Change Management

4 Stages of Competence – Change

In our last blog on the 4 stages of Competency, Ruth explained the viewpoint of the learner at each stage and the actions the trainer takes to enable the learner to move from one stage to the next as comfortably and efficiently as possible, with the ultimate goal of mastery as the picture suggests.

Competency comes in many forms – not only in the applications that we use and how we use them with as much efficiently as possible, but also in understanding ways of working, business implications and roles and responsibilities of people affected by those changing business processes.

In this blog, I look at the 4 stages of competency from a management of change perspective.  Similarly, there will be a description but the viewpoint will be that of a Change Agent and the activities and actions will be that of a Change Manager.

Stage 1 – Unconscious Incompetency

As IT Projects commence, many of them directly affect the business.  However, at this stage people may hear of them, but know little or nothing about them.  It’s something that may be coming, but at this point, there is nothing to worry about. Ignorance indeed is bliss.

Change Agent

‘Oh well, when I need to become involved and I know what it’s all about I’ll worry about it then’ is something we often hear.  If the organisation has a structured Change Network, comprised of Change Agents, also known as Super Users or Key Users, they will become involved more quickly, at least they should be.  Change Networks normally need to take responsibility and ownership of anything coming their way that will affect their teams.  IT Projects put pressure on Change Agents who also have ‘real jobs’ so when new projects are identified, they will have additional responsibilities around IT Project involvement, the related communications and training which will simply put more pressure on them.  If they have been involved in previous IT projects, they will know only too well that often IT do not engage with business sufficiently enough from the start and therefore there is an urgency to  their immediate and detailed involvement into the next stage.

Change Manager

As a Change Manager, you will be working closely with the Change Network.  Even if a formalised network does not exist, it will be your responsibility to form one so that you can start engaging with the different business areas they represent.  Outlining a plan of action at the outset with timelines will give them confidence that in working together you will be supporting them through this path of change through to implementation.  This in itself reduces the stress that people often feel, especially moving onto the next stage.

Stage 2 – Conscious Incompetence

This is the stage when the Change Network starts to be actively involved in project meetings, the impact and changes in business processes and possible changes to roles and responsibilities and ways of working.

Change Agent

Change Agents are often identified because of their knowledge of ways of working, business processes and have experience in the relevant area of expertise and the organisation.  They know how to resolve issues and they know who to contact to get help.  They are known to be Subject Matter Experts and a real asset to organisational performance.

IT projects disrupt their lives.  New processes, changing ways of working and additional responsibilities in people’s roles put them under pressure because they are the representatives.  Therefore, not only do they have to raise issues when the IT solution is being presented to them, they have to ensure that they agree that business processes will continue to work.  It is generally underestimated how much pressure Change Agents are put under.  If it goes wrong, they will take some responsibility although ultimately ownership lies with business process owners.

Change Manager

It is important that the Change Manager works with the Change Agents to understand any concerns raised by Change Agents. Activities during this stage could include the following:

  • Business Process mapping can take the form of workshops.
  • Demonstrations of the intended solution. This often provides comfort that business processes will indeed work – ‘it’s just a different tool after all, isn’t it’?
  • Meetings to address Roles and Responsibilities – if the changes in roles and responsibilities are significant, then meetings with management and HR to address these should be arranged.
  • Communication – it is important that an appropriate communication plan is developed using different communication channels to ensure the messages get through to every stakeholder group.
  • The training approach – each organisation has an adopted approach to training and training materials. This needs to be discussed and approved by management.

Any salient points, areas of concerns or risks and issues should be documented and followed up on through to resolution. In doing so, the network realises that you are working with them.  It is at this stage that Change Agents start to realise how much is changing and how much there is to do to educate their teams.  The amount of work required of them at this stage can be daunting.

Lastly, before we move on to the next stage, it is similarly important that the Change Manager acts as a filter and challenges the business where demands are perhaps unfounded.

Stage 3 – Conscious Competence

At this stage, there is a realisation that things will change, that those changes may be for the better and that there are benefits to be had. Teams are aware of the impacts on them and are aware that training will be provided to give them the detail.  Detailed training materials are being developed to support end users.

Change Agent

It is at this stage that Change Agents undergo TTT (Train the Trainer) so that they are able to train their end users.  In my experience inadequate time is given to Change Agents to train them up sufficiently for them to train others.  System Integrators are often responsible for TTT but rarely come up to the mark to prepare Change Agents to deliver knowledge to their end users in an informed way.  If anyone is expected to train others they should already be at Stage 4 level of knowledge – unconsciously competent – but sadly this is rarely the case.  Inadequate budget is allocated to this activity and insufficient time is given in the project plan to support the Change Agents.

Change Manager

It is the responsibility of the Change Manager to ensure all the stakeholder groups are aware of what is changing and when their training will take place.  The main impacts on each stakeholder group should by now be understood and any concerns raised within the project should be documented.  In addition, a training schedule should by now have been developed and ratified by the Change Network that it is doable and doesn’t impact business as usual activities, and subsequently delivered.  It is normal that at this stage there is a lot of activity within the business in final preparations prior to Go-Live.

Stage 4 – Unconscious Competence

This stage of any project normally takes place post Go-Live.  The business is starting to adopt new ways of working, changes to roles and responsibilities and processes.  There are usually some issues at this stage, which is normal, and which are ordinarily overcome through post go-live support.

Change Agent

This is a busy time for Change Agents – dealing with their end users when queries are raised about the new application and the new ways of working.  They will become the single point of contact if there are issues to be resolved, who often take ownership of these issues through to resolution via the project support team.  Some users may still need to be trained or retrained.  This all takes time and therefore should be anticipated and not underestimated.

Change Manager

The Change Manager supports the Change Agents during this important stage of the project.  It is important that knowledge and lessons learnt are shared amongst the team through regular collaboration meetings.   All queries are tracked through to resolution.  Training materials are updated where required.  End Users are informed of any additional information.


The 4 stages of Competency are very much present in many areas of our personal and working lives due to changes that we implement ourselves or those we are subjected to through projects. The greater the change the more obvious the 4 stages of competence are, which needs to be well managed by both Training and Change Managers.

Our Change and Training courses cover this topic in more detail.  If you wish to know more about setting up Change Networks, please do not hesitate to contact us.

25 November 2019

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