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Mindset Change

Regularly clients ask me questions like: “how can we achieve our returns?”, “how do I prevent my employees from taking risks” and “how do we change their behavior?” Underlying these questions is the idea that it is possible to change people’s mindsets. That is the theme of this 42nd edition of the Change Letter: mindset change, in relation to performance.



Mindsets are mental representations, perceptions and images that are formed and reformed by rational and emotional experiences. Mindsets change constantly and are central to the successful change on a personal, business and also sportive level. Mindsets affect our attitudes and behaviors (intentions) and therefore play an important role in our everyday personal and professional life and in (effective) interactions with each other.


Recently, I had an experience with changing mindsets in the context of sports. From time to time I play golf with some friends at an amateur level. But this year, we had the ambition to improve our golf handicap. A handicap in golf is an index figure, which is expressed in the acronym ‘PAR’. This stands for Professional Average Result. Although we are ambitious and motivated, we have made little to no progress so far. Possibly because we have to change our mindsets, our mental models, our golf (sub)routines..


Changing mindsets

In the school of Action Science (comprising, among others, the American scholars Chris Agyris and Donald Schön, and the Dutch scholar Ernst Drukker) there also exists a ‘PAR’ acronym. This acronym stands for (mental) Program, Action and Reflection. It is based on the principles of action theories of organizational learning that emerged in the second part of the last century. The basic assumption of these theories is that there is a difference between the way that we think we act (our mental program) and the way in which we act in practice (this is called ‘theory-in-use’). In terms of the golf example, there may be a mismatch between our mental pre-shot routine and the routine in practice. Therefore, to improve our golf shot routine, we have to match our mental pre-shot routine and our actual golf routine. A powerful way to do this is to learn to reflect in action. In Action Science there are roughly two ways (mental models) to do this: (1) single-loop learning: this corrects differences by changing people’s behavior. The changes remain within the prevailing values and (2) double-loop learning: this corrects differences by first changing the underlying prevailing values (principles and insights) and then someone’s actions. A room thermostat is an example of single-loop learning. The thermostat is programmed to discover what is we define as ‘warm’ and ‘cold’, and correct the temperature by switching the heating on or off. If the thermostat could wonder why it is set to twenty degrees, or why it is programmed like it is, double-loop learning could arise.


In sum: the essence to improve our golf routines or answer questions related to returns, risks and behavior is to change people’s mindsets by replacing standard routines with new routines. Thereby, experiences from the past may be replaced by new experience from the present.


Knowing that change, and especially mindset change, is complex because of the uniqueness of individuals and organizational dynamics, I have become fond of action theories. Why? Learning to reflect on action theories is a useful approach to improve our personal and organizational performance, and to achieve our goals. Last but not least, they may help to increase our golf handicap and have some fun while doing so.


If you are interested in more information on this change theme changing mindsets or have experiences you would like to share with me, please feel free to let me know. You can mail me or contact me via my LinkedIn account.


Dr. Martin Loeve


More information: see our website or contact us directly.


Dr. Martin Loeve is the founding director of Delta Change Management, an international consultancy firm specializing in research, consultancy and education in the field of change management, with a focus on: the human factor.


Martin has, amongst other, authored the management book De Change Maker® (Loeve, 2004) on managing small-scale change processes and the article Mindset Change in a Cross Cultural Context (Loeve, 2007). He was awarded the Ph.D.-title for his thesis Ander-ing On-Stage Addressing Expatriate Loneliness at the University for Humanistic Studies in Utrecht in March 2014.


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