• Lindsay

Unskilled and Unaware: Why feedback fails

Most of us are not experts in all fields or have mastery of every skill. This leaves us all vulnerable, at some point, to being “unskilled and unaware”. Since being “unaware” is a primary obstacle faced by lower-skilled individuals, organizations often react with, “well, we need to make them aware!” – usually, this awareness is gained through feedback.


But, what, exactly, do lower skilled individuals need to become aware of?

  • The fact that they are unskilled?

  • Their skill level relative to others?

  • Their skill level relative to an ideal?

  • The fact that their self-perception is off?

  • What good really looks like?

  • How to get better?

The answer is “all of the above”, and this is where feedback tends to fall down.


The challenge with being unskilled and unaware is that both skill and awareness must be addressed – together:


Providing lower skilled individuals with more knowledge will not close the gap.

  • If lower skilled individuals do not understand how this new knowledge is meant to change their behaviour, or how the training differs from what they’re already doing, they are at risk of maintaining the overly optimistic self-view of their performance.

Pointing out the skill gaps of lower skilled individuals, whether in contrast to their peers or an ideal, does not give them a way forward.

  • In fact, simply bringing attention to the misalignment will often invite resistance, since the lack of knowledge/skill that has made them “unskilled and unaware” will also prevent them from recognizing the ways their self-views differ from others. Consequently, the feedback might seem negative, and maybe even threatening, rather than helpful.

While organizations remain perpetually optimistic about the magic of regular and reliable feedback, the feedback systems most companies have in place tend not to foster regular, deep, quality-focused reflection and discussion.

Consequently, the double burden is insufficiently addressed, allowing lower skilled individuals to continue without adequate skill, or understanding of their performance gaps.


To face down the double burden, feedback should be a two-way dialogue focused on:

  • Building self-monitoring skills to increase self-awareness

  • Defining, using practical, observable details, “what good looks like”

  • Comparing actual to desired skill level, detailing and contrasting specific examples and behaviours

  • Calibrating the self-evaluation of lower skilled individuals, focusing on the quality and outcomes of their behaviours

Feedback is one very important component of curing the double burden of being “unskilled and unaware”. And it’s not the only one. Being unskilled and unaware is not incurable!


In our final post of this three-part series, we will discuss the practical steps you can take to enable reliable self-assessment, and generate useable, trustworthy, and accurate insights into your organization’s results.



**This post is part of a 3-part series discussing the utility, limitations, and potential of self-assessment as a valid tool for keeping a pulse on performance.