How Growth Mindset Helped BD Battle a Global Pandemic


A 125-year-old medical technology company adapted quickly to help diagnose, vaccinate, and treat COVID-19.

Becton, Dickinson and Company, also known as BD, is a worldwide leader in medical technology, including medical devices, instruments, and treatment delivery systems. With more than 70,000 employees globally, BD is driven by its purpose of advancing the world of healthTM. So when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, the company knew it had to take action. “There was a tremendous need to do things that have never been done when it comes to a mass response to a pandemic,” says Tom Polen, chairman, president, and CEO of BD. In the early days of COVID-19, diagnostic tests were agonizingly slow, taking up to several days to deliver results. In the meantime, people could be unintentionally spreading the virus to others. As a result, BD set its sights on developing a rapid diagnostic test for COVID-19 that would provide results in minutes instead of days, helping to curb the virus’ spread. “It normally takes three years to develop a rapid test, but we said, ‘The world needs us to step up and help solve one of the greatest healthcare challenges of our time. How about we do it in 90 days?’ ” Polen says. BD assembled a team of its brightest leaders and scientists. Although the group was initially wary that a test could be developed in such a short timeframe, they openly discussed the idea of a growth mindset — shifting from the viewpoint of “We can’t do this” to “We can’t do this yet.” The result? BD was one of the first companies in the world to develop a rapid test within their 90-day goal. They also scaled up production to meet demand, producing 12 million tests per month, compared with their previous output of 9 million rapid tests per year. But BD didn’t rest on its laurels. When COVID-19 vaccines were developed, the company scaled up production of syringes — making an extra 2 billion per year — to administer them to patients. In addition, they provided products like IV sets, medication delivery systems, and catheters to treat patients in field hospitals. “When the pandemic struck, we immediately said, ‘We need to help get the world diagnosed and vaccinated, and we need to help them get well,’ ” Polen says. “BD was in the fortunate position to do all three of these things, but it took a growth mindset.”

The power of growth mindset

Growth mindset is the belief that one’s skills can be improved — they aren’t innate or fixed. It values progress over perfection. At the organizational level, a growth-mindset culture means that all employees have potential, are encouraged to develop, and are acknowledged and rewarded for improvement. Having a growth-mindset culture enhances employee trust, engagement, workplace satisfaction, innovation, and resilience — qualities required to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, such as a global pandemic. The concept of growth mindset originated from research by psychologist Carol Dweck on school children in the 1980s. Dweck found that a child’s mindset strongly influenced whether they thought of difficulties as frustratingly insurmountable or enjoyably challenging. Since 2012, NLI has led the world in applying the idea of growth mindset to more than 300 organizations. By embedding key habits, employees learn how to recognize when they’re experiencing a fixed mindsight — remaining stuck in old ways of doing things, avoiding mistakes at all costs, and seeing change as a threat — and shift to a growth mindset.

Beyond the pandemic

Recognizing how important a growth mindset is to overcoming challenges, BD partnered with NLI to introduce and reinforce the concept of growth mindset across the company. Over 11,500 global managers participated in the initiative, using a virtual approach shown to be 50% more effective than in-person learning. When the initiative was complete, the managers were practicing specific new habits:

  • 88% of participants reported shifting from a fixed to a growth mindset at least once per week.
  • 90% shared mistakes and lessons learned with a team member weekly.
  • 88% of participants discussed growth mindset with direct reports or colleagues each week.

BD put systems in place to help sustain the new habits. For example, whenever someone is promoted in the company, leaders highlight an example of when the person applied a growth mindset. “People start to connect advancing in the company with displaying the culture,” Polen says. “You get what you celebrate.” Employees are also reminded to have a growth mindset each time they enter the workplace. “In every one of our facilities, we have a giant living wall of ivy with the word ‘growth mindset’ in the middle of it,” Polen notes. Although BD has a distinguished 125-year history that it’s very proud of, the focus today is on the future, using a growth mindset to move beyond the pandemic and bravely confront challenges to advance the world of health.

Author: NeuroLeadership Institute

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