Under the 2018 theme of ‘Developing Human Capital,’ this article focuses on how to teach your employees to think critically and with a purpose. It is written by Bill Mayes, one of my Machinery Advisors Consortium colleagues. — George Russell

How much of what we “know” is really true? How much is based on facts? Or is it just what we have always thought? Take the simple task of crossing the street.

It’s common sense to always look both ways before you cross, right? But what if you live on a dirt road in the country. Is it still common sense?

I often see dealers offering training that is centered around a skill, either technical or behavioral, that will allow their employees to perform better in their jobs and ultimately, in their careers. I spend much of my time with dealers helping them understand the metrics for measuring performance and the processes that allow them to achieve their goals.

Consistent processes are important in business. It’s essential everyone understands how to implement your day-to-day business activities. Whether it’s creating a machine order or invoice, taking and filling a parts order, or opening and closing a work order, it must be done right.

One of the biggest challenges is there’s never just one way to do something. Often people don’t even know why they’re doing something a certain way or how it affects other people if they do it incorrectly. This leads to mistakes and dissatisfied customers.

When questioned about what happened, the answer often starts with “I didn’t think …” We are essentially doing our jobs as though we were just crossing the street, and not really thinking about it.

Learning to Think Critically

I now realize this is a common shortcoming. Typically, we go about our business on autopilot. We do things the way we have always done them, and we don’t question why or if there is a better way. If we can get people to THINK about what they are doing and how they are doing it, we can eliminate many costly errors and lost time.

What is critical thinking? Critical thinking is:

  • Clear, rational, logical and independent;
  • A process to improve how we think by analyzing, assessing and reconstructing;
  • Self-regulated and self-corrective;
  • An approach of mindful communication, problem solving and freedom from bias or ego.

In short, it is thinking on purpose! Many of the things we think we know are based more on opinions than on real facts. Originally, they might have been based on facts, but over time people forgot why something is done a certain way and now it isn’t appropriate anymore.

Cutting the Ends Off

A student in a recent class told me this story. “In my family, my mom always cuts off the ends of our Thanksgiving ham before she bastes it and puts it in the oven. My wife asked her why she does this and she replied, ‘Because my mom did and her mom before her. We’ve always done it that way.’

5 Practices that Will Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

In his article “These 5 Practices Will Help You With Improving Critical Thinking Skills,” Lee Wantanabe Crockett states:

  1. Waste No Time – Spend the time you need to get something done and move on to the next item.
  2. Learn Something New Every Day – This doesn’t mean spending time mastering something you already know like a musical instrument, learn something you didn’t know.
  3. Develop a Questioning Mind – Being able to ask meaningful questions that lead to constructive and useful answers is the core of critical thinking and lifelong learning.
  4. Practice Active Listening – Most people are just waiting for their turn to talk. Make a conscious effort to hear not only the words, but also the meaning of what is being said.
  5. Solve Just One Problem – Choose a problem and focus on it until it is resolved. And fix the source of the problem. Then you can move on.

“My wife wasn’t satisfied with that answer so she asked my grandmother why she did it that way. Grandmother said, ‘When I was a little, we didn’t have an oven big enough for a whole ham, so mother had to cut off the ends to make it fit. We just sort of kept doing it that way ever since!’”

How many of the things we do every day are only because it’s how we’ve always done it? And when we ask people to change the way they do things, like installing a new business system or integrating a new store, people are extremely loyal to their old processes. They are resistant to change, even though they have never really thought why they do things. They keep cutting the ends of the ham.

Critical Thinking Skills

Get formal training on how to think. Get people to question what they are doing and why. Doing this is a great start to growing a culture that adapts to changing times, challenging economics and new technologies.

As your people develop critical thinking skills, expect to be challenged with questions that begin with “Why.” When this happens, you are well on your way to having fewer “I didn’t think” type of discussions. So, how are you going to use all that extra time you used to spend solving problems?

July 2018 Issue Contents