If you read enough blog posts or journal articles in the talent management industry, you may have the overwhelming feeling that the sky is falling. Post after post details the impending leadership crisis, the unruliness and lack of loyalty among Millennials, and that’s before we even cross into issues like declining employee engagement, and digital disruptions.
And yet, in many ways, this assessment is actually correct. This video illustrates further research.
Study after study has confirmed that the skills gap is real for both the current leadership pipeline within organizations and for the talent pool accessed by recruiters.
Specifically, when it comes to skills like critical thinking, it is consistently rated by employers as being a skill of increasing importance, and yet a recent study showed 49% of employers rate their employees’ critical thinking skills as only average or below average.
Additionally, even though in higher education there has been a concerted effort to focus on critical thinking as a measurable outcome, employers are not seeing the results. Employers claim that the critical thinking skills gap is a significant problem with new hires, specifically in recent graduates. In fact, only 28% of employers rated 4-year graduates as having “Excellent” critical thinking skills. So, the burden and expense of training/developing those skills rests on the employers.
Ask any executive about the importance of critical thinking, and you will hear nothing but support and admiration for this essential skill. Most (69%) will even tell you about how they assess critical thinking skills in the selection process. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor has identified critical thinking as the raw material of a number of key workplace skills, such as problem solving, decision making, organizational planning and risk management.
With globalization and the increased speed of business, employees at every level are facing an increasingly complex flow of information. Work settings are changing rapidly, and employees are moving into new roles, often with limited direction. Employees can no longer rely on others to make key decisions. They often must make them on their own, and quickly. And the decisions have to be good ones. If they fall short, there may be no time to recover.
Good decisions require focusing on the most relevant information, asking the right questions, and separating reliable facts from false assumptions – all elements of critical thinking. And yet too few employees possess these essential skills.
Many business leaders also come up short. Senior executive-development professionals report that the competency that next-generation leaders lack the most is strategic thinking, which hinges on critical thinking skills. Many next-generation leaders also lack the ability to create a vision or to understand the total enterprise and how the parts work together – both competencies that are closely tied to critical thinking.
What can be done? Once organizations understand the role of critical thinking in everyday decision making, they can begin to take steps to develop that skill in their leaders and employees.
Research conducted in recent years by Pearson, as well as by a variety of independent academics, has shown that people who score well on critical thinking assessment are also rated by their supervisors as having:
- Good analysis and problem-solving skills
- Good judgment and decision making
- Good overall job performance
- The ability to evaluate the quality of information presented
- Job knowledge
- The potential to move up within the organization
Because it is often difficult to discern such critical thinking skills through a resume or job interview, many organizations are turning to assessments to help them evaluate candidates. One of the most widely used assessments in this area is the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal. The Watson-Glaser offers a hard-skills appraisal, and is suited for people in professional and managerial positions.
Perhaps not surprisingly, independent research has also found that the higher up the ladder a position is, the more essential critical thinking becomes. People who are successful in these positions tend to be able to learn quickly, process information accurately, and are able to apply it to decision-making. One of the most well-established research findings in industrial psychology is that cognitive ability is directly related to performance in all jobs. Critical thinking, one type of cognitive ability, is of particular importance where sophisticated decision-making and judgment are required.
Fortunately, critical thinking can be taught.
Pearson has developed the following RED Model as the foundation for teaching critical thinking skills in all of its training solutions (including the Critical Thinking Boot Camp and Critical Thinking University). The RED Model is a way to view and apply critical thinking principles when faced with a decision.
Recognize Assumptions. This is the ability to separate fact from opinion. It is deceptively easy to listen to a comment or presentation and assume the information presented is true even though no evidence was given to back it up. Perhaps the speaker is particularly credible or trustworthy, or the information makes sense or matches our own view. We just don’t question it. Noticing and questioning assumptions helps to reveal information gaps or unfounded logic. Taking it a step further, when we examine assumptions through the eyes of different people (e.g., the viewpoint of different stakeholders), the end result is a richer perspective on a topic.
Evaluate Arguments. It is difficult to suspend judgment and systematically walk through various arguments and information with the impartiality of a Sherlock Holmes. The art of evaluating arguments entails analyzing information objectively and accurately, questioning the quality of supporting evidence, and understanding how emotion influences the situation. Common barriers include confirmation bias, which is the tendency to seek out and agree with information that is consistent with you own point of view, or allowing emotions – yours or others – to get in the way of objective evaluation. People may quickly come to a conclusion simply to avoid conflict. Being able to remain objective and sort through the validity of different positions helps people draw more accurate conclusions.
Draw Conclusions. People who possess this skill are able to bring diverse information together to arrive at conclusions that logically follow from the available evidence, and they do not inappropriately generalize beyond the evidence. Furthermore, they will change their position when the evidence warrants doing so. They are often characterized as having “good judgment” because they typically arrive at a quality decision. Each of these critical thinking skills fits together in a process that is both fluid and sequential. When presented with information, people typically alternate between recognizing assumptions and evaluating arguments. Critical thinking is sequential in that recognizing faulty assumptions or weak arguments improves the likelihood of reaching an appropriate conclusion.
Although this process is fluid, it is helpful to focus on each of the RED skills individually when practicing skill development. With concentrated practice over time, typically several months, critical thinking skills can be significantly increased.
