People develop at different paces and, as CEO, I often see people wanting to learn faster and contribute sooner than what’s possible or expected.
Employers can have an unrealistic time period for new team members to meet performance objectives. It is common in our industry to use a 90-day probation period. I disagree and have found it actually takes closer to a year before employees are able to show competency in a new job.
I often find myself telling new employees who are frustrated with the pace of their performance about the four stages of development and remind them to have patience. It takes more time than they think it should. Noel Burch developed the concept of the “Four Stages for Learning Any New Skill” in the 1970s while at Gordon Training International. This theory provides a model for how we learn a new skill – consciously and subconsciously.
Here’s how I explain the stages to new employees in our company:
- Unconscious incompetence
At this initial learning stage, we’re not very good at the skill and don’t even know what to do about it. Naturally, we want to know more than we do. In this stage, we’re investing in our people so we shouldn’t expect an immediate return. It takes about 90 days before we transition into the next phase of learning.
- Conscious incompetence
Simply put, we’re still not very good, but now at least we recognize it. Typically within 3-6 months in a new job we become aware of our lack of competence. But we can’t lose confidence. This is where the learning really starts and doing the right things will pay off. It’s important we all have patience at this stage and keep in mind that it often takes another 3-6 months to develop a level of competence in a new skill.
- Conscious competence
By the end of the first year of employment, we should achieve competency. Getting here takes intention and action. We’re good, but it doesn’t come natural yet. For example, if you’re learning to give presentations, know your content and make it a point to prepare what you are going to say. You need to practice. Activity defeats doubt and leads to progress.
- Unconscious competence
At this stage, you don’t even have to think about it – the skill is natural. This is the final stage we reach in development. Employees typically achieve this by their third year of employment. Yes, we should be thinking in years, not months, when developing talent. It’s an investment.
The complexity of the position can affect the pace of these stages. By identifying the stages, leaders can set realistic goals and guidelines for employees and give them a framework that provides a sense of understanding, not frustration and doubt.
I stay pretty active in hiring and coaching team members where I can add value. I feel attracting and keeping good people is an important part of my job as CEO. It’s also really rewarding to see entry level people join our company and then develop into high performers in our industry.
I encourage you to evaluate and communicate your expectations for the “real pace” at which people can be expected to learn in your organization. You’ll have more success when people feel good about their contributions and know you’re supporting their personal development.