Create a Culture of Critical Thinking
By Randall Slikkers
At times, the “business of ethics” can seem overwhelming, especially in tribal enterprises with a large number of employees, managers and leadership. There is no doubt about it: Ensuring that you have strong ethics as part of your ethos takes work. It is also a “moving target” and needs constant vigilance. Yet, there is a simple thing that can have dramatic effects on your entire organization. And it can go well beyond ethics in making your organization stronger. What is this silver bullet? Creating a culture of critical thinking.
As you are probably aware, there is a hypersensitivity right now to fake news, alternative facts and the like. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is quoted as saying, “Our goal is to reduce these hoaxes just like we fight other scams on our platform…” This reflects a broader goal of many other social media and news organizations to deal with fake news. The sad fact is bad information, or propaganda, has been around for as long as man, and will never be able to be eradicated. Because of the 24-hour news cycle and the instant information age of social media, the problem is compounded like never. The need for critical thinking is paramount.
The premise for critical thinking is simple. Don’t just take the information you’re getting as fact. Question it. In fact, question everything! The trick to doing this well, and making sure it is part of the culture of your tribal enterprise. You must train your employees in the “process of critical thinking.” There are six key exploratory questions: Who, what, when, where, why and how? As a person takes in information, a few simple questions in each category helps them to see information through a clearer lens.
Who benefits from this? What is another perspective? Where can I get more information? When is this acceptable/unacceptable? Why is it relevant to me/others? How does this disrupt things?
Training people on the process of critical thinking is a straight-forward procedure. I’ve seen some companies print the questions on a laminated card that each employee carries. Others make it a part of the orientation process.
The real work comes in ensuring that critical thinking is part of the organizational culture. Leadership must “walk the talk.” They must actively encourage the process.
Placing signs, encouraging the method are a good start. Incorporating it into every meeting and in the employee evaluation process embeds it deeper. Rewarding those who demonstrate the process in their day-to-day activity goes a long way toward ensuring the ongoing usage of critical thinking. Mentoring is another great concept. Having the ability to bounce the questions off another person gives a broader and more diverse perspective. But by far, the best method is modeling. If employees see the leadership using and encouraging use of the process, they will understand its importance in the culture.
When people employ the critical thinking process, the results are instantaneous. Better decisions are reached. It doesn’t automatically eliminate bad decisions, but it does make it far less likely they will occur. And a great side effect of the process is that people tend to feel that their opinion is more valued. Critical thinking. Think about it! ♦