Home 1 Minute Tips Critical Thinking--Why You Need It in Your Organization

Critical Thinking–Why You Need It in Your Organization

Nikie Walker in green shirt - talks here about encouraging critical thinkingBy Nikie Walker, Ed.D, Owner of 20/20 Walker Consulting, Assistant Professor of Business at Brescia University

Critical thinking.  We all want our employees to possess and use this coveted skill, yet it seems to be missing from many workplace environments. After all, critical thinking leads to sound judgements and improved efficiency, right? We work on developing critical thinking in school, in college and through life in general and yet, we do not always see its application in the professional setting. Unfortunately, the brain can be cognitively lazy. We like to think and do what is easy and stress-free. Thinking that challenges us takes intentionality and effort, none of which are intuitive to our brains. The University of Pretoria reported a survey conducted by Society of Human Resources (SHRM) indicating that “70% of employees with a high school education were deficient in critical thinking skills.”  Additionally, “even among employees with a four-year college education, 9% were deficient in critical thinking skills, 63% had adequate skills, and only 28% were rated excellent critical thinkers.”

As I process the SHRM findings from the position of an academic and a former manager, those statistics do not sit well with me. As with any skills, people develop and strengthen critical thinking abilities and their application through continuous training, repetition and application. K-12 and higher education experiences introduce the basis of critical thinking, with a degree of practice and application, but the transference of those skills and their application to the professional fields, along with consistent development, continues in the workplace. That continuous development and growth of critical thinking skills in your employees, then, depends on the culture and resources you create, share and model in your organization.

EXERCISING ANALYSIS

What exactly is critical thinking then, and how can we encourage our employees to use this essential skill effectively and consistently?  A strict definition reported by Eoghan Ryan for Scribbr in his article, What is Critical Thinking: Definition & Examples, tells us that critical thinking involves “the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment.” But what do those words mean? What does it mean to analyze information? How do we know from where to extract legitimate information? What are the steps involved in the analysis of that information? What does forming a judgment look like? How do we know that we connected the facts and logic in the decision we produced? How do those actions apply in different situations in which our employees find themselves? And ultimately, critical thinking is a skill that can be learned and enhanced through training, repetition and guidance from you to your employees.

FOSTER CRITICAL THINKING

Here are a few practical and simple steps that you can take to foster a critical thinking organization. Bonnie Monych in her article “Critical thinking skills: How to develop them in every employee” suggests the following:

  • Ask basic questions when you set out to solve a problem.
  • Collect all the information needed to solve a problem.
  • Question, question, question underlying assumptions about the issue.
  • Review all the existing evidence.
  • Develop conclusions based on data and present recommendations.

MAKING IT REAL

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Good advice, but how do you translate those steps to job-related context? Monych in the same article continues by saying that you can coach your employees in their general skills development in the following ways:

  • Discuss everyday tasks and have employees identify which of those tasks require more thoughtful, careful consideration.
  • For the most pressing tasks ask your team to break the actions down into five digestible steps. Those steps should be simple, measurable, and concrete, while set in a specific timeframe.
  • Encourage the employees to look at their own “brain shortcuts” and ask them to think through steps in which they can overcome those barriers.
  • Reinforce the team members’ efforts to problem solve and encourage them to look for, build and present their own before asking for help or answers from others.
  • Offer constructive feedback on the solutions that they have formulated and guide in revision and expansion as applicable.

Critical thinking is hard work. Coaching and teaching critical thinking are hard work and implementing critical thinking skills is hard work. However, as my dear colleague has taught me in my first full year of academic life, we want our students and employees to think vertically, not just horizontally.

In a world where we all have so much work every single day, where our to-do lists get longer both at work and at home, the time needed for our employees to develop as critical thinkers can seem too time-consuming. How often do you find yourself thinking: it’s just easier to do it myself. However, as you and I both know, we can’t do it all. We need a team for cooperation and support if our organization (and ourselves) are to succeed.

Encourage your employees to be creative, pay attention to details, and ask the basic questions (who, what when, where and why). More importantly, give your employees and leaders the space and time to develop and practice these critical skills without judgment.  Better yet, give yourself the time and space to do the same and model building critical thinking habits.

Like all good habits in life, critical thinking takes time, effort and encouragement.  If you, as leaders in your organization, invest in your employees by giving them space to develop these skills you will have a more empowered workforce that can come to the same conclusions and resolutions as you.

Read past articles with Dr. Nikie Walker.

Introverts in the Workplace: It’s a Good Thing

WO Debuts New Column: Human Resources Guidance for Optometrists | Women In Optometry

Why Job Applications Are Necessary | Women In Optometry

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