With companies like Toys R Us, Payless Shoes, True Religion, Gap Inc. and Kmart shutting many or all of its doors or going into bankruptcy, we might wonder why so many retailers are closing. You could argue it is because competition has increased, particularly online; product life cycles are becoming more and more compressed; or customer interests and needs are rapidly changing. While these factors are evidence of a changing retail climate, the real reason why some retail companies are closing while others are not is their failure to adapt, change and/or pivot.

Organizational leaders created systems designed to make them more efficient and effective, but, as time went on, those systems slowly went out of alignment with the changing climate. As organizations lost this alignment, they faced a choice (whether they recognized it or not): Change, or continue on the path of slow death. Unfortunately, some companies have been unable to keep up with the pace of change.

The changing business climate is not unique to the retail industry. Most companies are facing increased competition, compressed product life cycles, and rapidly changing customer interests and needs. As an L&D leader, you can help your organization and your workforce become more agile – more able to swiftly adapt to the changing needs of customers, employees and the marketplace.

How Do Organizations Develop an Agile Workforce?

Most organizations try to make their workforce more agile by attempting to alter and improve their employees’ thinking, learning and behavior, primarily through policies or incentives. In the process, they overlook the foundational ingredient in employees’ willingness and ability to be agile: their mindsets.

Mindsets are the mental lenses that shape how we view, interpret and interact with the world. For decades, researchers have found that mindsets are the key driver of agility, because they drive individuals’ and employees’ thinking, learning and behavior and, correspondingly, their willingness and ability to be agile.

When organizations ignore or overlook this concept, the stable mindsets create a resistance that continually pushes against the organization’s efforts for change. In the long run, the mindsets will win out, and any progress made in agility is lost.

Rather than trying to push agility by focusing on the top levels of the pyramid, a more effective way to bring about agility is to push employees’ mindsets forward. In doing so, the employees’ thinking, learning and behavior and, correspondingly, their agility, will naturally follow. This approach is more effective because it is free of resistance, making the change easier and more permanent.

The Mindsets that Drive Agility

One of the reasons L&D leaders overlook mindsets is that they do not have clarity on what mindsets actually drive and improve employees’ thinking, learning and behavior. Through a thorough review of the mindset literature, I have identified four mindsets that drive employees’ thinking, learning and behavior:

  • Growth mindset: our ability to the see our and others’ abilities, talents and intelligence as attributes that can change, grow and develop
  • Open mindset: our ability and willingness to be open to the ideas of others and to take those ideas seriously
  • Promotion mindset: seeking advancement, growth and accomplishment
  • Outward mindset: seeing others as people and treating them as such

By promoting and developing these mindsets, L&D leaders will equip their organizations’ employees to think, learn and behave in ways that will enhance agility.