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5 steps to essential skills in staff development

For managers, understanding your team’s strengths and weaknesses is often cited as ‘good leadership’. But it’s not a given that team leads and line managers will know this instinctively.

This is a skill in itself. Leadership steps in the Universal Framework highlight this through: Step 8 – I recognise the strengths and weaknesses of others in my team, and Step 9 – I recognise the strengths and weaknesses of others in my team, and use this to allocate roles accordingly. 

Organisations are increasingly recruiting for skills, so logically speaking, we can assume that those who we have hired on the basis of their skills, will have those skills. But skills aren’t static – they need to be practised and built. Would you be able to confidently state your team’s skill set, by looking at their job descriptions alone?

Another view is that money spent on training and development will give managers insight into what skills their team is developing, or where employees need to develop further. This, however, doesn't always take into account the individual’s skills – the act of completing a training course doesn’t necessarily mean that skills or knowledge are obtained. 

So, here are our tips to integrate essential skills into your staff development. 


1. Talk about essential skills with your team 


Essential skills are highly valued by employees, with 92% placing more value on them than any other skill or knowledge area, as shown in our recent Essential Skills Tracker 2023 research. It’s likely that your team will welcome the opportunity to consider the eight essential skills: Listening, Speaking, Problem Solving, Creativity, Staying Positive, Aiming High, Leadership and Teamwork. Putting these skills in context and using the language of essential skills will raise awareness from the offset. 

2. Align essential skills with your business values


A sure-fire way to get essential skills firmly embedded in your organisational culture is to link them to your company values. Mapping the essential skills that are required to embody those values and the associated behaviours and culture, makes it clear to all employees which skills are in focus, and therefore provides a solid foundation for their development.

For example, at Skills Builder, one of our values is ‘We take every chance to reflect, learn, improve and innovate’, so we apply our staying positive skills as we spot opportunities in challenging situations and create new plans to use these opportunities.

3. Encourage employees to understand their essential skill sets 


Once you’ve set out and communicated the importance of essential skills to individuals and to the organisation, this is where you can really begin to identify your teams’ skill strengths and essential skill sets. 

Employees can use our online self-assessment tool, Skills Builder Benchmark, to identify their own essential skill strengths and areas for development. It’s key to enabling an organisation-wide view of your teams’ skill levels and target professional development accordingly.

Benchmark provides downloadable reports on personalised strengths, areas for development, and suggested next steps, and admin-level access will allow line managers or HR and L&D professionals to collate and measure learner data. 

4. Encourage line managers to use the Framework for skills development conversations


Once employees are aware of their essential skill sets, encourage line managers to consider the Framework as a tool which provides a language to have more fruitful development conversations around skills. Skills Builder Benchmark enhances this dialogue, with detailed skills reports acting as a great foundation for these types of conversations.

The Framework makes progression and measurement clear, so if you’re wanting to enhance the team’s teamwork skills, you could set personalised targets for them – building from Step 6 where an individual has mastered contributing to a group discussion to Step 7 where they develop this by also recognising the value of others' ideas as part of decision making.

Make sure you provide opportunities for your team to build these skills though – discussing them alone, while reflective and useful, might not be enough to grow your team’s skills. You could work together on identifying what those opportunities might be, or connect the skill in question to an upcoming project. 

5. Align upcoming projects or responsibilities with the essential skill step 


Align upcoming projects or responsibilities with the essential skill step so that employees understand that they are building essential skills alongside technical skills and knowledge. Give your team space to reflect and identify roles within projects where they can apply and build on their strengths and improve gaps. If, for example, an individual wants to work on aiming high step 7: setting goals, ordering and prioritising tasks to achieve them – ask them to lead a small project, or schedule a series of work. 

Embedding essential skills has benefits beyond the skills themselves 

Organisations who are using the Skills Builder approach find that using the shared, accessible language in the Universal Framework makes articulating skills goals easier. 

I’ve been able to identify where I need to focus my time on developing skills, and have the ability to articulate what I want to develop.”

– Employee, The Brilliant Club

For managers and talent teams, using a structured approach to essential skills was reflected in a 67% improvement in their team’s performance. We also recently reported that essential skills in the workplace can drive life and job satisfaction, as well as meeting employee expectations for their own development. 

Download our employer brochure for more information on how we work with employers across the UK. Employees can access Skills Builder Benchmark to self-assess their essential skills for free online.