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When an entrepreneur founds a company, they will typically go through the 4 stages of competence:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence –  don’t know what they don’t know
  2. Conscious Incompetence – knows they don’t know and realizes they better find a way to know
  3. Conscious Competence – understands what needs to be done, the process to get it done, and consciously deliberately follows the process
  4. Unconscious Competence – has become so proficient in the process that it is performed by instinct

And then there is my stage 5, the problem stage I call the Unconsciously Losing Competences stage.  This is the stage where a person has become so proficient that they no longer concentrate on performing the process, and because they are not deliberate in their execution, important details start to drop out of their repertoire resulting in sloppy performance and diminishing results.  This is the reason that pilots who log millions of flight hours and doctors after 20 years of training and practice adhere to checklists.  When you’re doing brain surgery or landing tons of steel with 400 human lives at stake, you can’t afford to forget to remove a clamp or to lower the landing gear (not that you should lower your landing gear while performing brain surgery).

When an entrepreneur is in the zone when they are running at peak performance, they recruit better; they close deals, and their employees follow them in lockstep.  But when the little things that got them to that stage begin dropping out of routine performance, things start to unravel.

So what are the signs that you are unconsciously losing your competence?  Well, it’s all about decline:

  1. Your sales close rate is declining
  2. Your job offer acceptance rate is declining
  3. Morale is declining
  4. Employee turnover is increasing
  5. Client retention is decreasing

What steps can you put in place to guard against the unconscious loss of competence?  Write down the most important goals, guiding principles, and procedures of the company, including:

  1. Why do you exist, your purpose, and what does it mean for customers, employees, and partners?
  2. Your unique selling proposition – what makes you different from all other businesses?
  3. Your guiding principles regarding the expectations of and responsibilities to your team.
  4. Exorcise all the BS, blah, blah, blah, meaningless, non-differentiating, jingoistic, spam-filled jargon from your purpose,  goals, principles, and guidelines.

Make this the operational checklist for your business.  Breathe the list, live the list, be the list.  Prominently display it.  Make sure prospective and new employees understand it, and during regular company meetings, make sure you review & recite this as your mantra.  If you’ve created the right list and keep it in your company’s repertoire, you can rest assured that the next time you’re performing brain surgery, you won’t forget to lower your landing gear.