Grit and Workplace Learning – Related?

It started with a question years ago when I was teaching: How can I make my students more motivated and hungry to learn for the joy of learning not just for grades. I used different techniques but it led to one key principle (I’ll share with you shortly) and it worked for the majority of my students (not all, of course). When I watched Angela Duckworth’s TED talk and what she had wondered in her classes, it all came back to me.

Following extensive research, Duckworth and her team found that grit is what needs to be built in learners. I can’t agree more. My key principle was connecting with them and learning about their fears, concerns, challenges, and goals. Sometimes, I would set goals for them, as some weren’t sure why they were there. I wanted them to see why they were improving or failing. I wanted them to reflect, focus on their goals, and put their best for it, because I believed that they could and they needed someone to remind them. Why did I do that? Because it felt very rewarding when I saw the progress and change of attitude in them.
A Thought
Take the teaching scenario that I shared above, and now imagine a big organization. A CEO, director, human resource, line manager, supervisor, and all who make decisions for their employees. Most of them believe employees must go through training in order to excel in their jobs. Here’s another scenario in the web world: online training, agile workplace, performance support, 70-20-10 model, and so on.
Now let’s go back to scenario 1 and what Duckworth has found the most important aspect of learners’ skills. We might think grit is merely related to resilience. How does it relate to workplace learning? Or better said, how does a gritty employee become a better and motivated learner? How can this change of culture and attitude take place in big organizations?
A Conversation
A friend of mine who is a learning strategy consultant for a few big companies shared with me her frustration to make managers of these companies buy in her idea of creating an agile workplace. They commonly ask her to come up with an online platform or mobile app that could replace their face-to-face training. They think if learning is accessible, their company will certainly transform into an agile workplace. But they haven’t considered how to make their staff really willing to do so, because they are planning to employ the same strategy, i.e. KPI, stipulated timeline for completion, etc. But does it guarantee they’re learning or will it end up like their face-to-face training? You might be thinking at least these companies are trying to change. Yes, that’s a positive thing. Nonetheless, the reason for this change is cost-effectiveness and the fad for agile workplace. What they are not considering is asking the right question.
How can they make their employees motivated to learn on their own, be self-directed, help each other, and not hide what they know for their own betterment? How can they change the company culture?
So here is the question of behavior and mind-set change. Yes, that takes time, but perhaps it’s time we thought how to make the stakeholders (by that I’m referring to top management and human resource) think in this direction. We should shift our focus on them not just the employees owing to the fact that the leadership has the main role in creating the right culture. It is managers who should change their view and see their employees as humans not manpower or numbers.
In my opinion, managers and human resource should consider building their staff’s grit as well.


Here are three characteristics of grit which I believe resonate with workplace learning:


Courage is one of the characteristics of Grit. A gritty employee is proactive to learn and leave his/her comfort zone. He or she is not content with always-similar-day-to-day tasks that he or she does effortlessly. Gritty employees seek new challenges, and strive for excellence. Hence, they don’t need to be forced to attend a workshop in which they excruciatingly tolerate and forget about it all after that. A gritty employee is not afraid to fail, thus willingly embraces new challenges.


A gritty employee sets long-term goals and has perseverance to achieve them. Those who are resilient bounce back at failures and see learning and growth even from negative experiences. They also influence those around them.


Those who are conscientious make sure to complete the task at hand well. If they feel they don’t know, they ask for help, sign up for online lessons, or go for workshops to learn. These employees are achievement-oriented and don’t just show up for training because they’ve been asked to. They don’t wait to be mandated to attend one. They take the initiative.

All in all, while it’s essential to have the best technology to make learning easier, it is similarly important to focus on a change of culture.

Learning should be viewed from psychological or motivational perspective. Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Is having stamina and sticking with your future, and working really hard to make that future reality. (Angela Duckworth)

How should organizations build grit and growth mindset in their employees?