One of the biggest shifts in the nature of Operations employees’ roles is the amount of thinking they should be doing—and are increasingly expected to do. Operations work is increasingly becoming more exceptions-driven, with an environment where clear guidelines on how to execute tasks are less useful.

As the scope of Operations grows, staff are becoming more responsible for things like service delivery, risk detection, and even revenue generation. This requires a new breed of “knowledge worker”, and one of the distinguishing characteristics of a knowledge worker is his or her ability to think critically. Employee thought and insight can drive initiatives in key operations management areas like process improvement, cost reduction, and risk prevention.

While the ability to think well is to a certain degree intrinsic, there is a lot firms can do to promote critical thinking among their employees:

Give Them The Tools. Anyone who has thought deeply about anything can appreciate that it is easy to get lost in one’s thoughts. Providing employees with frameworks and guidelines for thought generation helps them organize themselves, and makes thinking more productive.

Give Them The Space and Time. Most office environments are not conducive to deep thinking. Emails, telephones, and other colleagues provide plenty of distraction. Progressive firms give employees time away from the formal office setting for them to brainstorm without distraction.

Recognize and Reward Critical Thinking. Thinking can be difficult work, so employees are more likely to do it if there is something to be gained. Firms often establish forums for idea-sharing, and create incentives for employees to participate and share ideas by involving senior executives in these forums.

Read our case study on Grassroots Risk Detection to learn how one firm followed all three of these recommendations to develop a robust risk detection program. The program taught employees how to think about risk, and established an environment for them to think critically about the risks they were not yet prepared for as a firm.