ADVOCACY OF THE MINDSET: CULTIVATING AND SUSTAINING A ‘GROWTH MINDSET’ IN THE LAGOS STATE PUBLIC SERVICE
(Being the Keynote Address delivered by Dr. Akintola, Benson Oke, FCGP., FCArb., FNIM., the Honourable Commissioner, Lagos State Ministry of Establishments, Training and Pensions at the World Press Briefing on “Growth Mindset” in the Lagos State Public Service on Tuesday, February 6, 2018)
1. Without an iota of doubt, the administration of His Excellency, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has heavily invested in the transformation of the Lagos State Public Service. Championed by His Excellency, the Governor himself and anchored by the Ministry of Establishments, Training and Pensions, this administration has engaged all departments and units of the public service in trainings and workshops designed to improve productivity, deepen knowledge, expand horizon, and re-evaluate and sharpen vision and focus.
2. These efforts were made in pursuance of the promise and undertaking made by His Excellency on May 29, 2015 when, in his Inaugural Speech, he said to the good people of Lagos State and the whole world as follows:
“As we all know, the best practices of yesterday may not be good enough for the products of today. In this sense, we shall embark on continuous reforms in the public service. I am determined to demonstrate that the government belongs to the citizens. You have put us here as servants to serve you and not you serving us. Today we are committed to that creed.
“Moving forward, the Civil Service will be strengthened and made to respond to the needs of all citizens in the same manner quality services are rendered in the private sector.
“My administration is prepared to take the decisions needed to promote merit and professionalism. To restructure where required, eliminate poor Human Resource practices and accelerate the pace of reforms in the spirit of good governance.”
3. Now, all stakeholders are beginning to notice and appreciate the investments made to build and deepen capacity in the Lagos State Public Service. From citizens to donor agencies, and from civil societies to the media, objective evaluations testify to a Lagos State Public Service that is better motivated, better focused, and better equipped to confront the challenges of modern governance and administration in an emerging, dynamic and rapidly-growing global and smart city.
4. While we delight in this achievement, we are mindful that our work is not done. We appreciate that there is a place called ‘better.’ We are conscious that the task of fully realizing the vision set out by His Excellency as highlighted above is only best described as ‘work-in-progress.’ To this end, the Lagos State Executive Council has carried out a detailed evaluation of the public service in light of the investments and progress so far made with a view to determining the next critical step in the effort to ensure that the public service performs at its optimal level and delivers exponential value to the citizens of Lagos State.
5. That evaluation has identified that, aside from skills-capable development, it is imperative to embark on an extensive, rigorous, sustained, and public service-wide advocacy that addresses what social scientists have identified as the most cognate component of organisational development: that is, the changing and substitution of a ‘Fixed Mindset’ to, and with, a ‘Growth Mindset.’ Thus, the next critical area of focus for those charged with the development of capacity in the public service is not infrastructure or knowledge deepening. These have received, and continue to receive, substantial and adequate investments and attention from this administration. Rather, the next critical area of focus for those charged with the development of capacity in the public service is the renewal and transformation of the mindset of our public officers.
6. Indeed, decades of scientific research supports the conclusion that the mindsets of the human agents of organisations do really matter. One of the leaders of thought who have demonstrated that mindsets do really matter is Dr. Carol S. Dweck, a world-renowned Stanford University Psychologist. According to a publication that has been severally cited, Dr. Dweck’s research conclusions were summarised as follows: “In 1988, Dr. Dweck first presented a research-based model to show the impact of mindsets. She showed how a person’s mindset sets the stage for either performance goals or learning goals. A student with a performance goal might be worried about looking smart all the time, and avoid challenging work. On the other hand, a student with a learning goal will pursue interesting and challenging tasks in order to learn more. In subsequent studies, Dr. Dweck found that people’s theories about their own intelligence had a significant impact on their motivation, effort, and approach to challenges. Those who believe their abilities are malleable are more likely to embrace challenges and persist despite failure. This model of the fixed vs. growth mindset shows how cognitive, affective, and behavioural features are linked to one’s beliefs about the malleability of their intelligence”
7. The latter part of the summarised conclusion of Dr. Dweck’s ground-breaking research work brings us to the subject of the ‘Growth Mindset.’ Experts and thought leaders in organisational and capacity development have long distinguished between the ‘Fixed Mindset’ and the ‘Growth Mindset.’ Maria Pipova describes them as the two mindsets that shape our lives. As surmised, “a ‘fixed mindset’ assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled.”
