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Are your employees getting dumber and what is that costing you?

Have you sometimes scratched your head at the downright stupid and costly mistakes your employees make? Doesn’t it surprise you when employees who aren’t new to your business make beginner mistakes and you think, “Come on. You are smarter than that and should know better than that.” How often have you seen an error that an employee made and wanted to say, “What were you thinking?”

What Were They Thinking?

Chances are, they weren’t thinking. More importantly, they weren’t doing any critical thinking. As the president or owner of your company, you have something to do with the quality of thinking that takes place in your organization. Ironically, if you are good at critical thinking, you might be responsible for some of those careless or thoughtless errors made by your employees that are costing you dearly.

Critical thinking, looking at the logical consequences of your behavior, wondering what might happen if your tried this solution as opposed to that one is an acquired skill that must be fostered and nurtured if it is to grow and become part of your company’s culture. If you as employer or supervisor are known for being able to solve problems, think things through, catch errors quickly, don’t be surprised if folks start serving you up inferior work based on unimaginative thinking for you to fix or correct. It’s not that they are bad or trying to get away with something. This is just how they were trained.

Could You Be Bringing Out the “Stupid” in People?

I remember taking flying lessons and realizing that I was actually getting worse with each lesson. I’m usually a pretty good student but even I was appalled at the stupid mistakes I was repeating. I had a very critical teacher (nice guy otherwise) who pointed my errors out before I knew I had made them and told me how to correct them minute by minute. I found myself getting dumber over time, hardly even looking out of the window of the plane after a while. I noticed I was just reacting–-making movements without thinking, knowing that whatever I did, he would probably tell me what I should have done and then I’d respond with, “Oh yeah. Right.”

Even if you aren’t blaming or shaming your employees, if they find out that you are willing to do the critical thinking (which most people find challenging), they will be happy to let you and they will unwittingly let this muscle become weak in them. This will cost you a fortune over time. You will end up wondering, “Am I the only one who cares about this company?”

Is Your Work Environment a Safe Place to Learn?

In many companies, the risk of making a mistake and being chastised for it is enough to shut people’s critical thinking skills down and have them keep their head down and play it safe during the day. When people don’t look ahead at the possible consequences of their actions, even smart ones will make stupid mistakes. How to correct this?

Five Solutions

1. Stop solving everyone’s problems for them. Trust that they can come up with a solution and encourage them to do so.  Any time you step between a person’s actions and the consequences of those actions, you are enabling them and not allowing them to learn from their mistakes.

2. Be on the lookout for critical thinking and when you see it, appreciate the person for it even their solution is not the one you would use. If someone approaches you with a problem or a situation, always ask, “What are you thinking?” or “What do think might happen down the road if we put this solution into place.”

3. Make it safe to make a mistake. Address errors with an eye toward fixing the process rather than fixing blame.  Rather than chastise the person who errs, let them come up with an improvement in the process that would make that error less likely to recur.

4. Each one teach one. One of the best ways to encourage critical thinking is to assign a new person to a seasoned employee and let that person teach the newcomer exactly how he does his job.  Engaging in this conversation will make the seasoned employee sharper.

5. Make Yours a Learning Organization.  Let everyone know that  one of your company’s major values and expectations is that everyone keeps learning and growing in their craft.  People who feel like they are growing and learning are happier at work and less likely to disengage.

Start rewarding anyone who shows that they have been thinking and they’ll begin to grow their critical thinking capabilities. They’ll be saving you money and avoiding costly mistakes rather than the other way around.


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