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Soft skills, such as critical thinking, can mean the difference between getting the job — and getting the job done. Critical thinking has been ranked as the number one soft skill that managers feel employees are lacking, with 60% of all managers agreeing. This disparity is concerning, especially considering that critical thinking ranks among the most in-demand skills for potential hires. 

So how do we keep the entering workforce, and our current employees, at their strongest? The answer lies in more emphasis on training and supporting the continued development of skills. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review introduces the Critical Thinking Roadmap, and how it can help professionals to become better critical thinkers. 

The roadmap outlines four measurable phases that can be evaluated by either a manager or the well-reflecting employee themself. 

Phase 1: Execute

Those with basic proficiency in critical thinking are able to execute assigned tasks. While this may seem an elementary accomplishment, the reality is that it takes a well-wired brain to translate an assignment into successful execution. Completion of a task requires strong verbal reasoning, decision-making and problem-solving in order to determine an appropriate course of action and execute that plan fully and skillfully.

Phase 2: Synthesize

Synthesis includes the ability to sort through information and compile what is relevant and most important. When it comes to at-times lengthy and meandering meetings, an employee must be able to walk away from the conference room and summarize key takeaways, hitting all crucial points in the conversation and articulating them with both thoroughness and swiftness. 

Phase 3: Recommend

Once the work of identifying important takeaways is done, a course of action must be determined. An employee at the third phase of critical thinking should be able to determine a plan based on their synthesis of information. Though recommendations should be reasonable, plans can often be subjective things, and it is important to be able to recognize shortcomings and potential pitfalls in any proposal. This, too, is part of being a strong recommender — acceptance of others’ interpretations and ideas.

Phase 4: Generate

Those at the final tier of critical thinking are truly able to create something out of nothing. This means generating a vision and executing it to completion. Do projects and proposals get translated into high-value work? It is particularly important to be able to generate ideas not just out of one’s own vision, but out of visions of coworkers as well. Part of true, successful generation is a collaborative process that helps to answer the needs of all those on the team. 

Ultimately, fostering the continued development of critical thinking is not that hard to do. It just takes the right mindset — and collaboration, innovation and success will follow.

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