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Listening

The receiving, retaining and processing of information or ideas
This skill is all about being able to effectively receive information - whether it comes from customers, colleagues or stakeholders.

Initially, the skill steps concentrate on being able to listen effectively to others - including remembering short instructions, understanding why others are communication and recording important information.

Individuals then focus on how they demonstrate that they are listening effectively, thinking about body language, open questioning and summarising and rephrasing.

Beyond that, the focus is on being aware of how they might be being influenced by a speaker, through tone and language.

The final steps are about critical listening - comparing perspectives, identifying biases, evaluating ideas and being objective.

Speaking

The oral transmission of information or ideas
This skill is all about how to communicate effectively with others, being mindful of whether they are talking to customers, colleagues or other stakeholders and in different settings.

Initially, this skill focuses on being able to speak clearly - first with well known individuals and small groups and then with those who are not known.

The next stage is about being an effective speaker by making points logically, by thinking about what listeners already know and using appropriate language, tone and gesture.

Beyond that, individuals focus on speaking engagingly through use of facts and examples, visual aids, and their expression and gesture.

Beyond that stage, speakers will be adaptive to the response of their listeners and ready for different scenarios. The final steps focus on speaking influentially - using structure, examples, facts and vision to persuade listeners.

Problem Solving

The ability to find a solution to a situation or challenge
This skill focuses on how to solve problems, recognising that while part of Problem Solving is technical know-how and experience, there are also transferable tools that individuals can develop and use.

The first steps focus on being able to follow instructions to complete tasks, seeking help and extra information if needed. The next stage focuses on being able to explore problems by creating and assessing different potential solutions. This includes more complex problems, without a simple technical solution.

Beyond this, the focus is on exploring complex solutions - thinking about causes and effects, generating options, and evaluating those options. This extends into analysis using logical reasoning and hypotheses.

Finally, individuals implement strategic plans to solve complex problems, assess their success, and draw out learning for the future.

Creativity

The use of imagination and the generation of new ideas
Creativity is the complement to Problem Solving, and is about generating innovations or ideas which can then be honed through the problem-solving process.

The first few steps focus on the individual's confidence in imagining different situations and sharing their ideas.

The focus is then on generating ideas - using a clear brief, making improvements to something that already exists and combining concepts.

Individuals then apply creativity in the context of their work and their wider life. They can build off this to develop ideas using tools like mind mapping, questioning, and considering different perspectives.

The most advanced steps focus on building effective innovation in group settings and by seeking out varied experiences and stimuli. Finally, individuals support others to innovate, by sharing tools, identifying the right tools for the situation and through coaching.

Staying Positive

The ability to use tactics and strategies to overcome setbacks and achieve goals
This skill is all about individuals being equipped to manage their emotions effectively and being able to remain motivated, and ultimately to motivate others, even when facing setbacks.

The early steps focus on identifying emotions - particularly feeling positive or negative. Building off that is the ability to keep trying - and then staying calm, thinking about what went wrong, and trying to cheer up and encourage others.

The focus then turns to identifying new opportunities in difficult situations, sharing those, and adapting or creating plans accordingly. At more advanced steps, individuals identify and manage risks and gains in opportunities.

Finally, individuals support others to stay positive by managing their own response, helping others to see opportunities and creating plans to achieve them.

Aiming High

The ability to set clear, tangible goals and devise a robust route to achieving them
This skill is about being able to plan effectively - both to achieve organisational goals, and also to set their own personal development targets. Initially, this is about knowing when something is too difficult, and having a sense of what doing well looks like for an individual.

The focus is then about working with care and attention, taking pride in success and having a positive approach to new challenges. Building on this, individuals set goals for themselves, informed by an understanding of what is needed, and then be able to order and prioritise tasks, secure resources and involve others effectively.

At the higher steps, the focus is creating plans informed by an individual's skill set, with clear targets, and building on external views. At the most advanced level, individuals develop long-term strategies. These are informed by an assessment of internal and external factors, structured through regular milestones and feedback loops.

Leadership

Supporting, encouraging and developing others to achieve a shared goal
This skill is relevant not only for individuals in positions of management with formal power, but also for individuals working with peers in teams.

At the earliest stages, the focus is on basic empathy - understanding their own feelings, being able to share them, and recognising the feelings of others. The focus is on managing - dividing up tasks, managing time and sharing resources, managing group discussions and dealing with disagreements.

