How much does your organisation value good, reflective thinking?

Reflective thinking is a key leadership skill

Deliberate thinking, reflecting on what you have done, what you are doing, what you want to do, is an essential leadership skill that you cannot afford to be without.  It underpins virtually every one of the tasks you have to do.  Thinking is today’s main business task, particularly if you are at middle management level or above.

In recent months and years, books, articles and blogs about a kind of thinking called ‘critical thinking’ have started to appear. Critical thinking means different things to different people, and if you look for a definition on line you will find many complicatedly-worded, long-winded, pretty indecipherable definitions. Suffice it to say, for our purposes, critical thinking means applying your thinking to an experience in an organised and structured way, so that you can understand more than the most obvious layer of it, in order to act with clarity, excellence and precision. In other words, focused, reflective thinking.

Inculcate reflective thinking in your key talent

As reflective thinking is a key leadership skill, one thing to be focused on is how to inculcate reflective thinking in the people in your organisation. One factor to consider is how much your organisation values good, reflective thinking.

There are a number of key success factors representing conditions likely to support an organisation’s emphasis on deliberate, reflective thinking.  These include:

  • The purpose of reflective thinking is clearly linked to the core business strategy
  • Thinking has a clear sponsor, and the sponsor is highly thought of in the 
  • Senior people in the organisation clearly spend time on deliberate thinking
  • Leaders are positive role models in encouraging thinking in others
  • HR systems are aligned and fully integrated, so that thinking time is specifically rewarded and the outcomes of that thinking are valued
  • There is common practice and language around deliberate thinking

Use reflective thinking yourself

Another key aspect, though, is how to use reflective thinking to get the best out of your talent. As has been posited, having leaders be positive role models in encouraging thinking in others is a key factor underpinning success in this area. You can be that role model.

Let’s look at applying rigorous, reflective thinking to just one aspect of talent management.  Let’s look at retention.

The EDGE-it model is a five-part process that can be applied in commercial situations and other organisational settings. EDGE-it is a process which, when followed, brings new learning, more focused actions, improved results.

Applying the EDGE-it model to retention, you would take the following steps, asking questions like these:

Step one: Experience

Describe your goal as if you are already standing in the future. This helps the brain get ready for the actual achievement.  Imagine what it will be like when you have achieved your goal. Ask questions about how you would like to be able to describe the successful retention Experience.  Put as much detail into the imagined Experience as you can. ‘Stand in the future’ to describe the goal.  Describe the future situation as if it were happening now.

Step two: Deliberate

Start to evaluate the desired Experience more deeply. Ask yourself what benefits that Experience you have described would give to your organisation, and to the individuals in it. Look at the gap between where you are and where you want to be. This will reveal supporting factors – those that will help you get there – and hindering factors – those likely to get in your way.

Step three: Generate

Begin to Generate some options for bridging the gap between where you are and where you want to be.  Ask yourself what options you have/could you create to make that Experience into a reality?  You are looking here for quantity – evaluation of the options comes later. Look for options to build on current supporting factors, or add new ones, as well as to mitigate or remove hindering factors that exist at the moment.

Step four: Execute

Now is your chance to evaluate the options you generated, and choose which options will give you the best return for your investment of time, energy and money. Test your commitment to carrying out these options, and be sure you are willing to do it. As Will Rogers once famously said, ‘Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.’ Schedule the first step.

Step five: Iterate

Go around again. And again. First of all ask yourself what you have missed in the thinking you have done on this topic. And then schedule some reviews. During the time that you are moving towards the achievement of your goal, you will need to check that the goal is still appropriate in light of your undoubtedly changing circumstances.


Rigorous reflective thinking will help with talent management. You can help your key talent build this essential leadership skill, at least in part by modelling being a reflective thinker. Such modelling is one of the key factors leading towards instilling rigorous critical thinking in your organisation. You can also apply such thinking to a specific challenge, such as how to improve retention in your organisation.

If you want to know more about the concepts mentioned, or to learn more about EDGE-it, a key model and associated tools that can help you do this rigorous, focused thinking more effectively, check out Better Thinking for Better Results in the HR Shop.

 Cathy Lasher