There is a well known model that suggests that learning – or becoming competent – is a question of passing through four distinct phases. Let’s attempt to see how this applies in a typical work situation.
Meet Ed. Ed is a young man who works at a conference centre. Until very recently Ed’s job has been largely manual; putting the chairs in place, rearranging tables, setting up the IT equipment and sorting out flipcharts. One Friday afternoon Ed’s boss informs him that from the following Monday morning she would also like Ed to run through the domestic arrangements with groups of delegates once they have been escorted from the coffee area to the conference room.
That Friday evening Ed becomes a bit worried; he starts to fret about Monday. He has listened to his colleagues make the announcements hundreds of times, but he has never addressed a group before. He thinks it might be very difficult, but doesn’t really know why he thinks that.
On Monday morning Ed takes a deep breath and begins his address. Unfortunately he forgets to mention the fire alarm test and tells the group that they will have lunch in the restaurant when in fact they are going to have a buffet in the conference room. He is so nervous that his mouth becomes dry and this makes him even more uncertain in his speech. However he notices many of the people in the room smiling warmly at him and some even chuckle when he makes a couple of witty remarks
Over the next couple of week’s it gets easier, Ed has written the points he must cover on a prompt card and finds the whole notion of addressing a group less threatening. He takes a few deep breaths and has a quiet ‘chat with himself’ before entering the room and this all seems to help.
Some weeks later Ed barely thinks about announcing the domestic arrangements. He has other things to worry about and when the time comes, he pops into the conference room reels off the announcements and quickly moves on to other things. To the outsider Ed looks the picture of confidence, but he does have a tendency to forget bits of information and can look a bit distracted at times.
Coaching Conscious Competence
We can similarly apply this cycle to most tasks and activities at work. The main lesson for coaching managers is to recognize that learning can only take place in the conscious – or dare I say, aware – phases of the cycle. Thus coaching questions move people from Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence but also from Unconscious Competence back to Conscious Competence to address any bad habits.
We normally let the cycle run its course, but coaching can dramatically accelerate the speed of our journey around it. We often think that we only go round the cycle once, but what would happen if we chose to repeat the cycle time and time again?