How to teach employees skills they don’t know they lack

By: Ulrick Juul Christensen September 29, 2017


After spending billions of dollars a year on corporate learning, U.S. companies probably 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, having gone through these exercises. But according to data from industries including academia, health care, technology, manufacturing, retail, sports, and business services, people are actually “unconsciously incompetent” in a typical 20% to 40% of areas critical to their performance.  One global technology company my team works with, for example, discovered that, on average, its sales employees didn’t understand or know about 22% of its product features, even though they believed they did.

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, as the go-to people in their circles, they often pass incorrect or incomplete information and skills on to others via to peer-to-peer learning and training. This can lead to significant mistakes, dissatisfied customers and even damaged corporate reputations.

But how does a company, manager or individual employee correct a competency gap about which no one is aware?  As a physician who studies brain function, biological variation  and how people learn, I have some suggestions. The first step is to get “unconscious incompetence” on the learning agenda.

Corporate training programs need to be redesigned to better engage learners and empower them to admit what they don’t know. Too many online training modules miss the mark here because they rely on static content, which most people try to click through as quickly as possible, especially if they think they already know it. These programs also make assumptions about what students understand and where they need reinforcement, offering a “one-size-fits-all” approach that’s 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.

Better learning models are instead adaptive—that is, molded to each person’s needs by probing what they know and don’t know, then offering tailored content as the learner performs well or struggles. When e-learning is individualized in this way, learners can still speed through material, but only that which they’ve already mastered. And when they reach anything that challenges them, they get more support.  Education technology companies and publishers are working hard to build these kinds of systems, as are industry groups, particularly in the healthcare arena. The American Medical Association recently announced a partnership initiative to encourage innovation and flexibility in continuing education, using blended or new approaches. And our work with the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM Group) to create courses that allow physicians to maintain certification and keep up to date in a constantly evolving field is similar.

When being tested, learners should also be pushed to rate the confidence of their answers.   Consider, for example, a trainee who scores 40 out of 50 on a proficiency test. Her trainer should make sure she focuses not just on the 10 misses, but also any correct answers that she can admit were lucky guesses. I’ve actually started to use this approach when helping my two daughters practice their spelling words. With every answer, they have to put three fingers up if they are sure, two fingers up if they’re only partly sure, and a thumbs-down if they’re just giving it a shot. Now, they’re much more conscious about when they’re guessing, and more apt to review all the words on which they felt at all unsure. When corporate learning programs prompt employees to admit to that they’re guessing in the same way, they, too, begin to see the previously hidden gaps in their skills and knowledge.

Another strategy is to promote a culture of continuous improvement.  A great example comes from the aviation industry. Pilots are trained in the latest aircraft and procedures using simulators, which test their skills and abilities, and uncover unconscious incompetence. In addition, airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) use information from “near-miss” data (incidents or errors that nearly cause an accident) to inform training. The result is “predictive safety” that relies heavily on the reporting of these mistakes. The objective is not to punish (in fact, a lack of near-miss data is seen as questionable), but to improve safety and performance.  More companies should keep formal or informal records of—and openly discuss—errors, whether in production, 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.

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 corporate learning programs and by promoting a culture of continues 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: Employees know what they don’t know and their employers can do something about it.

7 skills your child needs to survive the changing world of work

By: Charlotte Edmond September 04, 2017


Education may be the passport to the future, but for all the good teaching out there, it would seem that schools are failing to impart some of the most important life skills, according to one educational expert. Dr. Tony Wagner, co-director of Harvard’s Change Leadership Group, argues that today’s school children are facing a “global achievement gap”, which is the gap between what even the best schools are teaching and the skills young people need to learn. This has been exacerbated by two colliding trends: firstly, the global shift from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy, and secondly, the way in which today’s school children – brought up with the internet – are motivated to learn. In his book The Global Achievement Gap, Wagner identifies seven core competencies every child needs in order to survive in the coming world of work.

