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Unconscious Incompetence - the growing menace

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Organizations most likely assume that their employees have the knowledge and skills they need to carry out their jobs. The employees themselves probably think they’re prepared, too.
But according to data from industries including Academia, Healthcare, Technology, Manufacturing, Retail and business services, people are actually “Unconsciously Incompetent” in the areas critical to their performance.
Unconscious Incompetence can be found at every function, discipline, and level in organizations. In fact, it’s often more prominent among experienced staff, which is particularly problematic because they often pass incorrect or incomplete information and skills on to others and this can lead to significant mistakes, dissatisfied customers, and even damaged corporate reputations.

Published in: Leadership & Management
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Unconscious Incompetence - the growing menace

  1. 1. Unconscious Incompetence: Organizations most likely assume that their employees have the knowledge and skills they need to carry out their jobs. The employees themselves probably think they’re prepared, too. But according to data from industries including Academia, Healthcare, Technology, Manufacturing, Retail and business services, people are actually “Unconsciously Incompetent” in the areas critical to their performance. Unconscious Incompetence can be found at every function, discipline, and level in organizations. In fact, it’s often more prominent among experienced staff, which is particularly problematic because they often pass incorrect or incomplete information and skills on to others and this can lead to significant mistakes, dissatisfied customers, and even damaged corporate reputations. So all said done the big question is how to correct individual employee competency gap about which he/she is not aware?. The first step is to get “unconscious incompetence” on the learning agenda. Training programs need to be redesigned to better engage learners and empower them to admit what they don’t know. A one-size-fits-all approach is highly ineffective since every learner is different, with variations in knowledge, experiences, background and the ability to take in new information, even from moment to moment. When being tested, learners should also be pushed to rate the confidence of their answers. The trainer should make sure to focus not just on the question missed, but also any correct answers to admit that
  2. 2. were guesses. When Training cum learning programs prompt employees to admit to that they’re guessing they, too, begin to see the previously hidden gaps in their skills and knowledge. Another strategy is to promote a culture of continuous improvement. Organizations should keep formal or informal records of—and openly discuss—errors, whether in customer service, or other areas because they can yield invaluable insights about employees’ knowledge gaps and make everyone more aware of what they don’t know. The goal is to make people more comfortable about acknowledging previous mistakes and any doubts they may have going forward about trying to do their job. Emphasize that saying “I don’t know” is always better than pretending to know something. Concluding Thought: Unconscious incompetence is a pervasive and escalating problem, especially in fast-paced industries where knowledge and skills need constant updating. Organizations can only address it with more adaptive, individualized learning programs and by promoting a culture of continued improvement. With a mindful approach that allows learners to probe their knowledge, uncover what they don’t know, and admit when they are unclear, incompetence is uncovered and, thus, no longer unconscious. Source: HBR – How to teach employees skills they don’t know they lack by Ulrik Juul Christensen

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