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Thinking Critically

Thinking Critically | Human Resource Executive Online With workplaces so complex and rapidly changing, combined with the recession, it's important that newly hired employees have critical-thinking skills.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009
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Success in today's tight economy is defined by making the right decisions, solving the problems that truly impede success and anticipating the trends that are redefining the competitive landscape.

The failures of AIG, Lehman Bros. and General Motors are very public and painful reminders of what happens when people make poor decisions and management fails to consider all of the facets and implications of a decision. Organizations that attract, retain and develop the best critical thinkers have a huge competitive advantage.

Identify Critical Thinkers

The Department of Labor identified critical thinking as the raw material that underlies fundamental workplace competencies, such as problem solving, decision making, planning and risk management. It's also in short supply.

In Are They Really Ready to Work? Employers Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century US Workforce (2006) -- a study conducted by The Conference Board, Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Corporate Voices for Working Families, and Society for Human Resource Management -- critical thinking was identified as one of the most important skills needed for job success, and one that is lacking in the new workforce.

It was also rated as the No. 1 skill of increasing importance over the next five years -- and it's easy to see why critical-thinking skills are on the rise.

Never before have employees operated in such a complex and rapidly changing workplace where they are bombarded with a constant stream of good and bad information. They are being asked to manage this information flow, take on new responsibilities, learn diverse new tasks and make good judgments -- often with limited direction.

The successful employees -- the good critical thinkers -- are able to focus on the most relevant information, ask the right questions, separate facts from opinions and assumptions, make sound decisions and set priorities. They learn quickly and they apply what they learn to new situations. Their actions are both effective and economical.

Organizations can increase their critical-thinking capabilities by targeting this skill when selecting and developing employees. Hard to spot in a resume or an interview, some companies are turning to assessments to help them measure it.

For selection, a candidate's performance is generally evaluated using a peer group, such as other managers, or more specifically, managers within a specific industry. For development, the focus shifts to skill building.

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A development report can provide customized skill-building feedback that targets the individual's current level of critical-thinking proficiency. Examples of skilled and unskilled behaviors illustrate desired and undesired behaviors.

Many organizations currently provide training to improve decision making, problem solving and strategic thinking among managers and individual contributors. To maximize training effectiveness, a critical-thinking component can be inserted prior to the other sessions.

Using an assessment and feedback report in this component will help the employee (and trainer) accurately determine skill level and chart a personal development plan. Overall, this strategy will create a more efficient training experience.

Selecting good critical thinkers will set a new bar for an organization's performance. Developing good critical thinkers will accelerate that performance and companies will, more often than not, make the right decision when it matters most.

Pearson's TalentLens group publishes scientific assessments that are used globally to hire and develop the 21st century workforce. The assessments include the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal, which offers an effective hard-skills appraisal and is ideally suited for people in professional and managerial positions. Our instruments measure critical thinking, problem solving, and a range of job skills to deliver data-driven insights that inform and clarify an organization's human capital decisions. Information: www.TalentLens.com.

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