Critical thinking tips for HR managers and leaders

Written by
Changeboard team

19 Jul 2019

19 Jul 2019 • by Changeboard team

As an HR manager, you’re not just hired for what you do – but how you think. The success of the HR function is often shaped by the quality of decisions made. These critical thinking tips will help HR mangers and leaders work towards better decisions and more resilient, flexible processes.

Why is critical thinking important in HR?

Critical thinking…

  • Helps HR managers serve as connectors of disciplines
  • Makes it easier to hit that delicate balance of learning and training
  • Plays an integral part in recruitment and hiring new talent
  • Adds value to any collated metrics
  • Leads to informed, considered decisions – which is good for business.

The following tips for HR managers can be applied to leaders in many other sectors. They’re invaluable to HR because the success of any organisation depends on its people. Machines do the computing, but it’s people who do the thinking.

Think actively. Question your own thinking.

It’s too easy to think something is true or correct because ‘it’s always been that way’. Your thinking may have been shaped by further education, or a past professional mentor. It may even have it roots further back in your own personal background and upbringing.

The key thing to remember is that anything thought by rote or force of habit is not active thinking – it is passive thinking. If you’re not aware of your thought processes, you have no chance to evolve them. If you don’t see any problems with your thinking, it might be because you’re not looking for flaws. If you don’t question your own thinking, you won’t have the motivation to change or improve it.

Stop for a moment to consider what you’re taking for granted. The situation might need some further probing or a fresh perspective.

All data is information. But not all information is useful.

HR managers can get snowed under with facts, figures, metrics and documentation. And much of it is necessary. However, it can be useful to remember that not all information is useful or relevant. There’s a lot of chaff in that wheat.

Critical thinking is partly the skill – both innate and learned – of learning what to absorb and use, and what to ignore.

Always ask yourself: ‘Does this data add value to the current function, project, process, task or goal? If so, how?’

Be open to exploring new ideas

Some HR managers and leaders can feel threatened by thinking that’s different to theirs. A good way to not think that way is to play around with new ideas. It keeps you fresh and open-minded enough to consider better ways of doing things.

Foster open discussion and pursue alternative points of view

Short-range thinking can sometimes rule an organisation. In addition, the work environment can sometimes snuff the oxygen from the room when it comes to employees thinking in ways that disrupt the status quo. In this case, the status quo means the perceived ‘correct’ way of thinking and doing things.

There are all kinds of ways to foster open discourse, from hosting debates to having informal chats. When you act as a catalyst in this way, you give people a chance to loosen the grip that assumptions hold over them. They might come up with all sorts of ideas, from changing project start/end dates for the better to coming up with creative solutions.

It’s important to encourage a workplace mentality where alternative viewpoints are permitted. It reminds everyone (including the HR manager) that their viewpoint is personal and subjective. A personal POV can still hold great value, but it may contain assumptions that would benefit from being challenged.

Don’t react by immediately agreeing or disagreeing

Is a quick decision always the right one? When you hear something new, it might be anything from a new proposal to a formal complaint. Critical thinking will help you not to react quickly but instead consider the key points of what you’ve just heard as neutrally as possible.

As an HR manager you need to give yourself time to think, to invite alternative points of view, to do some research or to ask more questions in order to help you be better informed about the context of a situation.

If you hate an idea…

You might find the idea challenging at first, and would benefit from some active thinking time to help you see if your own subjective viewpoint is blocking you from seeing the full merits of the idea.

If you like an idea…

You might be too quick to agree to something simply because it mirrors your own thoughts. Even when two people agree, it doesn’t mean that the thought is therefore ‘true’. It might still be a flawed thought based on shared assumptions!

Avoid making assumptions


A sure way to make a poor decision is to let assumptions get in the way of clarity. Neutral clarity leads to better informed and more effectively considered solutions.

Three questions to ask in order to avoid making assumptions:

  • What are the ‘facts’?
  • Is there a real or perceived relationship between cause and effect?
  • Are words, phrases and statistics used to describe the issue ambiguous or do they have one clear meaning?

An example of making assumptions

Picture a scenario in which new hires never stay long at a company, and the hiring manager is getting frustrated. They direct their frustration at the HR department, and question why HR aren’t improving the hiring process.

The manager’s assumption that they’re able to identify competency has led them to believe there’s an issue with the competency of the new hires.

The manager has assumed that staff become more competent the longer they stay with a company.

The manager has assumed that the issue lies with employee selection, and that apparently the recruitment process rather than the management style needs improvements.

As a result of all these assumptions, the manager has not applied critical thinking to the situation. They haven’t challenged their own thought processes, and they’ve made assumptions. They may never ask themselves – or others – the right questions in order to determine an effective solution to the issue.

Remember the two rules of critical thinking

The first rule is that there is always a way.

The second rule is that there is always more than one way.

There is no one ‘right’ solution. There are many actions you can take to deal with an issue.

By challenging assumptions, absorbing useful information, seeking alternative viewpoints and keeping an open mind you can use critical thinking to find solutions that actively benefit the organisation.