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  • Ross DeSimone

How "GRITTY" is your organization?

Updated: Jul 10

Have you ever met a person who harbors a “never give up attitude”? Surely you know a friend or coworker who never seems satisfied with his/her effort. They serve as their own worst critic. And then there are the people who have ferocious determination and are equipped with centered direction. Noted author and social scientist, Angela Duckworth, would say that these people have a good deal of “grit.”


What exactly is grit? Grit is about channeling your efforts, your attention and your energy toward something you care about. Grit causes you to remain loyal to it. According to Duckworth, “It is not just about falling in love with it. Rather, it is about staying in love with it.” As an example, consider elite athletes, successful coaches, top performers, decorated scholars and a variety of exceptional people in various walks of life. Looking under the hood, it is highly likely you will find a large amount of grit in their engine’s wiring.


Some studies suggest that “grit” is a specific mindset. Other studies indicate that “grit” is a collection of well-defined personality traits that influence behaviors. Not until reading Duckworth’s book did I recognize that this is what my corporate clients have been asking me to measure (on some level, in nearly every case) for the past 30 years. I’ve been measuring their employees’ level of grit. Grit is quantifiable. Grit is measurable. I have assessed thousands of employees, measuring traits that their employers deem essential for success. But ultimately, what every employer wants, is employees with passion, with dedication. With grit.

Now that I have a simple name for this magical set of powers that employers want, I see that all along I have been coaching executives, managers, leaders at all levels and salespeople with various degrees of grit. Overwhelming research evidence concludes that grit can be measured, grown and groomed. This is especially critical during this time of corporate upheaval, and forced me to ask myself: In the context of whatever the “new normal” will look like post-COVID19, will organizations have the right people in place? Will an employee’s level of grit be enough for the new normal and its subsequent changes? Why wouldn’t organizations want to deeply examine their level of grit (individually and collectively)?

As a business psychologist, my ideal client is an organization that places value on their human capital, and wants to develop their employees to be the best performers possible for their company. Now that I have identified “grit” as a testable trait, I can now create personalized assessments for organizations to use with their employees.

Step 1: Start with a baseline assessment. Completing an evaluation of one’s current level (and intensity) of grit is important for a variety of reasons.

  • It provides us with a foundation and starting point.

  • It offers us opportunity to gauge progress through measurement, which serves as a powerful component of feedback.

  • It sheds light on areas of our functioning, practices and behaviors that will require developmental attention. People who are “gritty” welcome opportunities to zero-in on their weaknesses.

Step 2: Gain insight into interests. The development of grit starts with intrinsic enjoyment. This includes an understanding of our life’s philosophy and purpose. A peek into evidence for this is seen in multiple studies that note: job satisfaction is increased when a role’s mission and responsibilities fit the incumbent’s personality, interests and personal mission. Along these lines, people perform notably better (i.e., teamwork, productivity, length of tenure, etc.) when what they do interests them – when intrinsic personal interests pace with their occupations. And, in yet other studies, adults who felt their work was a calling (or had purpose) missed at least 30% fewer days of work than those who viewed their work as a job.


Not everyone’s passion is immediately evident to them. It is a journey of discovery, followed by lots of development then followed by on-going deepening. Interests and passions thrive when there is encouragement and support from others.


Step 3: Define Goals. Citing a frequently borrowed term, when coaching, I like to start with the end in mind. I like to empower people to see what they want – see what must be realized. In this spirit, developing grit requires defining goals and objectives that are challenging. A hierarchy of goals is important, and they must be synchronized. In this sense, lower level goals provide foundation and opportunity for wins. With foundation in place and wins accumulating, higher level goals have a much greater likelihood of being accomplished.


Step 4: Nurture Hope. Growth minded people are armed with a good deal of hope and optimism. They fundamentally believe that their own efforts can improve their future. They have a resolve to make today better than yesterday, and tomorrow better than today. A growth mindset leads to an optimistic way of explaining adversity, which stokes perseverance and a search for new challenges. On the other hand, a fixed mindset leads to pessimistic explanations of adversity, which is apt to lead to giving up or avoiding challenges. This paradox is evident in some of the work I have done with salespeople. When salespeople meet their business objectives, they gain confidence and momentum. When salespeople miss their objectives, they have two choices, they can reflect the resilience connected with a growth mindset, or they can retreat and percolate in the disappointment and deflect the ownership (often associated with the fixed mindset). In both mindsets, the self-talk leads to the “expected” outcome. Recent studies show that optimists outsell pessimists by up to 40%. Small wins and minor accomplishments connected to one’s goal hierarchy inspire hope.


Step 5: Practice, Apply Effort and Follow Through. People who have grit demonstrate a striking desire to excel beyond their current level of expertise and delivery. One key reason is that they embrace the need for effort and practice. They also recognize the importance of following through with their commitments (to themselves and others). Observations of these people, which are supported by a variety of studies, show that they are supremely measured and effortful in their approach to improvement (in their approach to practice). This focus on practice rituals is preparation. When preparation meets opportunity, this is what Angela Duckworth describes as “flow,” which is for essentially the show or the performance.


People with growth mindsets, a healthy dose of grit and a dedication to practice gain a thrill from getting better, and they experience the excitement of performing at their best. They are relentless in such pursuit. They crave the end result so intensely that the required work, learning and practice all become irrelevant. They consistently demand more of themselves. To this point, when hiring new employees and defining success factors connected to the roles, hiring managers endorse “hard work” nearly five times as often as they endorse “intelligence.” While this may not always be true in every role in every industry, it illustrates the preference for industriousness – a quality needed for the discipline of practice.


In Short...


How gritty are you? How gritty are your teammates? How gritty is your organization? Bulking up your level of grit is extremely possible, regardless of one’s personality make-up. Cultivating organizational grit is also realistic, especially in the midst of organizational culture change. I am struck by the possibilities that growing grit, individually and collectively, can potentially yield. We are eager to guide your organization in evaluating and developing its GRIT. Email us to find out more.



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