Could a Growth Mindset Matter More Than Qualifications and Experience?

A couple of times a month, on Saturday afternoon, I go for a long walk with my friend Lucy. We talk about relationships, my work, her challenging experiences with Social Services, and her daughter Jodie and son Pete. Jodie lives at home and is in her early twenties. Whilst we are walking, Jodie is at home on her ipad or with the family cat watching TV. Both of Lucy’s children are adults with disabilities, and over the last six months, they have struggled to get support that works for them as a family. I have seen her become more and more exhausted.
Lucy manages personal budgets for Jodie and Pete, and she wanted to see if she could use them to recruit support in the form of a personal assistant for herself. We talked about value-based recruitment on our walks, and she was curious about whether it could help.
Jodie is quiet, very slim, and tall. She has been growing her hair recently, and it hangs beyond her shoulders. She usually wears jeans and a sweatshirt with white trainers. Jodie is very polite whenever I meet her, and says hello, and as a young woman of few words I wanted to think about how we could keep her at the centre of the process of decision-making in a way that worked for her.
 
The purpose of the role to support Jodie
 
Once we had clarified how Jodie wanted to be involved in decision making, the next step was to think about the purpose of the role and what she would expect of her assistant. The role was essentially to help open up Jodie’s world: to help her build on her interests, become part of her community (both online and in her neighbourhood), and provide practical support to get around. Lucy has been heavily involved in advocating for her daughter throughout the special school system and most recently with adult social care. Jodie is diagnosed as having a learning disability and autism. Lucy, like most parents, wants her children to be happy and safe. When we started to look at the ‘Could this be you?’ part of the value-based recruitment, Lucy was clear.
“I want them to have qualifications in autism and learning disabilities—whatever the relevant NVQ is—and have between 2 and 5 years experience working with people with learning disabilities.”
This is what many people have come to believe provides the safest way of knowing whether someone could support their loved ones well. It is also the way that services typically think about qualifications and experience.  If you have a qualification, then you know what to do. If you have experience, then you have demonstrated that you know what to do. I started to gently challenge Lucy about whether there is another way to think about this qualification and experience.
 
In the last blogs, I looked at the role of purpose and the importance of aligning values and not playing values bingo in recruitment by trying to have an exact match. Now, let’s consider the role of qualifications, skills and knowledge in recruitment. 
 
Do you need qualifications for the purpose of the role?
 
Finding people whose values align with the organisation’s values is a way of creating a culture where people can both thrive and deliver the organisation’s purpose and vision. We know that culture eats strategy for breakfast, so do values eat qualifications and experience in recruitment? We have all met people who are competent and skilled in their work but awful as a colleague, sometimes referred to in organisations as ‘brilliant jerks’.
In many jobs there are key skills required for the tasks that need to be delivered, and I am not minimising this. However, we assume that a university degree tells us something about someone’s abilities—or we used to. Some leading organisations, like Google, are not asking for these as a standard anymore.
The world of work is changing so fast that it is less and less likely that a qualification gained a decade ago, or even five years ago, will enable you to perform a role in many sectors. The jobs that children in school now will be doing in the future have not yet been invented.
 
“If the person has a qualification in autism and learning disabilities, then they will know how to support Jodie,” said Lucy.
A qualification gives you information about the traits associated with the diagnosis of autism and learning disabilities and general information and strategies around support. I don’t doubt that some of this could be useful. But person-centred work means learning about Jodie’s experience of autism and learning disability and exactly how she communicates and needs to be supported. The experts in this are not found in a college or a qualification; they are Lucy and Jodie. The challenge, then, is creating the manual on ‘how best to support Jodie’ based on Jodie, not on theory.
 
“But that would take so much time!” said Lucy. Yes, and whether a potential assistant has a qualification or not, that is the purpose of induction: to support them in becoming ‘Jodie experts’. Experts in reading her non-verbal communication, experts in knowing when to lean in and when to stand back, and in knowing how to deliver the support Jodie needs in a way that works for her.
 
Qualifications and becoming ‘Jodie experts’
 
This is one of the challenges for services and for families. If we recruit people for values and purpose, then the onus is on the organisation and the team leader or family to make sure that the carer knows how to provide great support. One approach to this assumes that competence can be achieved through qualifications and a standard induction, But this will not make people ‘Jodie experts’. Another approach is to recruit people whose values align to the organisation or family and then teach them what they need to learn to become experts in how to support Jodie.
This shifts away from the reliance on qualifications and standard training towards personalised training that reflects the person who is being supported and fundamentally changes how we think about recruitment and qualifications, as well as how learning and development departments work. You can see why it is easier to rely on a qualification and hope that people become ‘Jodie experts’ along the way.
 
You might be thinking that qualifications are expected in social care. Indeed, there are expectations in the sector about how this should be done. Skills for Care developed the Care Certificate that standardised what is expected in social care. The regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), expects everyone to be appropriately trained to do their job (and have certificates to demonstrate this). Although CQC cannot require carers to have the Care Certificate, the perceived messages from the sector and regulator are that providers must make sure everyone has the Care Certificate. The Care Certificate is not transferable from one organisation to another. This means that even where people have gained the Certificate, they have to go through a similar process and be assessed again when moving from one organisation to another.
 
What about experience?
 
“How will I know that they can do the role if they don’t have experience?” asked Lucy.
Recent experience can be useful and in some situations essential, but it can also be unhelpful.
 
I explained to Lucy the experience that potential candidates were likely to have. If we asked for experience in supporting people with autism or learning disabilities, candidates are likely to have worked in a small group home.
 
