Digital Transformation: Are you unconsciously incompetent?

Updated: Oct 1, 2018

Over the last five years I’ve increasingly seen companies put inexperienced digital and data people in the key transformation roles. Whilst senior leaders acknowledge their level of inexperience in data and digital they tend to also display an openness and curiosity to increase their understanding. However, there is a mid-level often in “Head of” roles who don’t know what they don’t know, it’s not that they aren’t smart of course but it makes them challenging to work with.

What’s even more disturbing is that this lack of competence means that crucial reasons for business transformation programme underperformance are not visible. To explain this, I’ve borrowed Wikipedia’s version of the classic philosophical model of learning, which comprises four stages, as you can see in the illustration below:

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence This is the first phase, where we are yet to learn what it is we don’t know and may not value the skill. This is where sadly, in my experience, many people who are running digital transformation projects are.

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence Once we have become more familiar with whatever we are trying to learn, we start to see the extent of what we don’t know about it and value the skill. In order to move to the next phase, it’s likely that mistakes need to be made. People who are ultimately responsible for digital transformation initiatives are often in this group.

Stage 3: Conscious Competence When we have learned the skill we need, we become conscious of our ability to execute it. We now know what we can do although any execution requires focus.

Stage 4: Unconscious Competence This is when the correct behaviour becomes so automated that we execute it without thinking about it.

Think of all the skills we use when driving a car, often without being conscious of what our hands or feet are doing. The behaviour has become ingrained and unconsciously automatic. Possibly not a great example for me who has written off three cars but let’s focus on most people.

So, what’s happening with transformation programmes? Clients all know that they need to be more customer-centric and that they should move faster in aligning data and internal departments round their customers. They also know that they don’t have the right skills and expertise to do this without help. They then look for partners, like Scratch and other consultancies that you’ve actually heard of, to work together to achieve this. Pretty much any consultancy would look at their data, their marketing technology, their operating models and their organisational design in order to optimise everything for best-in-class customer-centricity.

And this is where it’s challenging being a consultant to someone who is unconsciously incompetent. When the more open and curious C-suite personnel delegate data and digital transformation responsibility to people and teams, blindly trusting that they are upskilling themselves. It is risky to take this for granted.

How unconsciously incompetent is your organisation?

Fortunately, it’s quite easy to check on the level of unconscious incompetence in your company, using this simple checklist.

Ask yourself:

1. Does everyone (particularly in the marketing and IT departments) understand how your customers use technology when researching and buying your products or services?

2. Does your organisation talk about the need to get closer to their customers but can’t see how to overcome the retailer who “owns the relationship”?

3. Do you know what your data strategy is?

4. Does your Head of Digital have solid digital experience? Did you check?

5. Do IT and the marketing department have an open and functional relationship?

6. Can you think of one example where your business improved as a result of a customer-driven insight provided by data?

If you answered no to most of these, or you don’t know the answers to these questions, there’s a chance that key people within your organisation are unconsciously incompetent. You need to start moving your teams to the next learning step. Email me to register for our new series of events.

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