Developing the Four Cs in your Employees

3D Problem Solving by Chris Potter of

The Buzz About the Four Cs

In December of 2012, the American Management Association conducted a widely publicized survey regarding the US workforce’s capacity in regards to the four Cs. Those four Cs of course, being critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. AMA’s Critical Skills Survey was released in February of this year, and featured responses from 768 top-level executives at organizations of nearly every size and in nearly every industry. Human resource managers made up 12.6% of respondents surveyed.

Time featured a much-cited short piece by Paul Shread, featuring some of these findings, titled Four Traits of Great Employees. Time’s piece, and those that cite it, state the importance of seeking out these traits when hiring new employees. What’s less discussed however, is how to develop these illusive traits in our existing employees. With executives asked in the survey, responding that between fifty and sixty percent of employees are only average when it comes to the four Cs, development of these skills in employees should be seen as imperative.

When looking for literature regarding developing these skills in workers, the most informative and useful information I found, came from the Department of Education of all places. While business people may not prefer to take their cues from public school teachers, a guide published by the DOE titled, Preparing 21st Century Students for a Global Society: An Educator’s Guide to the “Four Cs”, proved to me, to be very useful. Human Resource professionals are in a unique position to implement and experiment with methods in which we can cultivate the four Cs within organizations. Each trait can be developed with little effort and money if one makes it a priority.

Critical Thinking

In order to instill critical thinking in students, the DOE’S guide suggests a number of different guided decision making exercises. One way you could easily implement this into your workplace, would be to involve all of your employees in low-level decision making processes regarding solving a work-related problem. Include them in every step of the process, and let them see as you work out the pros and cons regarding each possible solution. This will enable them to see critical thinking at it’s highest ability, and possibly increase engagement as well.


Whether or not you know it, you’re almost guaranteed to be exercising and improving your employees communications skills somehow. Presentations, email seminars, and written reports, are all examples of exercises that can help develop good communication skills in employees. Be sure to challenge employees according to their skill set.


Collaboration is perhaps the most easy and obvious trait to help improve in employees. Working in groups is always good for practicing patience and interpersonal skills, both lynchpins when it comes to successful collaboration. When assigning groups, be sure not to hesitate to put those who don’t always see eye to eye together, within reason. The hardest part about collaborating is working with those you don’t agree with, and resolving conflict. Group projects are a great way to instill a collaborative spirit in employees.


Nearly every exercise mentioned in the DOE’s guide to teaching the four Cs regarding creativity, is well, doing something creative. This shouldn’t be hard to implement for your creative departments and employees, who are constantly challenged to innovate. What about those in say, accounting however? Creativity is helpful in every single department, and left-brained, linear-thinking individuals, benefit the most from being challenged creatively. So be sure to assign less creative employees with creative tasks, or even just idea suggestions, in order to help every staff member fulfill their creative capacity.

The Four Cs and Human Resources

As the department charged with finding, training, developing, and basically just knowing talent within a company, the four Cs are more important to the Human Resources department than any other. We all know how important it is to look for these traits when hiring, but the buck doesn’t stop there. It’s also our job to help improve these skills in employees who’ve already been hired. Good leaders never stop teaching, so brush up on what it takes to help employees reach their full potential when it comes to critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.

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