Critical Thinking and Employee Success

Employees need critical thinking skills to solve problems on the job.

By David Cox, SPHR, SHRM-SCP | April 13, 2017

There is more evidence than ever that points to how critical thinking empowers employees to learn from their mistakes, discover opportunities, and overcome challenges to create more successful outcomes in the workplace.

Critical thinking leads to innovative ideas that can be competitive and profitable. Leadership consultant John Baldoni in a Harvard Business Review blog article entitled, “How Leaders Should Think Critically,” says the ability to design new and better ways, or recognize opportunities where others see problems, comes from critical thinking. He goes on to say that employees and leaders who develop and practice their critical thinking skills are also better able to adapt to the unknown variables common to a constantly changing marketplace and increasingly competitive business environment.

The following are examples of critical thinking strategies that employees can apply to problems and can be used to develop remedies or solutions.

  1. Divide and Conquer: Break down a large, complex problem into smaller, more manageable problems.
  2. Progressive Strategy: Attempting at every step to move closer to the goal situation. The problem with this strategy is that it may require too much time and not seem satisfactory to others wanting more immediate solutions.
  3. Help: Get help from family, friends, peers, or online discussion groups.
  4. Lateral thinking: It is logical to think about making a good situation, which has no problems, into a better situation.Sometimes a problem cannot be solved, and thus, the best way forward is to decide the best approach to treating the condition.
  5. Research: study what others have written about the problem (and related problems). Maybe there’s already a solution?
  6. Assumption reversal: Write down your assumptions about the problem, and then reverse them.
  7. Analogy: Has a similar problem (possibly in a different field) been solved before?

Critical thinkers can offer original ideas that generate discussion and strengthen teamwork. Dr. Stephen A. Quinn and Dr. Gary A. Williamson in their co-authored article, “Eight Habits of Effective Critical Thinkers,” expressed their belief that the best critical thinkers are more about “doing things right” rather than “being right.” This determination to do things right strengthens teamwork as individuals compare facts and ideas to find the best solutions and achieve goals on behalf of their business or organization.

Quinn and Williamson add that asking questions, reframing problems and challenging assumptions are part of a critical thinker’s learning process. Critical thinkers are constantly learning from numerous of sources about a variety of topics. They also recognize the value in having a lot of objective information available when it’s time to make decisions. Employees who actively study have a better command of facts and have more sources of information to bring to bear on a task that moves the organization forward.

Critical thinking employees are capable of effectively leading others. They are not afraid to take responsibility for their mistakes and learn from them. They can honestly recognize where they can improve personally and professionally. Critical thinking skills empower employees to see where an organization can improve in operations, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and daily workplace success.

David Cox


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