Here is an excerpt from an article written by Matt Plummer for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.
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With critical thinking ranking among the most in-demand skills for job candidates, you would think that educational institutions would prepare candidates well to be exceptional thinkers, and employers would be adept at developing such skills in existing employees. Unfortunately, both are largely untrue.
According to a 2016 survey of 63,924 managers and 14,167 recent graduates, critical thinking is the number one soft skill managers feel new graduates are lacking, with 60% feeling this way. This confirms what a Wall Street Journal analysis of standardized test scores given to freshmen and seniors at 200 colleges found: the average graduate from some of the most prestigious universities shows little or no improvement in critical thinking over four years. Employers fare no better. Half rate their employees’ critical thinking skills as average or worse.
Why is it so difficult to teach people how to think critically?
It starts with the fact that there is little agreement around what critical thinking is. From there, it gets even less clear. Most employers lack an effective way to objectively assess critical thinking skills and most managers don’t know how to provide specific instruction to team members in need of becoming better thinkers. Instead, most managers employ a sink-or-swim approach, ultimately creating work-arounds to keep those who can’t figure out how to “swim” from making important decisions.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
To demystify what critical thinking is and how it is developed, our team at Zarvana turned to three research-backed models: The Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment, Pearson’s RED Critical Thinking Model, and Bloom’s Taxonomy. Using these models, we developed the Critical Thinking Roadmap, a framework that breaks critical thinking down into four measurable phases: the ability to execute, synthesize, recommend, and generate.
Here is how to assess the critical thinking skills of each of your team members, how to help those who are struggling, and how to know when a team member has mastered one phase and is ready for the next.
[Here is the first of four phases.]
Phase 1: Execute
If team members are just starting a new role or have never been pushed to think for themselves, they will likely be in the execution phase. In this phase, team members simply do what they are asked to do. This may seem basic and even pre-critical thinking, but converting instructions into action requires several of the skills Halpern describes as critical thinking: verbal reasoning, decision-making, and problem-solving. You know your employee is getting it when you can answer “yes” to these 3 questions:
- Do they complete all parts of their assignments?
- Do they complete them on time?
- Do they complete them at or close to your standard of quality?
If a team member is struggling here, make sure they understand your instructions by asking them to rearticulate each assignment before they begin. Start by giving them smaller assignments with more immediate deadlines. Once they’ve begun the work, ask them to explain what they did, how they did it, and why they did it that way. Once team members are making suggestions for how to improve their work, you know they’re ready for the next phase.
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Here is a direct link to the complete article.
Matt Plummer (@mtplummer) is the founder of Zarvana, which offers online programs and coaching services to help working professionals become more productive by developing time-saving habits. Before starting Zarvana, Matt spent six years at Bain & Company spin-out, The Bridgespan Group, a strategy and management consulting firm for nonprofits, foundations, and philanthropists.
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