The stages of competence

Going on training courses and gaining qualifications are only a small step in the world of actually becoming proficient at a task. A lot of what you actually learn at work is done through the day-to-day tasks you’re involved in.

  • First, you are in state of unconscious incompetence. That is, you don’t know that you don’t know how to do something. For example, if you have to learn new software in a new role, which you’ve never needed before – how would you know it?
  • Then you enter into a state of conscious incompetence. That is, you become starkly aware your skills are lacking and you try and find ways to overcome the situation. Training, asking questions, trying: all form part of the fumbling you go through.
  • At some point, you gradually move into a state of conscious competence. You start to use the skill quite easily, become less concerned with the mechanics of what you’re doing, and just start doing. You may still seek out information on it, but by and large you’re ok with what you’re doing.
  • Lastly you enter into a state of unconscious competence. You start to use the skill so regularly that you forget you ever didn’t know how to use it. If others ask questions about it, you’re more than likely to know how to help, and arrive at solutions quite quickly.

Back at work, then, what often ends up happening is you simply become complacent in your learning. You seem to stop at unconscious competence, thinking you’re the king of your castle and need to do no more. Which is an odd thing. How can you expect to progress, develop or fulfil your ambitions if you rest on your laurels? It’s not enough to go off and attend training, or a conference or read a blog. You have to be actively doing something that makes you question your activity.

Complacency is evil. You find a comfortable place to operate from and decide that’s your lot. You don’t need to do any more because things are ok right now. And that’s not ok. You get to a particular point in your career and think ‘I don’t need to do anything else’. Not so.

The important thing here is that you don’t dismiss the importance of structuring your on-the-job learning. In any business there’s a lot happening and ample opportunity to keep yourself in the know. Beyond that, other people can help. They’re probably sitting across the desk from you right now.

Thanks to: Sukh Pabial

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