Is Unconscious Competence Holding You Back In The Workplace?
Every workplace has cultural norms that aren’t written in the employee handbook, what are yours and how are they affecting your workplace culture?
All day long our brain shifts back and forth from being driven by conscious thoughts to navigating unconsciously. Have you ever “woken up” somewhere that you drive to regularly? Your home, your work, the grocery store? And then you realized that you don’t remember consciously paying attention to the trip. You spent the drive rehashing an argument, or preparing for an upcoming conversation, planning a weekend getaway or simply replaying in your mind something you watched last night. Even though you must have stayed in your lane, stopped for traffic lights, and arrived safely at your destination you don’t consciously recall driving.
Some cultural norms can also be unconscious. I live in a small, mountain town and here, it’s the norm that when you drive to the hiking trailheads within the National Forest, you wave at every driver you encounter on the dirt, mountain roads. It’s not constant traffic, but you are rarely alone. There are no Forest Service signs informing of this expectation, it was not a question on your driver’s test and it was not a footnote when you signed a lease in town, but it is absolutely expected and “everyone” knows it. This is an example of an unconscious cultural norm within our community.
Unconscious norms also happen in workplaces all the time. There are significant “learned” cultural norms that are unconscious among the team and are never found written up in a handbook or manual for employment but they are important to know if you want to be a part of the team. It could be whether or not you can openly admit about taking a “mental health” day, or if can you leave 10 minutes before quitting time. It could be how formal your meeting scheduling norms are or whether or not employees eat at their desks. Nowhere is it written how many minutes at the beginning of a meeting are acceptable to use for hearing about weekend adventures, kid drama, or what rumors are running around the office, but somehow a productive team learns the norms and knows how much is too much.
These unconscious landmarks along our workplace culture maps can have a significant impact on the positivity, productivity and profitability of your team. Uncovering the positive traits to make them conscious and specifically eradicating the negative traits, takes both focus and a conscious effort to change your workplace culture. Knowing what habits, values, and expectations to include in onboarding processes can have a huge impact on bringing new employees up to speed faster, helping them assimilate and feel comfortable faster, and engage them in creating profits faster. Not to mention how bad it can feel when you get it wrong. No one wants to set up their new hire for failure, but you may be if you don’t take the time to capture some of these cultural norms in your workplace culture.