8. A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behaviour, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness
9. We are convinced that, by having individual officers of the Lagos State Public Service inculcate the ‘growth mindset,’ we can attain a truly effective, productive, and transformational public service that will surpass the expectations of all stakeholders. In practical terms, our advocacy will be to challenge and encourage all officers of the Lagos State Public Service to embrace a ‘growth mindset’ such that the objectives discussed below can be realised.
10. First, every officer with a ‘growth mindset’ will become interested in understanding and adopting the vision of the public service as a whole and will be empowered to set a clear vision regarding his/her duties and effectively communicate it to colleagues, providing them with a clear understanding of the desired direction from time to time.
11. As has been severally noted, a crafted vision by itself accomplishes nothing. What matters is whether the officers of the Lagos State Public Service understand and internalize the vision that has been articulated and can, on the basis of that, make aligned procedural choices on their own. The task of the leadership of the public service is to ensure that the unit, departmental, and organisational vision is clearly articulated and communicated.
12. An inculcated and nourished ‘growth mindset’ will thereafter ensure that the officers of the Lagos State Public Service are committed to making sound tactical and operational decisions that are aligned with the articulated vision.
13. Second, every officer of the Lagos State Public Service with a ‘growth mindset’ will be personally invested in the resolve and effort to cut through Red Tapism in all facets of the public-facing segments of the public service.
14. Permit me to briefly highlight what Red Tapism means with a view to showing how it has the potential to destroy and destabilise the otherwise best-laid plans of the government. It has been noted that, “Red Tape is an idiom that refers to excessive regulation or rigid conformity to formal rules that is considered redundant or bureaucratic and hinders or prevents action or decision-making. It is also regarded as the “collection or sequence of forms and procedures required to gain bureaucratic approval for something, especially when oppressively complex and time-consuming. Another definition is the “bureaucratic practice of hair splitting or foot dragging, blamed by its practitioners on the system that forces them to follow prescribed procedures to the letter.” Red tape generally includes filling out paperwork, obtaining licenses, having multiple people or committees approve a decision and various low-level rules that make conducting one’s affairs slower, more difficult, or both.
15. We are confident that an officer with a ‘growth mindset’ cannot condone or enable Red Tapism. Officers with ‘growth mindsets’ will seek ways to cut through the Red Tape by making bold and innovative recommendations to the appropriate authorities and by seeking to deliver real and approved value rather than ensuring compliance with dead, regressive, and unwholesome procedural standards.
16. Third, every officer of the Lagos State Public Service with a ‘growth mindset’ will embrace the new customer-centered drive of the public service.
17. In a recent publication, PwC, United States, asked and answered a germane question as follows: “What does a customer-centered organization look like? It’s an organization that considers the customer in everything it does, from procurement to deployment to the entire customer experience. It also speaks to its customers in their own language and makes it easy for them to align their goals with the mission at hand.”
18. In the public service where the customer is the citizen, it has also been noted that government departments and public service organizations have clearly defined missions to provide a service to their constituents. Poor experience leads to complaints, that in turn, ultimately affects votes for public officials if service is consistently bad. And further that, “public service organizations that do not understand their customers’ changing needs, or worse, don’t care about their customers, will receive complaints that require additional resources to solve. This creates stress for both employees and customers and takes resources away from their core roles. The momentum and complexity of global change are challenging all organizations, including government agencies, to move faster, work smarter, use their resources more effectively and think further ahead.”
19. In making a case for a customer-centered public service, such as the Lagos State Public Service, Christopher Brown noted that, countless studies have documented the link between organizational culture and organizational performance. Specifically, many studies show that a customer-centric culture drives superior service and value for customers resulting in an experience that creates customer satisfaction and advocacy. This in turn drives exceptional organizational performance in terms of productivity, new product/service success, innovation and financial performance.
20. In the light of the above therefore, the advocacy of the mindset will include emphasis on the priority and importance of a customer-centered approach to the discharge of services in the Lagos State Public Service.
21. Fourth, every officer of the Lagos State Public Service with a ‘growth mindset’ will be ready and equipped to assume leadership of assigned tasks, including the ability and readiness to take initiatives and decisions that align with communicated objectives.
