How to Mitigate Onboarding Risks with the 4 Stages of Competence

How to Mitigate Onboarding Risks with the 4 Stages of Competence

How to Mitigate Onboarding Risks with the 4 Stages of Competence

Would you be surprised to hear that up to 20% of employee turnover happens within the first 45 days? It’s an eye-opening statistic. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

How to Mitigate Onboarding Risks with the 4 Stages of Competence

One way to mitigate onboarding risks is to gain some insight into how your new hires learn. After all, if your employees are struggling to get up to speed, there’s a good chance you’ll see this show up in:

  • Lack of confidence both in their work and communicating with colleagues
  • Lack of clarity around the company’s products, services, and strategy
  • Disengagement
  • Unproductivity

That’s why it’s critical you understand the 4 stages of competence (developed by Noel Burch) that your employees must work through to learn your systems and processes adequately. They are:

Stage 1: Unconscious competence “I don’t know what I don’t know”

Expect your new hires to be oblivious to their incompetence at the outset and avoid placing undue pressure on them. Start with a foundation of assuming they are unfamiliar with everything so that the person training them doesn’t miss any vital steps.

Stage 2: Unconsciously competent “I know what I don’t know”

Once the employee has been exposed to all your business systems, it will become more apparent to them where they lack competence. You can expect this awareness to make them uncomfortable, so it’s helpful to offer them the opportunities they need for learning and have their trainer or manager work on an action plan with them, so they don’t feel they are floundering alone.

Stage 3: Consciously competent “I grow & know, and it starts to know”

In this stage, your new hire should be equipped and dedicated enough to practice what they have learned so far. Your systems might not be second-nature to them yet, but they have reached a level of competence to do the job unassisted.

Stage 4: Unconsciously competent “I simply go because of what I know”

Like those around them, everything has “clicked” for your new hire, and they can now use your systems with ease. They no longer need to think through every step in the process. They simply do.

When you realise that getting up to speed for new employees really can’t happen overnight, you’ll be better able to monitor their progress, provide the right type of assistance at the right time and most of all – be a better manager.


Greg Weiss is Australia’s Leading Career Coach. He is the author of “So You Got The Job! WTF Is Next?”. The book prescribes a proven, practical 7-step framework for new employees so they succeed, rather than fail their probation periods and beyond. Find out more about the book at

He is the Founder and Director of Onboff an online training and coaching platform that helps HR specialists, coaches and recruiters to deliver exceptional onboarding and offboarding experiences for employees.

He also hosts The Keep: The Employee Experience podcast and runs CareerSupport365.

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