Turning Corners – The 4 Stages of Talent Development

Talent Development

Talent development is one topic which seems to be in a perpetual state of discussion. It's a conversation that really encourages people to lean in. More and more commonly talent development is the reason organisations will bring us in and every organisation I have worked with, in one way or another, recognises the need to identify and invest into key talent. Companies are developing intricate programs and pipelines, many of which are excellent, all with the aim to capture, grow and keep their key talent.

As I see it, there are four stages to talent development, each with their own characteristics and each requiring different input and opportunity to turn the corner and move on to the next. Let me paint you a picture.

Unconcious Incompetence
Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence

Characteristics: enthusiasm, self-belief, lack of understanding

Required input: vision casting

Required opportunity: invitation to join

This first stage of talent development can often be the richest place to go looking for untapped potential. Who in your business is enthusiastically looking to be involved…even though they have little idea what being involved really means? Who is scratching for an invitation, a seat at the table, an opportunity to get stuck in. In my experience these are the people who produce fantastic and unexpected results, and they offer the most fertile ground into which to sow the seeds of vision. Watch their excitement levels as you cast vision for your business or project and why it exists. How quickly do they buy in? How eager are they to get started? To capture these people, a simple invitation will do the trick.

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence

Characteristics: reality check, reassessment, problem solving

Required input: coaching or mentoring

Required opportunity: regular insight and feedback


Conscious Incompetence

Stage two sees your potentially talented individuals come face-to-face with the reality that they are probably not as competent as they thought they might be…yet! We all know this feeling, it usually follows some sort of failure or encounter with a problem we’re not sure how to solve. The key to turning the next corner will be either coaching or mentoring. I see coaching as helping people solve problems their way and mentoring as helping people solve problems your way. Both have a place, and both will help turn the corner because both can offer the individual a source of insight and feedback needed for progress.

Conscious Competence
Stage 3: Conscious Competence

Characteristics: role satisfaction, well-informed, capable

Required input: consensus in decision making

Required opportunity: access to consultation

Individuals arrive at stage three when they can see their work as having a meaningful impact on the vision you cast in stage one. Problems are solved, failure decreases, capability increases, and talented individuals become aware that they really can do the work that they have been set, to a standard that both they and those around them can celebrate. Now, instead of seeking guidance and instruction they require a sounding board to test ideas and access to consultation which can test, affirm and offer consensus in decision making. As the talent of the individual develops, hopefully you will notice that their relationships with their coach, mentor or supervisor will begin to resemble that of a peer, freeing them to turn another corner.

Stage 4: Unconscious Competence

Characteristics: invested, leading the charge, dependable

Required input: delegation of decision making

Required opportunity: responsibility and authority

Unconscious Competence

In this final stage your talented individual no longer holds concern over whether or not they can meet the demands of the role – they have reached a stage of Unconscious Competence. Concern for being able to fulfil their role no longer takes up valuable brain space – history has shown they can. In this stage delegation of decisions becomes our natural input because we trust that they have the capability and the understanding to make good choices. They not only know and understand the vision you cast in stage one, they are personally investing into its success and bringing others along for the ride. But, as we delegate we must be sure to give both the responsibility and the authority needed to succeed. Delegation without responsibility will lack investment, and delegation without authority will lack execution. They are talented people – time to trust them.

Final thought

We have met someone who left an organisation because they felt they had achieved all they could in that space. I include a last corner in red beyond Unconscious Competence because the truth is we should always be encouraging our people to be growing and developing some kind of talent. Having the opportunity to improve themselves and the support structures in place to do so will not only keep your people engaged for longer terms but increase their job satisfaction and encourage them to speak favourable of your organisation as an employer.


Thanks owed to 3DMovements. Their thoughts on leadership development were the foundations of this concept. I captured their ideas and built from there. Check out their work at: 3dmovements.com

1 thought on “Turning Corners – The 4 Stages of Talent Development”

  1. Thanks Jon. That boils LOTS of personnel/management situations down to a manageable matrix. Very helpful for reflection/planning for all concerned.

Comments are closed.