Beliefs shape work behavior and influence the culture of an organization. If you want a culture in which employees are learning, developing, and contributing to the organization’s success, you need to address the beliefs that they carry in their heads, and whether, according to Chris Argyris, their espoused theory(what they say they believe) and their theory-in-use (beliefs that direct actual behavior) are congruent.  Underlying assumptions about oneself and others can have a profound impact on what and how people do things in the workplace.

Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, in his new book The Power of Beliefs in Business, the fourth book in the series,Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, writes this about beliefs:

It works like this. When we have a belief, it’s very likely that that belief will lead us to take some sort of associated action. For instance, let’s say we believe that our ideas aren’t really worth much and no one really cares about what we think. The action that follows might likely be that we rarely voice our views at work. That behavior will likely feed the belief in others that we have little to oer, or perhaps aren’t very committed to the company’s success. Which will, in turn, lead those co-workers to take action accordingly—they might not ask us for our views on important issues or include us in discussions. Which will then reinforce our original belief that others don’t value our views.

The cycle will surely continue onwards from there. Imagine what it will feel like after twenty or thirty years. We start to believe that the reality we’re experiencing is “who we are” rather than a result of how our beliefs have been acting steadily, if surreptitiously, on our reality. We know from studies of brain change and development that when we think in a certain way fora long period of time, the “routes” in our brain grow ever more deeply embedded. The deeper they get, the more we follow along the same path onto which our beliefs long ago led us. And on and on the cycle goes, each element reinforcing the existing beliefs of others in the cycle. As author Barry Schwartz says, “These eects can arise because sometimes when people act on the basis of ideology, they inadvertently arrange the very conditions that bring reality into correspondence with the ideology.

We know from the research of Carol Dweck that what people believe about learning can have a profound effect on employee development. Employees whobelieve that they can learn and grow (“growth mind-set”) as contributors to the organization and managers who believe that their direct reports can learn and grow as contributors to the organization, create the possibility for performance improvement. If employees and their managers don’t believe that people can change (“fixed mind-set”), it is unlikely that learning will occur.

The belief system of an organization, whether “growth” or “fixed”, starts with the leader. In the case of Zingerman’s, Ari Weinzweig is a model of congruency between espoused theory and theory-in-use. He believes that everyone can learn and grow and find his or her role in contributing to the success of the organization. Read his stories about how his beliefs and those of his employees have helped him build a very successful, triple bottom-line (people, planet, profits) business.