U.S. executives say they now need a workforce filled with employees who excel at the "four C's": critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.

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It used to be that the “three R’s” (reading, writing and arithmetic) were sufficient for workers to succeed in their careers. But according to a recently released American Management Association (AMA) survey, that no longer holds true.

The rapid pace of change in business, increased global competition, changes in how work is accomplished and organizational restructuring are causing different skills to become increasingly more important. According to the AMA 2012 Critical Skills Survey, U.S. executives say they now need a workforce filled with employees who excel at the “four C’s”: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.

The AMA conducted the survey of 768 managers and other executives in December to find out how important the four C’s are to their company’s success. Three out of four (74.6 percent) survey respondents believe these skills will become even more important to their organizations within the next three to five years.

The AMA’s definitions of the four skills:

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Critical thinking: Being able to think through situations to solve problems, make decisions and take action.

Communication: The ability to synthesize and transmit ideas both in writing and verbally.

Collaboration: Effectively working together with others, building diverse teams and working with those who have opposing points of view.

Creativity: Being innovative and able to see what’s not there and make something happen.

The results of this survey have direct implications for employee and organizational development. More than half of the survey respondents said significant improvement was needed in these four skills among their employees. Without these critical skills in their workforce, U.S. executives question their companies’ ability to keep up with the pace of business changes and to compete on a global level.

How can you make sure you (and your company) aren’t left behind? As an individual employee, recognize the growing importance of the four C’s and actively work on improving these competencies as part of your personal development.

If you’re a manager or executive, articulate the importance and priority of the four C skills within your department or organization. Then actively assess the skills of each candidate during the hiring process, measure them during annual performance reviews and include the skills as part of employee development plans.

Looking for specific methods for improving critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity skills? Survey respondents rated one-on-one coaching, mentoring and in-house/job training as the top three ways of developing these competencies.

Lisa Quast is the founder of Career Woman, Inc., and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.