Imagine this.

Your CEO announces an exciting new change programme. Sales and service training is rolled out. There are lots of inspiring workshops and presentations, a sense of excitement, some great early wins. There’s a buzz about the place.

Then, day by day, week by week, old habits creep back in, energy dissipates and ‘business as usual’ reasserts itself. What’s more, the disillusionment at yet another ‘transformation’ failing to fulfil its promises leads to an even more toxic working culture than before.

So why is it so hard to make culture change stick?

The culprit is mindsets.

Thanks to Carol Dweck’s pioneering experiments in the 1970s, which tested how willing four-year-olds were to take on new challenges, the concept of the ‘growth mindset’ has entered the mainstream. Having a growth mindset – a belief that the definition of success lies in stretching yourself – has been proven to be a crucial discriminating factor between people who become adapt and improve, and those who stay on a plateau.

Unfortunately, when times are hard, we often cling onto what we know. Tough talk from leaders about ‘manning up’ and ‘being resilient’ only makes us panic and shut down further. Just when we most need to be open and agile, we become defensive and change-averse. And at that point, no number of targets or incentives is going to make the slightest impact.

So how do you make sure you’re helping your team profoundly shift their mindsets, rather than just persuading them to ape desired behaviours until the consultants go away? Which mindsets really make a difference in improving your culture, and how can you spot them? Here’s our whistle-stop tour of the three heaviest hitters in the mindset game.

1. Accountability

Last year, I was working with a 500-strong team of sales people who sold high-value products inside customers’ homes. This team had an incredibly wide performance distribution. There was a fairly small percentage of really low performers, an abundance of average performers and a tiny handful of high performers. What did those six super-successful outliers have that everybody else didn’t?

The answer was accountability. One of them told me that after every appointment he would drive his car around the corner then sit and go through the conversation that he’d just had, working out what he could have done better. Another confessed that, in the absence of any good training materials, he used to go online in his own time, download technical product specifications, and learn them overnight.

Challenge time. Print off the last five emails you sent. How accountable were your language and your actions, on a scale of 1 to 10? How could you have been more accountable?

2. Curiosity

“I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.” So said Albert Einstein, a man who knew that his knowledge of physics was less important than his mindset: the mindset of an explorer, committed to delving into every dark corner he came across.

Sales and service people are explorers too: explorers of people. But that curiosity is all too often missing in conversations with customers. Whether you’re in a call centre, working in the field or in a retail store, you rarely see enough exploring of the customers’ needs or problems. That’s understandable; people are under pressure to wrap up that call, fast. But without curiosity we miss cues and make assumptions, leading to missed opportunities and lingering problems that will simply get ‘paid forward’ to some unfortunate colleague.

Today, begin a conversation with someone in the office and, rather force yourself to ask three more questions than you normally would about their personal life or the project they’re working on. How does it feel? What do you find out?

3. Agility

The good news is that the very fact you’re reading this blog already suggests that you’d score pretty highly on a learning agility test. Learning agility is closely linked to the concept of a growth mindset, and people who have agile mindsets typically do three things: they continually seek opportunities to learn and set new goals; they actively seek out feedback; and they bounce back quickly from setbacks.

The amazing thing about an agile mindset is that it has the ability to turn every challenge into an opportunity, every failure into a step on the path to success. That makes it a seriously powerful tool to have in sales and service, where you face challenges and problems and unpredictable factors every day, simply by the nature of the job.

This week, encourage yourself to say yes to things you might otherwise have said no to, even if you feel uncomfortable. What new opportunities does it open up?