Keith R Szewczyk

Develop a Critical Thinking Workforce

In Performance Management on February 27, 2011 at 6:12 pm

by: Keith R. Szewczyk

Globalization and technology is causing an increase in the tempo of business that creates an environment for the employees where they must deal with a rapid pace of multifaceted information. Critical thinking skill sets are a must for all of the leadership roles within the company and a bonus if the rest of the organization possesses these skill sets. Each project team must have leaders who have strong critical thinking abilities or risks will become true, issues will never be resolved and opportunities will be lost.

If you do not address critical thinking within your organization you will allow the accountability of all major decisions to flow to the top. This practice will cause the senior executive team to spend too much of their time micromanaging the companies every step, and not focusing on strategic objectives. Status quo behavior will stunt the company’s growth engine. The longer a critical thinking issue is ignored the more dependent the organization is on getting resolution to all issues from the top. Growth suffers, strategic objectives suffer, risk management suffers, creativity and innovation suffers, and market presence and opportunities suffer.

Not all answers and decisions are black and white. There are gray areas that create additional risks to be managed. You may have heard the saying that “the best decision is a decision”. Well only if that decision comes from an individual who possesses this critical thinking ability.

How does an individual who has the ability to use critical thinking solve problems?

  • Being inquisitive and observant: The individual raises important questions to allow them to gather data about the issue. They collect relevant information that may not be easily obtained unless they have the ability to view the issue as an abstract environment. They attack the problem from multiple angles.
  • Evaluate a solution: The individual evaluates the data and tests the solutions. They can easily think through risk scenarios and possible new issues based upon their ability to use critical thinking and past experiences. In business, leaders who possess the ability to critically think can go through this process in their minds and come to solutions in a timely manner. Leaders who must continuously assess the answer in a mathematical or systematic paper exercise tend to lack this critical thinking ability.
  • Continuous evaluation of the results: During the decision making process explained above these individuals continuously assess the solution against their assumptions and alternative thoughts about the problem. They will continuously monitor abstract effects of the solution implemented and will know how to adjust on the fly.

Critical thinking is absolutely vital to the success of any company. If employees learn to apply critical thinking processes the business will inherently manage risk, issues and opportunities. This will leave the senior executives to deal with the major risks that impact the business as a larger system, deal with growing the organization (human and financial capital), and focus on reaching the company’s vision through strategy execution.

I am interested in hearing your thoughts about critical thinking and the impacts of Generation X and Generation Y moving into critical roles within the organization.

Here is a link to a great study “Critical Thinking Means Business” by Judy Chartrand, Ph.D., Heather Ishikawa, MA, and Scott Flander.

  1. Keith,

    Another insightful post! The rapid rate of change and the overload of information make critical thinking skills essential for managers at all levels and for all employees. Logistically, a senior management team cannot keep up with all of the data that is available to them.

    For example, social media is changing the balance of power from organizations to customers–as everyone now has the potential to be a reporter via the various sites. As we move forward in this new decade, companies need employees and lower level managers who can monitor the emerging trends from social media and help interpret and apply this data to company operations (including new business opportunities and customer relationship management).

    This is one important area where the existing social media and technology skills of Gen X and Gen Y can be combined with an organization’s critical-skills training and development efforts to meet a business need.

    What do you think?


    • Robert,

      You are correct that social media is changing the balance of power from organizations to customers. My opinion…

      Social media is an absolute critical objective for companies today to successfully tackle. Gen X and Gen Y resources naturally levitate towards this environment, which is a benefit to the company. However, I feel that it is absolutely critical for the Baby Boomers to develop these skills as they will still remain a critical part of the workforce and the senior management pool within the business community. Not only doe’s social media change the way business derives market intelligence and opportunities, it is critical for the leadership of the Gen X and Gen Y population. Social media is a huge advancement and a game changer in the way we communicate to the masses. Companies are finally leveraging their IT infrastructure to its maximum potential, and the Baby Boomer CEO’s and Executives are blogging on their Intranet sites. IM, video collaboration, project message boards, etc…are all advantages of social media. Our next challenge, how to manage all the generated data and police it!

      Thanks again for continuing this thread and presenting thoughtful questions to challenge our thoughts.

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