22. As has been severally noted by thought leaders, it is indisputable that organisations will make rapid progress and experience exponential growth only when its units and teams and departments are staffed by persons who understand what leadership means and who have developed their leadership potentials and have enhanced their performance skills. To such an organisation, no problem will be too complicated, no task too herculean, no challenge too huge, and no task too complicated for it to confront head-on.
23. Fifth, a ‘growth mindset’ by officers of the Lagos State Public Service will result in the pursuit and possession of critical soft skills that invariably positively transforms the officers’ attitude to work.
24. The first of the critical soft skills that a ‘growth mindset’ will enable officers pursue and that will positively transform officers’ attitude to work and the citizens they serve is the possession of good communication skills. This doesn’t mean an officer has to be a brilliant orator or writer. It does mean that officers with a growth mindset will seek to express themselves well, whether it is writing a coherent memo, persuading others with a presentation or just being able to calmly explain to a team member what is needed.
25. Another critical soft skill that a ‘growth mindset’ will enable officers pursue and that will positively transform officers’ attitude to work and the citizens they serve is the ability to work in a team and collaborate. Today’s institutions want people who play well with others and can effectively work as part of a team. According to Lyne Sarikas, the MBA Career Center Director at Northeastern University, “That means sometimes being a leader, sometimes being a good follower, monitoring the progress, meeting deadlines and working with others across the organization to achieve a common goal.”
26. Yet another of the critical soft skills that a ‘growth mindset’ will enable officers pursue and that will positively transform officers’ attitude to work and the citizens they serve is adaptability to different situations. This is especially important for more-seasoned professionals to demonstrate, to counter the often-erroneous opinion that older workers are too set in their ways. Again, as quoted by Larry Buhl, Lyne Sarikas opined that “To succeed in most organizations, you need to have a passion for learning and the ability to continue to grow and stretch your skills to adapt to the changing needs of the organization.”
27. Finally, an important critical soft skill that a ‘growth mindset’ will enable officers pursue and that will positively transform officers’ attitude to work and the citizens they serve is the skill to solve problems. Organizations such as the Lagos State Public Service wants people who can be left on their own to figure out how to resolve conflicts and avoid chaos and ill feelings. A ‘growth mindset’ will also spur the pursuit of skills that enable the identification of conflicts before they fester into full-blown crisis. Indeed, the ability to persuade, negotiate and resolve conflicts is crucial in discharging even the most basic functions of the public service.
28. As you may have observed, the advocacy for a ‘growth mindset’ has everything to do with one’s attitude. Attitude is so important that most other coveted attributes flow from it. Shawn Ashmore says your “style is a reflection of your attitude and your personality.” Hans Selye opined that “adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.” Maya Angelou, the famous poet wrote that, “if you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” Similarly, Lou Holtz observed that, ‘virtually nothing is impossible in this world if you just put your mind to it and maintain a positive attitude.” Thomas Jefferson, the second President of the United States of America said, “nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal and nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”
29. The change from a fixed to growth mindset is also intended to embed the culture of creativity and innovation across the Lagos State Public Service where officers are empowered and encouraged to proffer solutions to both operational and strategic challenges of governance.
30. The strategy of Growth Mindset which we have adopted is in line with the motto of our State: Centre of Excellence. This means that every civil servant will strive towards excellent delivery of service to the public. When we adopt excellence as our world view, it will shape our attitudes, behaviour, habits and ultimately have the desired impact on the behaviour of Lagos State Public Service as an organisation. The public has become sophisticated and highly informed, they are aware of global standards of service delivery, they demand to be treated courteously and served excellently because their taxes provide the wealth that government spends.
31. Thus, the Lagos State Government is pleased to announce that it will vigorously pursue a campaign that advocates for a ‘growth mindset’ that will fundamentally transform the attitudes traditionally associated with the public service to attitudes that support and promote growth, citizen-centered services, team work and co-ordination among the different agencies of government, and effective and transformational leadership by every officer in his/her sphere of influence.
32. Thank you for your kind attention.
Dr. Akintola, Benson Oke, FCGP., FCArb., FNIM.
Itesiwaju Ipinle Eko l’o je wa l’ogun
6th February, 2018