Organization Critical Thinking

This post originally appeared on the Vail Centre blog.

In the world of academia, critical thinking skills are considered crucial to learning and development. In the workplace, little emphasis is placed on how critical thinking skills can aid in solving problems and working through organizational issues.

At the most basic level, critical thinking involves teaching employees how to think for themselves. However, critical thinking encompasses so much more than this. Critical thinking is about fostering an environment in which your team is actively thinking about solutions and viewing complicated situations critically — in both an analytical and objective manner.

Why More Companies Want Employees With Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking isn’t a new phenomena, but it is becoming a more popular concept in the workplace. According to the Wall Street Journal, mentions of “critical thinking” in job postings have at least doubled since 2009. Employers now want to hire entry-level workers and college graduates with adept critical thinking skills — but some feel that colleges and universities aren’t teaching students to solve problems and “connect the dots on complex issues” often enough.

On the flip side, many bosses and managers struggle to define how “critical thinking” applies to their company or organization:

  • How would an employee with strong critical thinking skills address specific issues tied to the business?
  • Which questions should hiring managers ask to assess a candidate’s critical thinking abilities when applying for a position with the company?
  • What are some indicators — outside of displaying general problem solving skills — that illustrate how well a new employee can apply critical thinking skills in their work environment?

Critical thinking has many definitions, but it’s important for those in leadership and management roles to take a step back and consider how exactly they want their employees to take an analytical and pragmatic approach to problem solving.

Developing a Business Model that Involves Critical Thinking

One of the main reasons businesses don’t adopt critical thinking as an essential component of their organization is that they’re simply too busy. Many companies are so focused on day-to-day operations, profit growth and getting things done, that they fail to see how critical thinking could help them develop more effective and efficient ways of working.

Business experts who’ve studied critical thinking patterns have discovered that critical thinking helps employees do the following:

  • Research and gather all the necessary information before analyzing a situation.
  • Brainstorm multiple solutions and answers to a single problem.
  • Seek out feedback from several departments and managers prior to deciding on a course of action.

In academia, students are frequently required to illustrate and explain how they reached a certain conclusion. The scientific method ensures that data is measured, collected and interpreted in a way that’s intended to leave little error in a study’s findings. In the workplace, decisions aren’t always held to these same standards. By applying some of these critical thinking practices to their own business, companies may likely find that these methods are not only more effective, but also save time in the long run.

Strategic Thinking: Taking Critical Thinking to the Next Level

While the need for and benefits of critical thinking is clear, there’s another aspect to these skills that companies often don’t address. Some senior and executive-level professionals feel the next generation of business leaders lack the ability to implement strategic thinking, another component of critical thinking skills. These emerging leaders might have trouble visualizing the future of the company and understanding how different aspects of the business work together to create a unified whole.

Like critical thinking, encouraging employees to become “more strategic” in how they handle workplace and organizational issues sounds great in theory but can be hard to implement in concrete ways.

Each business may define “strategy” differently, but there are some easy ways to lay out exactly how you want employees to advance their strategic thinking skills:

Take Note of Organizational Trends — Instead of telling someone to try and see “the big picture,” ask workers to identify trends or patterns in their departments. Training people to always be on the lookout for inconsistencies or problems to be addressed helps them see how day-to-day operations affect the company on a large scale.

Foster a Curious-Minded and Question-Friendly Environment — Just like in school, some employees are afraid to ask questions because they fear looking stupid in front of their bosses or fellow employees. Instead of creating an environment in which there’s “no such thing as a dumb question”, companies should help workers practice asking “smart” questions, as in ones that are open-ended and don’t lead to only one answer.

Make Time For Strategic Thinking and Development — While in college, some employees might not have learned much about strategic thinking. Many degree programs are so focused on building skills that are directly applicable to a specific job, they fail to provide students with a broader perspective on how organizational systems work and function. Rather than seeing this as a negative, companies have the opportunity to teach employees how to speak using more strategic language and give them time to ponder questions and solutions before jumping to a decision.

Courses for Professionals that Focus on Decision-Making and Strategic Thinking

While many businesses are looking for ways to develop and enhance their employees’ critical thinking skills in the workplace, there can be few outside resources that target this specific need for companies. Vail Centre provides working professionals with educational opportunities to advance their leadership and management skills.

Vail Centre’s upcoming Yale School of Management Diversity and Inclusive Leadership course is designed to help executives and their companies improve innovation, accelerate growth and boost decision-making skills for future and continued success. Yale University’s School of Management is a top 10 business school and participants will have the opportunity to learn from a trio of Yale’s distinguished faculty members right here in Vail, Colo.

To enroll in the Yale School of Management Diversity and Inclusive Leadership course, register here. For more information on Vail Centre or other upcoming courses, contact Todd Wallis at todd@vailcentre.org.

With the unemployment rate remaining stubbornly high and job growth remaining dismally low, job seekers face a highly competitive market. With so few jobs and so many candidates, it’s tough to make the cut and get ahead. Not surprisingly, many organizations face a similar dilemma: fighting an uphill battle to increase revenue and find a competitive edge.

In a recent Forbes article that focused on the top 10 most critical job skills to parlay in a job search, the top three included:

- Critical thinking

- Complex problem solving

- Judgment and decision making

In fact, all three skills are so in demand that they are key characteristics sought in 9 out of the 10 most in-demand jobs of 2013. These skills are not only important for a job seeker, but are also critical to achieving success once hired.

Businesses are increasingly benefitting from incorporating these skills into their employees’ capability development regiment as well. By developing their issue resolution and critical thinking skills, employees are better equipped to solve a company’s most complex problems and make impactful decisions. When you enable employees to tackle the organization’s most pressing needs, you increase their engagement. And when you increase engagement, you positively affect your company’s bottom line. Here’s proof.

Several studies have recently proven a direct relationship between employee engagement and financial returns. According to a study by Kenex, the most engaged companies had five times higher total shareholder return over a five year period than the least engaged; and a 2011 study by Towers Perrin found that companies with engaged employees had six percent higher net-profit margins.

Perhaps Daniel Pink, best-selling author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, puts it more directly: “Forty years of research tells us that if we provide more autonomy, allow people to work towards mastery and plug people into a purpose, people will perform at a higher level.”

The bottom line is this: effectively developing your employees’ critical thinking skills will have significant impact on a key driver of engagement—intrinsic motivation. When employees feel ownership in how work is accomplished and believe that their thinking is making a difference, they are much more likely to engage beyond the call of duty.

So, the benefit of investing in your employees’ ability to think critically not only benefits them, but is a smart investment in your company’s future.

Learn about building critical thinking for individuals and organizations

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