Paula is a shift supervisor for a high-tech industry. Prior to her daily brief with her crew, she must sift through data on industry updates, changes in the work schedule, current plant performance, and a host of other documents to determine what to provide her crew so they can perform their assigned work safely and effectively. Here's the catch, Paula typically has about 30 minutes to do that at the start of her day. The pressure is on to make sure she sets up her crew for success.
Successfully managing this type of complexity requires solid critical reading and thinking skills, which are frequently developed from long and painful experiences, not training. Without training, the ability to develop these skills is not going to get better. A 2006 study for the National Endowment for the Arts on reading comprehension habits showed that fundamental skills are lacking in our future employees. Thirty-eight percent of high school graduates were deficient in reading comprehension, and 70 percent were deficient in critical thinking skills. These skill gaps will likely increase in the next five to 10 years as the Internet changes the way people read and think.
Furthermore, new managers and supervisors too often are simply assumed to come to their new position with the required critical thinking skills. That's what SQRPT (Scan, Question, Read/Review, Prepare, Teach/Take Action) is all about.
What is it?
Pacific Gas & Electric Company's (PG&E's) Nuclear Leadership Program uses SQRPT to develop "metacognitive monitoring" skills - the ability to detect a lack of understanding so that it can be corrected. Techniques for students to improve reading speed and comprehension have been in place since the 1930s. The tool SQR3 (survey, question, read, recite, and review) - designed specifically to increase reading comprehension - was developed in the 1940s and is still in use today. Using SQR3 as a starting point, we developed SQRPT specifically for the unique needs of a leader of knowledge workers in technically challenging environments.
Why it works
SQRPT is introduced early on in the training program as a proven tool for reviewing technical text quickly and effectively. As the program progresses, the application of SQRPT expands to problem identification and resolution, event investigation, labor relations, and performance management. By the end of the program, nuclear leaders have developed neural pathways for assessing and analyzing myriad situations quickly and effectively.
When introduced and consistently reinforced in leadership training, knowledge leaders develop a method for thinking through complex issues and coming to solid decisions. Gaining clarity on their desired result, understanding the whole picture before acting, and engaging employees to improve performance all become part of a routine approach to any problem or issue.
Knowing the fundamentals of SQRPT allows leaders to apply it in a variety of ways in leadership training.
Scan. Scanning entails gaining a general impression of the document and its relevancy by quickly scanning and identifying specific sections of importance. In an interactive setting, it entails increasing situational awareness of the key players, equipment, and other elements involved in an issue or process.
Question. Questioning engages the leader by focusing her attention on specific desired results; for example, "What specifically do I need to know or share to accomplish my desired result?" The answers to leaders' questions form a basis to check their own comprehension and act as a compass to maintain focus and direction.
Read/Review. Using the results of scan as a road map, the individual reviews the document or discussion with the specific intent of answering her questions. This focuses the reader and creates a clearer purpose when reviewing. Leaders anchor key points by writing down answers or sharing them with others.
Process. The leader then assesses the insights gained from the read/review phase vis--vis their desired result and organizes her thoughts so connections and relationships become clearer. With practice, decisions become clearer and confidence increases. Ambiguity and uncertainty become more easily managed.
Teach/Take Action. The leader then changes mode from analyst and decision maker to implementer by preparing others for action or by taking action herself.
By introducing SQRPT early and by constantly reinforcing it throughout the leadership training program, the process becomes second nature, and metacognitive monitoring skills are firmly anchored. In addition to improving their reading and comprehension, graduates of the program have acknowledged that SQRPT has helped them become more proficient in clarifying their goals before taking action, recognizing connections, patterns, and implications that new leaders often miss, and helping them develop a disciplined approach for critical thinking, decision making, and effective communication.