The theory of four levels of competency is well known in knowledge-transfer environments but it’s also worth considering in business change environments. The theory describes increasing levels of competency in any given particular task or knowledge area. It can be summarised for business change environments as:
Unconscious incompetence – when you don’t know that you don’t know about something.
Conscious incompetence – when you know that you don’t know about something but don’t know what to do about it.
Conscious competence – when you know what needs to be done but need a step-by-step guide to do it.
Unconscious competence – when you know what needs to be done and can do it without guidance but also understand the implications and impacts for your other work areas.
If you are giving a presentation or writing a document, it makes sense to consider the target audience in terms of these competencies and what outcomes you need. For example, for a lecture to a small, skilled group, you may judge that most of the audience is at Level 3 at the start of your lecture and you want an outcome that most of the audience is at Level 4.
Now consider a different scenario where you are giving a presentation to a large group whom you judge to be at Level 1. This scenario may occur, for example, at the beginning of a large corporate change programme. Your objective may be to move the audience from Level 1 to Level 3 or 4. In this scenario, it may be sensible to have multiple presentations to the audience, as coordinated by a communications plan.
There are other differences in the two scenarios. In the first, one presentation may be sufficient and feedback is limited to questions from the audience. In the second, you would consider using several different communications media to get your message across. You would also plan to collect detailed feedback to ensure that your message is being understood correctly