are nor created by training, but I am afraid next time we hear from VW we will hear about more training on something. Perhaps like how not to do stupid things.
Doing something wrong and getting away with murder is hardily a secret thing done by three guys and a computer. It’s behaviours. They create culture. It’s there, it was cultivated, there is no other way around.
But, by all means, if you ever find a mindset, please shout, I’d like to introduce myself.