If you ask someone at Alcoholics Anonymous how they are doing, they say, “I’m in recovery;” meaning they know they are not perfect, but they are working on it. That desire to improve is what moves us through life: the potential of being better.
The four stages of the Mastery Learning Sequence outlined below provide the opportunity to assess your performance in order to keep up with the demands of the job. It is driven by questions such as, “Is what I know good enough for now? If it is, then how long is this going to last? What will I need to know in 6, 12, or 24 months in order to continue expanding my knowledge base?”
There is an unspoken resistance to asking questions like these because they tend to unsettle people and make them doubt their worth and value. It is difficult for people to face the realization that no matter how good they are today it may not be good enough tomorrow.
Stage 1. Unconscious Incompetence – The “couldn’t care less stage.” There are parts of your job performance where you are sorely lacking, and you are not taking care of business on a daily basis. There is very little motivation for a person on this level to improve. He is not good at what he does, and he does not want to hear about it.
Stage 2. Conscious Incompetence – The “Whoops! I had no idea” stage. Suddenly you are aware that your lack the knowledge or poor performance is having a deleterious effect on the company. It is time to upgrade your skills. You can see clearly the need to improve. You have a high motivation to learn.
Stage 3. Conscious Competence – The “Wow, look what I can do” stage. You overcome the problem by learning whatever it was you needed to know. Now everything is running smoothly and you have no motivation to take on anything new. Life is good. Your performance is meeting expectations. Things are just the way you want them.
Stage 4. Unconscious Competence – The “everything’s fine” stage. You are good at what you do and can perform you job almost automatically. Your performance ratings are high. The problem is that you are taking care of existing problems but not scanning for new ones on the horizon. Even though you could be getting sloppy, you satisfied with the status quo and are not motivated to change.
What makes Stage 4 so dangerous for the corporation is that no one in authority seems to be concerned about poor performance—yours or theirs. This stage is the worse one to be in because there is no motivation to change what seems to be working. Sadly, unless something wakes you up, the conscious incompetence stage lies just ahead.