  1. Critical thinking and problem-solving

Companies need to be able to continuously improve products, processes and services in order to compete. And to do this they need workers to have critical thinking skills and to be able to ask the right questions to get to the bottom of a problem.

  1. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence

Given the interconnected nature of the business world, leadership skills and the ability to influence and work together as a team has become increasingly important. And the key to becoming an effective leader? It’s twofold, says Wagner, involving “creative problem-solving and a clear ethical framework”.

  1. Agility and adaptability

The ability to adapt and pick up new skills quickly is vital for success: workers must be able to use a range of tools to solve a problem. This is also known as “learnability”, a sought-after skills among job candidates.

  1. Initiative and entrepreneurialism

There is no harm in trying: often people and businesses suffer from a tendency to be risk-averse. It is better to try 10 things and succeed in eight than it is to try five and succeed in all of them.

  1. Effective oral and written communication

Recruits’ fuzzy thinking and inability to articulate their thoughts were common complaints that Wagner came across from business leaders when researching his book. This isn’t so much about young people’s ability to use grammar and punctuation correctly, or to spell, but how to communicate clearly verbally, in writing or while presenting. “If you have great ideas but you can’t communicate them, then you’re lost,” Wagner says.

  1. Online business brokers

This is an option for those who simply don’t have time to search for available opportunities or feel more comfortable having an experienced professional handle the negotiations. They know what to look for, and have the knowledge to quickly determine whether or not any claims made by the owner are in fact genuine. Think of an online business broker like a real estate agent — they make the purchase process easier on you. Not only that, but they are in your corner if something goes wrong or you have questions.

Just like a real estate transaction, a broker is only paid when the sale is completed. It’s in their best interest to find you the best possible online business opportunity and handle the entire acquisition process from beginning to end.

  1. Accessing and analysing information

Many employees have to deal with an immense amount of information on a daily basis: the ability to sift through it and pull out what is relevant is a challenge. Particularly given how rapidly the information can change.

  1. Curiosity and imagination

Curiosity and imagination are what drive innovation and are key to problem solving. “We’re all born curious, creative and imaginative,” says Wagner. “The average four-year-old asks a hundred questions a day. But by the time that child is 10, he or she is much more likely to be concerned with getting the right answers for school than with asking good questions.

“What we as teachers and parents need do to keep alive the curiosity and imagination that, to a greater or lesser extent, is innate in every child.”

4 soft skills you need to work on, and why (Forbes)

By: David Sturt & Todd Nordstrom June 23, 2016


Would you rather have a co-worker or manager who’s a leader in your field, a true expert with great amounts of knowledge and experience—but isn’t much of a people person, and doesn’t get along with the team very well? Or would you rather work side by side with an inexperienced colleague or leader who’s collaborative, curious, friendly, and pleasant? For most people, the answer is a no-brainer: “Give me someone I can work with! The knowledge and skills will come.”

The good news is, if you think you fall into the first category (lots of smarts and experience, but a lack of people skills), you can turn that around. We meet these people all the time. And, it’s often difficult for them to ask for help regarding their “softer skills.” Nevertheless, we’ve found four soft skills you need to make people feel at ease and help them trust you at work—and, by the way, you’ll be making more friends, boosting your productivity, and innovating in no time.


“Listen first, talk later.” “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” “You learn when you listen.” If you’ve heard these—or any other of the myriad of quotes—about listening, you may grasp the importance of this skill. But, if you’re the type of person who finds themselves anxiously planning what you’ll say while others speak, you definitely should understand how important it is to just stop and listen. When a co-worker is communicating with you, give them your full attention. Put your phone down. Make eye contact. Respond only after you’ve heard everything they want to say. When you start making listening a priority, you may just see a lot of previous problems disappear—because listening carefully develops your empathy and understanding in any situation.

