June  2019     Edition 144
9 steps to create a critical thinking organization

1. Define the purpose and goals for critical thinking.

  Why do employees need to think differently, be more thoughtful, make fewer errors, and think beyond the status quo?   Perhaps it’s to grow at a faster rate, or become more profitable.  Perhaps it’s to address a changing customer base and to avoid becoming obsolete, or to improve market share, or increase customer satisfaction, or quality, or innovation.  These seem like obvious goals, but nevertheless need to be stated as a clear objective in implementing critical thinking and a new way to approach problem solving and decision making.

2. Leadership Support

– The Leadership needs to embrace the process and the concepts and encourage critical thinking.   You can’t expect employees to ask “why?” if you don’t make it safe and encourage and expect them to ask “why?”   Most companies have “corporate values, or vision, or missions”.  Make critical thinking one of these, i.e. “We strive to use Critical Thinking in our work”.   Leadership support is necessary for sustainability of the implementation of critical thinking.  Without it, people can learn the tools and how to implement critical thinking, but it won’t get into the fabric of an organization.

3. Humility

– We all have something to learn.  Even the most accomplished individuals and leaders could use a few new tools in their toolbox.  These folks need to seek out improvement in their own work.  Critical Thinking isn’t just for everyone else, but includes them.    This goes hand in hand with #2 above.   Also, critical thinking doesn’t guarantee a mistake is never made.  Accept those errors, understand why they happened and learn from them.

4. Educate

– Critical Thinking is a learned skill.  Educate individuals, managers and leaders, with what critical thinking is and how to implement it.

5. Build “favorite questions” into everyone’s vocabulary and tool kit

.  Here is a sample list;

Are we Clear on what the objective, problem, goal, end-state, and situation is?

Use the Inspection Tool

What do all the words in the problem statement actually mean?

  For example, say a  goal is to “improve      productivity”.    Does everyone have the same definition of “productivity”.   Does “improve” mean  5%, 10%, 50%, or 200%?  How would you measure this?

Ask Why?

  Why solve this, why is this task being asked, why did this occur, etc.

Ask So What?

   What’s the impact?  What are the consequences?  What if we don’t do it, or delay a week?  How does this affect our customers, our employees, etc?  What’s the value?

What Assumptions are we making and why are we making those Assumptions?

  What information are those assumptions based on?

How do you know the information you are using to support and/or validate your course of action is accurate?

6. Make critical thinking necessary to use

.  Hold each other accountable to use critical thinking.   Even after we learn how to use critical thinking, we’ll forget to use it.  Remind each other, insist on using the tools.  Even if it’s asking just one question.   Build the use of critical thinking into the performance evaluation of everyone; such as; “where have you used critical thinking and what impact has it had?”     If you use it, the people who you supervise must use it.   Same with senior leadership.  They can make it necessary by asking critical thinking questions.  Build critical thinking into processes.  If you have to follow the process, then you’ll have to use critical thinking.

7. Recognize that you can’t, and don’t need to, use it all the time.

   Don’t over use critical thinking.  Just like any toolset and skill, you don’t need to use it all the time.   We make thousands of decisions a day, from what pair of shoes to wear, and what to eat for breakfast, to hiring a new employee, and making an important customer affecting decisions.  Be pragmatic and use it for initiates that make a difference and when the outcome may be really important.   

8. Make it visible

.  Hold brown bag lunches that discuss one aspect of critical thinking.  Put up some posters, create presentation templates that have some critical thinking components (Assumptions being made and why, etc).   Use the term; thinking, critical thinking, etc. in correspondence.   Make critical thinking successes visible in lessons learned.  

9. Critical Thinking is a foundation tool, not just a process of its own

.   There are hundreds of places within an organization where critical thinking can be used.   Identify how critical thinking can be used in every aspects of your company, from finance, to business development, operations, customer care, development, IT, HR, marketing ... etc., in areas such as project management, soft skills implementation, leadership development, presentations, analysis, and other processes such as product development,  lean, six sigma, performance and goal setting, etc.

The Takeaway:


Critical Thinking is a skill.  It takes education, practice and support to use it.   Not every step above is necessary to gain tremendous benefits from critical thinking.  However, the more it becomes part of the culture of an organization, the more value it will have for that organization.

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