Are your employees unconsciously competent?

Jason SayensmartPRENEUR Blog Series

Have you ever wondered about the theory behind learning a new skill?

In the 70’s, the 4 Phase Learning Cycle was developed by Gordon Training International.  The concept helps us understand that learners are not aware of how little or how much they know about a given skill or subject.  All learners go through these four phases depending on how much they know about a given topic or skill and in the end, the skill becomes a part of their subconscious.  

Training and onboarding an employee correctly is extremely difficult and when done incorrectly, can become costly.

As business owners or managers, if we can understand how the 4 Phase Learning Cycle works, we can develop our training and onboarding process in a way that helps our employees go from novice to expert much faster.  You need to understand that all learners will need some sort of base knowledge before they can master a given topic.  That doesn’t mean we always have to start at the beginning. 

Ever since I graduated high school, I could type over 70 words a minute without even thinking about it.  Sometimes when I’m on the phone with a client, I can speak to them and type at the same time without affecting my speed or accuracy.  

It’s been a huge advantage for me over the years.  When I was in Tech Support at JL Audio, I would bail out our team when we got behind on support emails because I could type so fast.  It wasn’t until I learned about the 4 Phase Learning Cycle that I actually understood why and how I was able to do that.

When you understand the 4 Phase Learning Cycle, you can work backward to build a program that is more effective at training and onboarding your employees.  The goal is to bring them to the unconsciously competent level.  

What are the 4 Phases:

Unconscious incompetence – You don’t know what you don’t know

The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the shortfall. They may deny the usefulness of the new skill. It’s up to the individual to recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. 

Conscious incompetence – You know that you don’t know

Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the shortfall, as well as the value of the new skill and why they should seek improvement. In this stage, making mistakes is a key part of the success of their learning.

Conscious competence – You know enough to be dangerous

The individual understands or knows how to do something, however, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration.  Continued practice will help advance them to the next stage.

Unconscious competence – You know it so well, you don’t even realize it

The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending on how and when it was learned. 

The 4 Stage Learning Cycle can also help you in other areas of your business.  If your sales team has a better understanding of how people learn, they can use this to create qualification questions at each stage to better gauge what a prospective client knows about the product.

About the Author

Jason Sayen

Jason Sayen is the Founder of I am Sayen and brings over 25 years to the custom installation channel.  I am Sayen, helps business owners understand their process through workflow documentation which aligns teams and removes bottlenecks.