Nonverbal Communication

We’ve written before about the importance of being a good communicator. As a leader, your communication style sets the tone for the team. It’s important to be clear, concise, and respectful when you speak or write emails, but your nonverbal cues are another crucial part of good communication. Facial expressions, posture, gestures, and eye contact all count—and they say a lot. Make sure to be positive, polite, and respectful in your face-to-face interactions at work. Because when your body language conflicts with your words, people will believe your nonverbal cues, says Darlene Price, author of Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results. So keep the eye rolling and crossed arms to a minimum, lest you come across as disinterested and rude.

Dealing With Change

You know the only constant is change—so why is it so hard to manage when something suddenly shifts at work? Whether it’s a team member leaving or arriving, a change in direction, or even a new office space, change can be tricky to navigate. Our top tips? Keep your head. Ask questions so you understand the situation. Enlist help from friends and colleagues when you feel overwhelmed. And be patient, because adjusting to a new situation will probably take a little time. If you’re a leader who needs to navigate change with the team, check out the do’s and don’ts of leading through change the next time you’re stuck in a transition.

Saying Thank You

Yes, you’ve heard this before. Saying thank you really matters. When you reach out to a team member, a colleague, or even your boss (they deserve a thank you, too!) to appreciate their effort or big win, you’re projecting more than just professionalism. You’re also communicating kindness and team spirit—and boosting co-workers’ motivation to innovate and make a difference. The team grows stronger, people are happier and more satisfied with their jobs, and the whole company benefits. It’s a win-win-win. So if you don’t say thank you nearly enough—and most people don’t, research shows—use these best practices to work more appreciation into your work life.

Hard skills might be what get you the job—but soft skills are what drive friendship, success and happiness at work. So brush up on these simple but crucial people skills to boost your professional success. And don’t be surprised if they help your life outside work either!

Millennials want jobs that are meaningful to society | SmartPlanet

Millennials are more socially conscious and are looking for jobs that have a positive impact on the world.

GIBS Information Centre / GIBSIC‘s insight:

compassion –  ” . . . The recession-era 12th grade students surveyed between 2008 and 2010 showed an increase in concern for others and had more of an interest in social issues compared with pre-recession 12th graders surveyed between 2004 and 2006. One example is that students surveyed during the recession were increasingly looking for a job that is “worthwhile to society,” as this graph shows:

The study also found that recession-era youth were more likely to turn down the heat in their home to save energy (63 percent) compared with pre-recession youth (55 percent); more likely to think about social problems (30 percent versus 26 percent); and more likely to use a bicycle or public transit to get to work (36 percent versus 28 percent).

“This is the silver lining of the Great Recession,” said Patricia Greenfield, professor of psychology at UCLA and senior author of the study, in a statement. “These findings are consistent with my theory that fewer economic resources lead to more concern for others and the community. It is a change very much needed by our society.”

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Global assignments to rise as organisations try to plug skills gaps – PwC report

Over two thirds of graduates want an overseas assignment during their career, but only 11% are willing to work in India and only 2% in…

GIBS Information Centre / GIBSIC‘s insight:

War for Talent–  “PwC’s ‘Talent Mobility: 2020 and beyond’ report, based on data from over 900 global companies, reveals that companies will need to offer new forms of global mobility to respond to skills shortages, changing business needs and employee preferences.  –  According to the research, only 1% of people are now doing traditional assignments which involve three years in a different country and then returning home. The number of mobile workers, including long-distance commuters (who spend a week or two at a time in another country), has increased and now account for around 8% of the working population. The research reveals that the average length of a posting has now dropped to 18 months and the number of females taking on global assignments is predicted to increase. Women are projected to make up over a quarter of all assignees by 2020.   –   PwC’s analysis reveals that companies need to increase the number of globally mobile employees to deal with talent constraints. PwC research with over 1,400 HR directors globally reveals that 15% of organisations were unable to achieve growth forecasts in overseas markets due to talent constraints. This has led to nearly two thirds (64%) changing their approach to global mobility.”

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