Here is where we have learned and practiced enough to successfully perform a task with an acceptable degree of quality and independence. However, the focus and attention it requires has the price of performing somewhat slower than a more skilled person. That extra attention also creates added performance risk from distractions and deadline pressure. For example, if staff in this stage lose their focus, their performance will generally suffer.
Stage 4: Unconsciously Competent
In this final stage, we have now internalized all the necessary knowledge and perfected our practical skills. Here we can use our understanding and experience without active thought or concentration. This is where we are experts, and complete tasks with ease and speed. We can also reliably mentor team members who are in the earlier stages of the learning model. (There are some new performance risks that come with reaching this learning stage, but we'll save those for a future article.)
How to Use the Model to Maximize Staff Learning and Performance
While these four learning stages were scientifically arrived at by a practicing clinical psychologist, they are not difficult to apply for IT professionals. We usually know enough about our team members, in terms of their experience and performance, to easily and quickly assess where they are in this learning model. This need not be a formal process, and quick ballpark assessments work quite well.
To keep this process simple, we can define the best approach for tailoring our level of engagement with each team member by looking at how we discuss what needs to be done, how it needs to be done, and the frequency of our checkpoints. This is summarized in this chart.
For a staff member who is Unconsciously Incompetent, we would tell him or her what to do with a high level of detail, tell them how to do it with a high level of detail, and check in on their progress frequently.
For a staff member who is Consciously Incompetent, we would him or her that employee what to do with a high level of detail, tell them how to do it with a medium level of detail, and check in on their progress frequently.
For a staff member who is Consciously Competent, we would tell him or her what to do with a medium level of detail, tell them how to do it with a low level of detail, if at all, and check in on their progress at scheduled milestones.
For a staff member who is Unconsciously Competent, we would tell him or her what to do with a low level of detail, not tell them how to do it at all, and check in on their progress only if and when they requested us to do so.