Grit, a relatively new psychological concept offers fascinating insight into why some people succeed in their careers while others fail to achieve their full potential.

Angela Duckworth, a leading author and professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania defines Grit as the capacity to sustain both effort and interest in projects or tasks that take months or longer to complete. It is essentially a combination of perseverance and passion. The latter can best be defined as a “fire in the belly”, or positive energy to achieve and outperform against one’s goals.

Duckworth has found that people who are high in Grit don’t deviate from their goals, even in the absence of positive feedback and in the face of adversity. Although research on the concept is still in its early stages and far from conclusive, Grit appears to be positively related to success in many spheres of life and has been linked to important outcomes such as improved performance, career success, learning motivation, commitment and resilience.

So how can companies incorporate this promising new concept into their people management practices? Below are 3 ideas to get you started:

Assess for strengths and motivations when hiring people

The mantra “hire for attitude as well as skill” is widely espoused, yet few recruiters know how to translate this into practical action during the hiring process. One of the ways you can do this is by using strengths interviews and strengths assessments to measure not only the required skills and experience for the role, but also the person’s strengths, motivations, and values. A good alignment between these softer human factors and the needs of the role, as well as the work culture, will enable you to recruit people who are motivated to go way beyond the minimum requirements of the role. When people’s strengths, motivations and values fit the job and company well, they are far more likely to deliver excellence, embrace learning opportunities and stay longer with your organization.

Stretch people in areas they enjoy most

To develop higher levels of grit, ensure your people are provided with stretch opportunities that push them beyond their comfort zone. However, ensure this stretch is positive in nature. Positive stretch involves discovering a person’s underlying talents and strengths, then challenging them to take these to the next level by developing skills, experience, and flexibility in the way they apply these. It is important to provide coaching, support and feedback when encouraging people to stretch their strengths to maintain high levels of energy and avoid negative stress, panic and burnout.

Promote a growth mindset and learning culture

Perseverance involves working hard to achieve goals and sticking with a task even in the face of immense pressure and setbacks. There are different factors that accelerate perseverance, but one of the most important appears to be the extent to which people are encouraged to learn from setbacks and take ownership for their own learning. People with a growth-oriented mindset are better learners and demonstrate greater agility in adjusting to changes and setbacks than those who don’t believe they can learn new skills and abilities required for success.

Organizations can encourage growth mindsets by creating a supportive environment where failure is seen as part and parcel of the learning process and reasonable mistakes are tolerated. They can also ensure regular feedback and coaching through engaging performance dialogues and regular manager and co-worker feedback channels to empower people to learn, grow and improve their performance.

It is also important to create a work culture characterized by high levels of interpersonal connection and collaborative learning. By building strong support networks (both face-to-face and virtual) such as collaborative platforms and tools, hangouts, brainstorming/brainwriting sessions and socials, organizations will provide people with greater opportunities to solve challenges collaboratively, experiment and deliver solutions that multiply business results.

Further Reading:

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, 2016, Angela Duckworth. London: Penguin

About the Author

James is a leadership and talent consultant, business psychologist, and executive coach. He has over 25 years’ experience working with leaders, teams, and organizations to optimize their talent, performance, and future success.

Before moving into consulting, James held corporate leadership roles in People and Talent Management in the UK and abroad with companies such as Yahoo! and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals. Since moving into talent consulting and assessment design, he has supported leaders and teams globally across many sectors and geographies. Clients he has worked with include Allen & Overy, Commvault, Equinor, Graze, LVMH, Facebook, GSK, Hilton, John Lewis, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, NHS, Oracle, Sainsbury's, Swiss Re, Tesco, WSP and Yahoo! James has founded and run several ventures, including Strengthscope®, an international strengths assessment and development business, that he sold in 2018.

James has a Master’s in Organizational Psychology, an MBA, and an Advanced Diploma in Executive Coaching. He is a regular writer and speaker on talent assessment and development, leadership, and the future of work.