It cannot be assumed that someone who has worked in a group home would have a lot of experience that would be useful in supporting someone in the family home, with the main focus of the role being expanding their life experiences and being part of their community. They may also have to unlearn some work habits to be able to best support Jodie in the family.  For example, they might be used to being closely managed with regular team meetings and formal processes, or to working in a blame culture where no one takes any risks and everything has to be done by the book. Of course, it could also be that their experience was about taking initiative and supporting people to be part of their community, and this could be extremely useful to Jodie and Lucy. What I wanted to challenge, however, was Lucy’s assumption that having experience supporting other people with a learning disability and autism was essential to doing the role. If someone has a strong work ethic, is reliable, and is eager to learn, how long will it take to enable them to be competent?
 
In adult social care, it is common to see recruitment adverts looking for people with experience. I don’t think there is any justification for this. It reflects that organisation’s belief that people with experience will be able to do the role more quickly and will need less training and support than people without experience. Again, as with qualifications, that was not our experience in Wellbeing Teams.
 
Learning from Wellbeing Teams about qualifications and experience
 
In Wellbeing Teams, we intentionally recruited people from outside health and care: people came to us without qualifications in care or experience. That meant that we needed to quickly make sure that they could learn what they needed with coaching to support them to apply what they had learned and personalise it to the people they were supporting.  We took the bones of the Care Certificate and built other learning and development opportunities around it. However, what we learned was that alongside recruiting for values, there was something else that had a significant impact on how people could deliver in their role: a growth mindset.
 
Why a growth mindset could mean more than qualifications and experience
 
Whether you have experience and qualifications or not, I have learned that what we really need is a growth mindset—for ourselves in our organisation and for the people we recruit.
This is a term coined by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2007). She contrasts a ‘fixed mindset’ with a ‘growth mindset’.
A fixed mindset assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are fixed, and we cannot change them. We respond by striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs to maintain our sense of our intelligence and character.
A growth mindset, on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence, but rather as a springboard for growth and learning. Therefore, people with a growth mindset believe they can learn and change, grow and develop.
 
This is how Carol describes it in her book: 
“For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. How does this happen? How can a simple belief have the power to transform your psychology and, as a result, your life? 
Believing that your qualities are carved in stone—the fixed mindset—creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over… There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with.. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development..Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”
 
As Carol’s work demonstrates, the  difference is that a growth mindset creates a passion for learning rather than the hunger for approval of the fixed mindset.
 
In looking for a personal assistant for Jodie, what we needed most was someone with a growth mindset. This would be essential, and whether people have experience or qualifications becomes ‘interesting’ but not necessarily ‘desirable’, as both bring pros and cons.
If a candidate has experience, some of it could be useful, but they might also have some unlearning to do. Similarly, if they have qualifications, some of them could be useful, but they might also have some assumptions to challenge and unlearning to do.  This is how people could perceive the role with either a fixed or growth mindset:
 
Fixed mindset
Growth mindset
I know about autism and learning disabilities, and I am keen to share my knowledge with you.
I am keen to learn about Jodie’s experience of autism and learning disabilities and how I can learn to support her well.
I have experience in supporting people with autism and learning disabilities, and I can show you how I can apply this knowledge to Jodie.
I am keen to bring my whole self, and my life and career experiences, to work and to see how these could be helpful to Jodie.
I am confident that my knowledge and experience is important and useful in supporting Jodie.
I recognise that I might have some unlearning to do, and have some of my assumptions challenged as I learn about Jodie and how to support her well.
 
In recruiting with and for Jodie, we are developing scenarios and questions to help us learn whether someone has a growth mindset or not. What I learned three decades ago as an Occupational Therapy student is still useful to me in many ways. The experiences that I have had working in health and care since then have shaped who I am and the way I think about work and contribution. I want to recognise the hard work people have put into getting qualifications, and the value of many years of experience, but also to see it for what it is. We need to move beyond the strong focus on qualifications and experience to reflect the importance of a growth mindset, values, and aligning with purpose. 
We are still recruiting for Jodie. Being clear about who you are looking for, and the role that you want them to play, are the foundations of value-based recruitment. Where you look for people is the next critical issue to consider. In recruiting for Jodie, Lucy wanted to start with a narrow focus, sharing the information with only a small number of contacts. This was not successful, so we are now expanding to social media and the full range of places to find people who reflect our values. This is the focus of the next blog.
 
Anna’s reflections
Hearing about Lucy and Jodie’s experience really resonates with me as I also employ PAs. I was lucky that my first couple of PAs were friends so I didn’t have to face recruiting a stranger. But when I did need to start wider recruitment the ‘support’ service (commissioned by the council) had clear ideas about what was needed. They wanted qualifications and experience. I knew this was what I didn’t want. When I see a CV that says someone has experience of working in a care home, I see that as a concern, as I don’t want someone that thinks they know how to be my PA or are there to look after me. I can teach them the practical tasks but the values need to be right. At a time when we repeatedly hear about the shortage of care staff, this is a fantastic opportunity to open up to the wider workforce who may never have considered themselves qualified for these roles, but have so much to offer.
 
I am about to start recruitment again for a second PA. I hope to use values based recruitment to find someone who understands that it matters to me how my flat looks and are prepared to learn my ways (imagine if someone came into your house and just started putting things in different cupboards). Someone that will provide practical support but not mother me. Someone who will accompany me on life’s adventures but not try to limit or control them. My best PAs had never done care work before.  But they had ‘it’.
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