One of managers’ and employers’ biggest complaints is the inability to hire critical thinkers – employees who question. I hear this complaint all the time. Yet we often find the people who ask questions irritating and bothersome. “Why do they have to look for what’s wrong? Why can’t they just say, “ok”?
Questioners are often seen as boat rockers, challenging the status quo. They are ‘difficult’.
We can’t have it both ways. We can’t hire people who think critically, who don’t question.
I’m not talking about people who can’t make a decision and are constantly asking managers to validate their solutions or employees who use managers as google rather than doing their own research. I’m talking about squelching the counter-point-of-view.
If you want employees who identify and solve problems and create new products and ways of working, then you need to reward those who question.
One of the reasons employees may not ask questions is the fear of appearing as if they don’t know. Who likes to admit they don’t know something at work? It takes strength to admit, “I don’t know.” Managers and leaders need to model the behaviors they want to see. We need to ask our own questions visibly and regularly. We need to admit when we don’t know. We need to be willing to be wrong and to let others see it.
There is an old workplace adage, you get what you reward. Does your organization have an award for the employee who asks the most questions? If not, create one. Do you recognize employees publicly who are willing to point out inefficient processes and costly systems? Do you have a reward system in place for employees who fail trying to fix a problem or create something new? If we get what we reward, what are we rewarding?
People like certainty. We feel more comfortable knowing than not knowing. Not having an answer is uncomfortable. And looking for answers requires work. But sometimes knowledge is the enemy and the death to innovation in the workplace. If we know how something or someone is, there isn’t much of a reason to look for different and possibly better answers. But sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know.
Companies want to be innovative, creative and agile. And that’s good. A lack of innovation is surely the route to long-term failure. For example, a company is at the top of its game. It sells a product that is better than everyone else’s and becomes complacent. Relying on its past success, the successful company creates nothing new for five years, while up-and-comers are creating better solutions. Before they know it, the successful company is obsolete.
On a smaller scale, but equally damaging to innovation in the workplace, is hiring and retaining employees who don’t regularly ask the questions:
Why do we do this this way?
Is there a better way to do this?
What don’t we know that we don’t know?
If you want innovation in the workplace, you need to hire people who are curious and think critically.
People who are curious and think critically have a few key qualities. Curious and critical thinkers are:
Not afraid to ask questions
Not afraid to be wrong
Identifying these qualities in candidates is challenging. I’ve interviewed and hired many people who seemed quite self-confident and coachable during the interview process, but once they began working, it quickly became apparent that they were neither. If you want people who will execute an existing process that works, non-critical thinkers are effective employees. If you want people who will consistently challenge the status quo, you should let insecure and people lacking curiosity go, as soon as you see the signs.
If you want innovation in the workplace and want your organization to stay current and competitive you need to have employees who aren’t afraid to consistently ask the question “why. Incorporate status-quo busting questions into your meetings. Create rewards and recognize people who risk trying to fix a problem or create something new.
Train employees to ask these questions:
Why do we do things this way?
Why did this happen?
What questions have we not asked?
What would happen if we did _______?
As always, you get what you ask for. What are you asking for?
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