Beyond that, individuals build their awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses, and those of their teams. This allows them to allocate tasks effectively. They then build techniques to mentor, coach and motivate others. At the highest steps, individuals will be able to reflect on their own leadership style and understand its effect on others.

Ultimately, they should be able to build on their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses, and adapt their leadership style to the situation.

Teamwork

Working cooperatively with others towards achieving a shared goal
This skill applies to working within both formal and informal teams, and also with customers, clients or other stakeholders. Initially, this is about individuals fulfilling expectations around being positive, behaving appropriately, being timely and reliable and taking responsibility. This extends to understanding and respecting diversity of others' cultures, beliefs and backgrounds.

The next steps focus on making a contribution to a team through group decision making recognising the value of others' ideas and encourage others to contribute too.Beyond that, individuals improve their teams through managing conflict and building relationships beyond the immediate team. At the top steps, individuals focus on how they influence their team through suggesting improvements and learning lessons from setbacks.

Ultimately, individuals support the team by evaluating others strengths and weaknesses and bringing in external expertise and relationships.

To achieve Step 15, individuals will show that they can develop strategies that include the ability to respond to learning and changes in events. 

In the previous steps, the focus was on how to create strategies based on an internal and external analysis, and then to turn that analysis into a top-level plan to turn inputs into outcomes. While the previous step introduced milestones, this step goes further by looking at how feedback loops can support an effective strategy.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What is meant by strategic flexibility, and why it is valuable
  • What feedback loops are and how they are important

Reflection questions

  • Why is it important to have some flexibility in a strategy?
  • What is a feedback loop?
  • Why are feedback loops important, and can you give some examples of how they might be used?

What you need to know

Strategic flexibility

A strategy is different from a simple plan in a couple of ways. Firstly, it is often over a much longer time frame than a simple plan. Secondly, because it is over a much longer time period, it has to deal with more uncertainty. This means that it often has less detail in than a traditional plan would do, and is more a set of broad approaches and top-level goals.

Most successful strategies are designed with a level of flexibility built into them. This flexibility is important for a few reasons:

  • There will always be a lot of information that is unknown when a strategy is designed. As this information is revealed, it is helpful to be able to adjust the details of the plan in response.
  • Through a strategy, it is likely that hypotheses will come to be proven or disproven, and the strategic plan should adapt to reflect these new insights.
  • Events will happen that are unpredictable – whether that is the development of new technology, the entry of a new competitor in the marketplace, political, social or economic changes, or even a natural disaster.

It is important that the strategy has enough flexibility in it to be able to respond to changes that you don’t even know that you will need yet. 

However, it is not possible to have a completely flexible strategy either. It is important to be able to set a direction so that it is clear what is being aimed for, and so that other individuals can support the strategy too. If a strategy is completely changeable, then it stops being useful.

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Feedback loops: internal and external

One of the key ways of being able to adapt a strategy is through planning in feedback loops to make sure that learning or changes are fed into the strategy.

These feedback loops take a variety of forms. Firstly, they might relate to the analysis that underpinned the original strategy: 

  • Internal: Strategies are often based on the internal strengths and weaknesses of a team or organisation. It is often helpful to check in occasionally on whether these strengths are still there and being enhanced, and whether weaknesses have developed further. 
  • External: It is important to keep looking at what is going on outside of the team too, thinking about the wider environment. This might be the broader environment, thinking about political, economic, social or technological challenges (PEST analysis). It might also be about the competitive landscape – who else is a threat, and where are there new opportunities?
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Feedback loops: through milestones

Secondly, they might be flagged through the milestones in any of the parts of the strategy:

  • Inputs: Have there been changes in the things that you need for your plans? Have you been able to secure what you needed, or have you had to make changes?
  • Key actions: What are the things that need to happen to the inputs? Have you changed the way that you work or produce something?
  • Outputs: Is the output what you expected it to be? Have you been able to make any improvements or changes? 
  • Outcomes: What value has your work created? Is it what you expected, or do you need to make changes?
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Feedback loops: new information and hypotheses

Finally, there might also be other learning along the way to:

  • Finding new information: Have you been able to learn anything new through your strategy, and how can you build this into your plans?
  • Testing hypotheses: Have any of the experiments that you’ve run led to new knowledge or approaches? (See Problem Solving Step 12 for more)

Ultimately, no strategy ever works in exactly the way that it was originally imagined – the world is too complex and changeable for that. However, by planning in chances to learn, review and to change your strategic plans along the way, you can achieve great things.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can start this step by structuring a debate about how flexible a strategy needs to be and why. This could include putting learners into different sides of a debate to consider whether a strategy should be completely fixed or completely flexible. Of course, the reality is somewhere in the middle. 
  • The teacher can introduce the concept of feedback loops as being the way that important information and insight is gathered and fed back into decisions about the plans that are being made. 
  • Learners should think about the different elements of strategy that they have learnt about and how they could create feedback loops to understand each of them in turn.

