Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus convallis sem tellus, vitae egestas felis vestibule ut.

Error message details.

Reuse Permissions

Request permission to republish or redistribute SHRM content and materials.

Looking for Workers Competent in the 'Four C's'

Thinking critically, solving problems, innovating and collaborating are highly valued at every level within an organization. More than half of polled executives, however, said there is significant room for improvement in these competencies among their employees, according to the results of an American Management Association survey released Feb. 7, 2013.

Conducted in December 2012, the 2012 Critical Skills Survey polled 768 U.S. managers and executives about the importance of these skills to their organizations. According to the results, a majority of respondents said that the four C’s—critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity—have been articulated within their organizations as priorities for employee development, talent management and succession planning. Further, a majority agreed that their employees are measured in these skills during annual performance appraisals and that job applicants are assessed in these areas during the hiring process.

Four C’s Defined

Critical thinking and problem solving—the ability to make decisions, solve problems and take action as appropriate.

Effective communication—the ability to synthesize and transmit ideas in both written and oral formats.

Collaboration and team building—the ability to work effectively with others, including those from diverse groups and those with opposing points of view.

Creativity and innovation—the ability to see what’s not there and make something happen.

Source: 2012 Critical Skills Survey, AMA, December 2012.

Three out of four survey respondents (74.6 percent) said that they believe these skills and competencies will become more important to their organizations in the next three to five years, and they gave the following reasons:

  • Pace of change in business (61.4 percent).
  • Global competition (50.9 percent).
  • Nature of how work is accomplished today (30.5 percent).
  • Way work is structured (24.8 percent).

Above, Below Average Workforce Assessments

The number of managers and executives who admitted that their employees were “below average” in these skills and competencies increased in all four areas, compared with the results of the 2010 survey. Nearly 10 percent of respondents noted a lack of competence in critical thinking (up from 6.2 percent in 2010), while 13.2 percent noted a decrease in employee competence in communication skills (up from 10.6 percent in 2010). Likewise, 12.4 percent of respondents noted a decrease in their workforce competence in collaboration (up from 11.3 percent in 2010), and 19.7 percent cited a lack of workforce creativity (up from 15.6 percent in 2010).

The percentage of managers and executives who rated their employees “above average” increased for both collaboration (48.4 percent in 2012 compared with 46.7 percent in 2010) and creativity (39.0 percent in 2012 compared with 37.4 percent in 2010). However, the number of executives who rated their employees “above average” in critical thinking (50.6 percent in 2012 vs. 51.9 percent in 2010) and communication skills (37.9 percent in 2012 compared with 38.1 percent in 2010) dropped in 2012 compared with 2010 results.

The survey also reveals that the polled managers and executives believe it is easier to develop these skills in students and recent graduates (59.1 percent) than it is to develop them in experienced workers (27.1 percent), suggesting that students and recent graduates may be more open to new ideas than experienced workers with established work patterns and habits.

Respondents identified mentoring and in-house job training as the most effective methods to improve employees’ skill levels in these areas, followed by one-on-one coaching, job rotation and professional development.

Other findings:

  • 68 percent of U.S. CEOs say fostering a skilled workforce should be a top government priority, but only 3 percent believe government has been effective in doing so.
  • 65 percent of U.S. CEOs are planning to invest in creating and fostering a skilled workforce in their home country.
  • 80 percent of responding CEOs plan to strengthen employee engagement programs.
  • 89 percent of respondents are focusing on developing their leadership pipelines through active succession planning.
  • 64 percent of respondents are focusing on programs to encourage diversity among business leaders.

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Quick Links


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.