Fostering Critical Thinking

Perhaps one of my most frustrating experiences are front line employees who simply say: “That’s the policy, I’m just doing what I’m told.” In those moments, two things happen. First, I become very disappointed, not so much at the employee but at a management. It is the role of a leader to create a culture that invites critical thinking around what is working and what is not working with the customer.

Secondly, I grieve sadly that employees would want to work, or settle, or put up with that kind of culture. I know, they’re just trying to make a living. But who wants to make a living in an organization where thinking is not encouraged and rewarded?

If there is any reason to hire an employee–as opposed to creating more computers and robots to do the job–it’s that employees can provide needed critical thinking to the job. It’s a skill that truly cannot be replaced by machine.  Therefore, if you’re going to spend money hiring humans, teach them to seek innovative ways to improve their organization and the projects they are working on. And that requires challenging the process. It consists of the following:

  • Searching for opportunities to change, grow and improve
  • Getting excited in finding new ways to approach one’s work
  • Treating problems as opportunities rather than obstacles
  • Looking outward for fresh ideas. Benchmarking what others are doing and applying those ideas
  • Experimenting and taking risks through small wins
  • Continuously improving and learning from mistakes

An important point here is thinking critically is not one person’s job. It’s everyone’s role. This play out in scenarios where someone feels pegged because they’re always the one hosting the conversation about what’s not working and what needs to be improved. That’s everyone’s role, and not just one person’s responsibility.

Managers should promote the psychological hardiness of their employees. Even when solutions aren’t obvious, hang in there. If doing something were easy, it would have been done already–and probably by a machine.

Consider doing the following:

  • Hire people who think critically
  • Teach people to think critically rather than simply being critical
  • Tell them what you’re thinking and why
  • Direct critical thinking toward a goal
  • Beware of group think
  • Reward critical thinking when achieved

An example of this is found in a post I call, The Hardest Working Cast Member at Disney. Check it out as well. And if you’re in a place to really build out your organization and take it to the next level, check out Lead With Your Customer. It’s available on Amazon, and can support you in moving your organization forward.

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