ASTD Keynote: Heidi Grant Halvorson

Heidi Grant Halvorson spoke during the very last session of the very last day of the 2012 ASTD conference in Denver, Colorado. Halvorson is an Associate Director of the Motivation Science Center at the Columbia University Business School. She blogs for Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and Psychology Today. I had not heard of Halvorson before, but I was interested in what she had to say. She spoke on motivation.

She began with a question, what do successful people do differently?

Halvorson started by explaining that we are storytellers. Our brains use stories to help us understand what is around us. We are always asking why. Stories let us know what to do. They help to guide our decisions. We need to understand ourselves to make the best decisions. We tell stories about ourselves to ourselves. She asked us to think about the stories we tell yourselves when we succeed and fail. Do we rationalize our success? Our stories may be wrong.

She explains she was a good student because she took the right actions rather than she possess a gene for smartness. We make bad choices because of our stories. We close doors because of the stories we tell ourselves. We are what we do, not what we are. Asking people why they are successful may not be accurate. The story may not be the right story. Success is based on taking the right strategies.

Halvorson expressed her frustrated by the amount of great content in journal articles that never gets to the public. As a result of her extensive research, she wrote a book, blogs, and an ebook on 9 things successful people do differently. She spoke on two of the nine items.

There are two phases of doing:

  1. Strategies for getting ready
  2. Actually doing it.

The problem is actually doing it

During the Phase 1  or getting ready strategy, we must adopt a mindset for success. We can either adopt a “Be Good” mindset or “Get Better” mindset.

In most cases, we take on the “Be good” mindset, where we are trying to prove ourselves to others, we are validating our skill, and trying to perform better than others. We are always validating ourselves with others.

Instead, we should adopt a “Get better” mindset. With a “Get better” mindset, we are working on improving, developing skills and performing better than last time.

Halvorson presented fascinating research comparing “Be good” mindset against the “Get better” mindset. Here are some of the results:

Handling challenges

People with a get better mindset handle challenges better.

When things go wrong

People with get better mindset did better even though things went wrong.

Distress and problem solving

People who have get better mindset did better when problem solving.

Leadership confidence

People with a get better mindset use a role model to gain confidence.

With a “Get better” mindset, people are more interested and enjoy their job more. They think deeper and more creative. They are more persistent. All this leads to superior performance over the “Do good” mindset.

We need to adopt a “get better” mindset, as well as encourage others to adopt this mindset. How do we change mindsets from “be good” to “getting better?”

Use framing and feedback words

  • Training
  • Develop
  • Learning skills
  • Challenging
  • Gaining
  • Learn
  • Acquire over time
  • Practice
  • Mistakes
  • Make progress
  • Improve

Giving people permission to make mistakes is important because people with a get better mindset will make less mistakes. If have people compare themselves to themselves, performance will improve. When evaluating employees, encourage improvement rather than a comparison with others.

Halvorson pointed out when we don’t have intention, we will not carry out our intended activity. When we do intend to do something, we do it 50% of time.  We only succeed 50% of the time because of large execution mistakes:

  • Not identifying exactly what we need to do (specific).
  • We miss opportunities to act.

According to Halvorson, we can improve on execution if use “If-then planning”. If-then planning requires that we specify what we will do, and when and where we will do it, in advance. Here some examples:

  • If it is 3 pm , I will make that phone call.
  • If it is Monday morning, I will check in with all my direct reports.

Halvorson told a story about a research project involving a Christmas essay. A professor asked students to write an essay over Christmas break, and asked them when and where they will write the essays. Some students were asked the If-then plan and others were not. There were different results based on the whether or not a plan was created. Those without a plan turned in essays 32% of the time, and those with an if-then plan turned in essays 71% of the time.

Why did this occur?

Halvorson explains that a plan is linked in your mind. When a situation occurs then an action happens. Basically, in your mind, you are waiting for the situation to happen. Once situation is detected, action happens automatically. If-then planners have 91% success. If-then planning are great for breaking bad habits. If then planning good for distractions and self-doubt

Halvorson challenged us to write out some if-then plans to set focus, get rid of our bad stories, and visualize the steps we will take to makes success happen.

This was an interesting presentation in regards to the content. The challenge is putting it into action.