Facing professional change?

Navigate your career path during natural phases of change.
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Navigating Career Phases

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High performers are accustomed to evolving to meet the demands of environmental changes. Internal and external factors can create the need to immediately pivot an approach or set direction. We are able to better navigate changes that occur over the course of our career when we understand our current position and reach out for support to get us to the next phase.


The Elephant and the Rider analogy is often used to describe the relationship between our emotional side and our rational side. To summarize, the Rider (our rational side) atop an elephant (our emotional side) will struggle to control the elephant and must understand that to get on the right path, the Rider must motivate and encourage the Elephant to take the new path. In other words, people are driven and motivated by emotional forces more so than their rational mind (Heath & Heath, 2010). Meaningful relationships with colleagues, mentors, and leaders can help us tap into our rational side during times of change or challenge. As we navigate some of the unknown phases of our career, those we count on for guidance are best suited to ground us and support rational decision-making when the emotional side begins to dominate.

understanding phases of change  

This model demonstrates the various phases of individual change that occur throughout a person’s career. You may find yourself in one of these phases now. To manage change and movement through phases, it is important to understand each phase, identify which you are currently experiencing, and how to move forward.

Phases of skill development

phases of individual change

Phase 1: Unconsciously Unskilled

This is when you are new to a role or a company and “we don’t know what we don’t know because it is too new” (Pilcher & Studer, 2015). This is when you are living in happy oblivion, unaware of the new skills needed to succeed in your new role. Your competency level builds as you learn how to use your skills within a new environment. Lean on your leader for guidance, this is the time to start a meaningful relationship that will see you through the next phase of change.

Phase 2: Consciously Unskilled  

In this phase, you start to become aware of gaps in your knowledge or skills. This phase is a crucial time to build a mentor relationship and enroll in skill-building opportunities. If you have not been assigned a mentor, ask for one. Checking in with leaders during this phase helps navigate the bumps on the road. A one-on-one conversation will help reduce anxiety that comes with this level of self-awareness.  

Phase 3: Consciously Skilled

Once you have identified the skills needed to perform at your best, you begin to build processes around your responsibilities (i.e. checklists, calendar organization). You likely still feel a certain level of insecurity or anxiety during this period of change, but are better equipped to march forward. It is crucial to take advantage of continuous mentoring and development opportunities. At this stage, the skills are being developed for an employee to become a high performer.

Phase 4: Unconsciously Skilled

Finally, your projects, skills, and other responsibilities will come naturally. Getting to this phase can take time. You will have gotten into the groove of your responsibilities and repetition of skills have made them second nature. This is the time to seek continuous improvement. Continue to consult with mentors and learn skills that may emerge as your opportunities unfold.

Reflect on your career

What phase of change are you experiencing? Who might you connect with to get guidance and feedback?

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