After more than 3 decades of collecting and studying data on the reasoning skills of future professionals, one ability stands out as the most challenging: Evaluation. While many excel at analyzing situations and making predictions, the skill of accurately evaluating plans, projects, and solutions remains elusive.
The Significance of Evaluation
Whether it is judging the quality of a product, the effectiveness of a treatment plan, the security of a financial system, or the strength of a risk prevention plan, the ability to evaluate, unlike mere description or assurance, is the key. However, it is relatively rare to find employees who can accurately evaluate plans and projects. These employees build on their analysis and inference skills to demonstrate whether the plans are complete and cohesive and whether the project resulted in the expected quality and effectiveness.
College-level programs improve our critical thinking skills and thinking mindset as we learn how to identify problems and anticipate risks in our planned professions. Analysis skills are easier to master as we learn about common problems and how to manage them. Evaluation skills also come along when the learner can rise to the challenge of this more difficult skill.
The Challenges of Evaluation
Two significant hurdles hinder the mastery of evaluation. Firstly, people see little advantage to conducting an evaluation. Instead, they focus on competing for new resources and building their ability to influence their work-life experiences. Yet, habitually failing to evaluate carries a cost, as a single bad decision can be disastrous. And even when we are cautious and risk-averse, falsely deciding that our efforts are always good enough can become a habit of mind that lowers our personal potential for success.
Developing the habit of being fair-minded when evaluating ourselves and others is difficult, but it is worth the effort. Strong evaluations apply the same quality standards even when the project is extremely difficult, rather than lowering the standards and judging the result “good enough.” When companies or communities lower standards and goals as a function of the evaluation process, they may succeed in maintaining public approval, but resources are wasted and problems persist.
To be strong evaluators, we need a thinking mindset that is fair-minded at its core. We can’t let up on our standards and goals, even if we notice that it’s not in our interest to keep pushing (for clarity, for the needed data to judge the quality of the work, etc.). There can be no personal bias influencing the results of the evaluation. It is very easy for good people to bend their thinking process just a little, looking for ways to distort an evaluation just a bit, so that the result is more self-serving. We all do it sometimes. But we can’t afford dishonesty when we are evaluating our own performance when it matters most, or to have our leaders carry out evaluation processes with bias.
The second major hurdle is that evaluation demands a complete and systematic review of the relevant data, and some of us find it challenging to be that organized. Systematically examining a problem from all angles is a mindset attribute of a strong evaluator. They use their thinking skills (Inference, Explanation, and Analysis) to determine what is relevant, and as a habit of mind, they carry out a systematic and organized interpretation of that information to make an evaluative judgment (Interpretation and Evaluation). And when they apply a solution, they keep watching to see if it works. They want to know whether the problem has been solved!
Even strong thinkers can have a weakness when it comes to carrying out needed evaluations of their actions. Perhaps because new problems and opportunities are always arising and distract them from the drudgery of checking the effectiveness of prior actions or doing the more complicated work of assuring a complete and fair-minded evaluation of those actions. The fact that many of us spend too little time evaluating has led to some organizations appointing official evaluators. If your job has an evaluation component like providing evaluations of those you supervise or those you train, you have likely been working on developing your evaluation skills and are working toward being systematic and fair-mindedness as a habit of mind. When employees are assessed for these critical thinking skills and attributes, some professionals, like contract auditors and quality assurance officers, demonstrate exceptional strength in evaluation, systematicity, and fairmindedness.
Enhancing Evaluation Skills
Evaluation skills are trainable and can improve throughout life once we come to appreciate the value of examining the results of our decisions. Two disciplines that have long incorporated specific training in reasoning and decision-making have embedded examples of this type of training. Clinical conferences aimed at examining the case results of care protocols to evaluate their results are an example of this process in health sciences. The mission analysis process similarly evaluates military actions taken with a view to identifying information and decision-making gaps.
Here is a randomly selected sample of people who have jobs as auditors or evaluators, assessed with INSIGHT Business Professional, the comparable critical thinking assessment tailored for the working professional. Notice that these people have skills in evaluation that are every bit as strong as their analysis skills. Both are needed to do their jobs well.
Any employee can develop their evaluation skills. They typically start by focusing on the results of some of the important decisions they have recently made and think more systematically about whether they have achieved management of the problems they were addressing. They work harder to do an honest assessment even when the situations they review are relatively complex or sensitive. People who are strong evaluators answer questions like these: How do we know that this problem is resolved? That this data is complete? That this solution is applicable? Did we solve the problem, or did we just solve another easier problem and call it ‘done’?
You can improve your own Evaluation skills as well as other thinking mindset attributes like fair-mindedness, systematicity, and foresight. Visit InsightBasecamp.com for self-development materials that will increase your Evaluation skills through practice and knowledge development.