Critical thinking, perhaps more than any other business skill set, can make the difference between success and failure. Fortunately, these skills are not out of reach – they are readily available to employees at all levels. Once gained, critical thinking skills last a lifetime, and become a powerful asset for organizations seeking a competitive edge.
To learn more about the RED Model of Critical Thinking and Pearson TalentLens’ Critical Thinking Training Solutions, go to ThinkWatson.com.
Excerpts of this article were taken from the Critical Thinking in Business White Paper. Download this paper for free.
About the Author:
Breanne Harris is the Solutions Architect for Pearson TalentLens. She works with customers to design selection and development plans that incorporate critical thinking assessments and training. She has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and has experience in recruiting, training, and HR consulting. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter for more of her thoughts.
How often have you reacted hurriedly to a given situation at work or made a rushed business decision only to later backtrack because you didn’t sit down and mull it over? This usually happens to everyone at one point, even to the best of the best. This is where critical thinking comes into play.
According to the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, it is the intellectually disciplined means of aggressively conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing and assessing information collected through experience, observation or reflection, as a guide to taking actions.
Another definition is that critical thinking is the ability to deliberate rationally and clearly concerning what to do or what to believe in. Critical thinking is not all about gathering information. Someone with a good memory and is knowledgeable is not essentially a good critical thinker.
Some of the characteristics of a good critical thinker include:
- Self-confidence in the ability to reason
- The urge to be and remain well-informed
- Flexibility in taking into account alternative opinions
- Honesty, when it comes to one’s own biases
- Discretion in making judgments
- Inquisitive concerning some issues
Critical thinking and reflection can be beneficial in the workplace in the following ways:
Maintaining Effective Leadership
Critical thinking and reflection are crucial in the work environment. Those involved in management should improve their critical thinking skills as these skills will more often than not enable them to comprehend various situations in the workplace in a better manner. This, in turn, helps the leaders make impartial judgments.
Critical thinking enables one to look at situations keenly and weigh all probable solutions before coming up with the ultimate decision. Because critical thinking is a form of in-depth analysis, it involves intellectual criticism thus allowing the decision makers to combine knowledge and research.
To be a successful leader, one must be able to utilize critical thinking skills.
2. Teamwork Advancement
During a critical thinking process, the whole workforce can be involved. The more persons that are involved in the process, the more the solutions that are arrived at. Critical thinking can be of great benefit to a workplace that comprises workers from different backgrounds.
Not only does it give a justification for these people to work collectively to come up with solutions, but it also promotes teamwork and gives each employee a chance to have a say in the progression of the company.
It is also important to note that critical thinking tasks promote tolerance amongst workers within the work environment and can be used as part of diversity training.
3. Time Saving
Not all information is relevant during the decision-making process. Critical thinking can, therefore, teach you how to prioritize your time and resources by systematically analyzing what is useful and what is not.
Ultimately, through critical thinking, a good leader will know that the decisions arrived at are the correct ones, in effect saving time that may be used on other matters.
4. Different Approaches to Problem Solving
In the workplace, critical thinking enables one to be aware of the different approaches to a problem and the ability to evaluate these approaches systematically.
Through critical thinking, instead of relying on regular problem-solving techniques, workers will be able to identify other valuable approaches. This will eventually make the company successful in its day to day activities.
5. Improved Communication
Critical thinking teaches you how to evaluate and come up with evidence for any given idea, thus making you an effective communicator. Consistent and appropriate points to back up your idea are crucial in communicating a proposal effectively.
6. Discovery of Spin-offs
During the critical thinking process, extra information can be uncovered that can be applied to several other situations. For example, a critical thinking task on how to undertake a new business venture may lead to new ideas for pursuing other business endeavors.
7. Resolution of Workplace Conflicts
In a workplace, non-critical thinking can create an atmosphere that can cause anxiety for some workers and a sense of confidence that is false for those who subscribe to it. However, critical thinkers can create a setting where conversation cultivates fresh ideas. It builds understanding and allows for self-reflection.
Whenever you are dealing with a conflict, critical thinking can help you make a decision that is fair to those involved, thus benefiting the whole company or organization.
8. Final Product
Coming up with the best final product requires a keen eye for detail and willingness to search for flaws. These abilities can be provided for by a critical thinker. The capacity to evaluate a product for accuracy and functionality, among other qualities is important in the sustenance of a company’s or organization’s standards.
Mediocrity is bound to arise in the absence of critical thinkers within the workplace. Some human thoughts tend to be biased and full of assumptions. Critical thinking will, therefore, help you to be aware of and rectify your faults.
For example, if you are the one who came up with a product, you may be biased towards it. However, the critical evaluation will enable you to look at the product without prejudice.
Nowadays, it’s been somehow complicated to advance critical thinking at work due to the fact that most people presume that every person in their place of work is busy and has no time.
Clearly, from the above, it is evident that critical thinking is beneficial for everyone in the workplace and can contribute in taking a company to the next level.
There are websites that provide useful information on how to become an effective leader in the workplace. Gaining such knowledge can prove to be a worthwhile venture for you and your colleagues.
Categories:LeadershipTags:Alice Jones, Critical Thinking, Guest Post, Leadership, mastersinleadership.org, thewritingkid.com