Reinforcing it

This step can be reinforced through the idea of feedback loops, which can be applied to learners own lives and their studies: How do they know if they are on track? How can they build new experiences and learning into their plans?

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed by asking learners to create a strategic plan, drawing together all the elements from Step 13, Step 14 and Step 15. This should include analysis, an understanding of inputs, activities, outputs and outcomes, and then the feedback loops that will help a strategy to remain flexible.

A presentation followed by questions and discussion with the teacher is an effective way of assessing this step.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work:

This step is relevant to individuals who can develop long-term plans and strategies to achieve goals. 

To build this step in the work environment, managers could:

  • Demonstrate to an individual the importance of building the right level of flexibility into a plan, by modelling two versions of a strategy: one that is completely fixed and one that is totally flexible. Here the manager can lead a discussion on the issues with both, drawing on the points made in the above section. 
  • Explain to an individual concept of feedback loops as being the way that important information and insight is gathered and fed back into decisions about the plans being made. 
  • Reflect with the individual about the different elements of strategy that they have learnt about and how they could create feedback loops to understand each of them in turn.
  • Task an individual on a research exercise to understand what can be learnt through a feedback loop and how this can be used to shape strategy in a way that makes long term success more likely. This might involve them interviewing a senior leader in the business to hear how data from a feedback loop has been used to shape company strategy. 

Practising it:

There are plenty of opportunities for building this skill in the workplace:

  • Working with colleagues: When developing a long-term strategy that involves uncertainties that require us to be adaptive.  
  • Working with customers or clients: When working with customers or clients to deliver something over the long-term, giving us the opportunity to build in feedback and to learn lessons along the way. 

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is can be assessed through an exercise.

  • This can take the form of a task, requiring they produce a strategic plan. This plan should feature the elements referenced from Step 13, Step 14 and Step 15: analysis, an understanding of inputs, activities, outputs and outcomes and then the feedback loops that will help a strategy to remain flexible.
  • To assess this further, the individual might deliver a presentation on their strategic plan. This can provide an opportunity to ask follow up questions to check for understanding.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

During the recruitment process, this step could be assessed for by: 

  • Setting an individual on a task where they should review a case study and prepare a strategic plan to effect a change in position. The individual’s presentation can then be assessed for evidence of this skill step, namely that it features elements from Step 13, Step 14 and Step 15.
  • Alternatively, an individual could be tasked to identify issues with strategy that has been prepared in response to a case study. They might discuss this with an observer who can look for evidence the individual can recognise the key elements of a strategic plan.

Build this step

Advice for

Organisations

We work with a wide range of organisations, who use the Skills Builder approach in lots of different settings – from youth clubs, to STEM organisations, to careers and employability providers.

We have a lot of materials available to support you to use the Skills Builder Universal Framework with the individuals you work with, including:

  • Tools for self-reflection
  • Materials to support you to teach the skills, if appropriate in your setting
  • Reward systems like printable certificates

We also do a lot of work with organisations who join the Skills Builder Partnership to build the Universal Framework into their work and impact measurement systems. You can find out a lot more using the links below.

More resources

Advice for

Individuals

Why this skill step matters in education

As we work towards long-term strategies, we might experience changes in our situation that affect our plans. We can’t always predict what changes and developments will happen but we can build in steps within our plan so that we reflect and review whether something needs adapting. We might receive feedback from peers or teachers which offers a new perspective or make progress sooner than we had expected; it is important for our plans to have a certain amount of flexibility so we can respond to developments.

In education, it is common to use academic terms or semesters as milestones in the year. These points are a useful opportunity to look at your progress and see if any changes or adaptations need to be made to move forward.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

Workplace strategies are continually affected by many different factors, both internal and external. Even though a strategy’s purpose should remain clear throughout, the route to achieving it may adapt and change in response to changes in people, technology, trends or the wider environment. Building in feedback loops from the beginning therefore keeps strategies on track so that any unexpected changes, whether positive or negative, can be carefully managed. For example, a shop might see its sales increase in one product but another item is no longer selling at all. With the support of customer feedback, the shop might consider adapting the type of product it sells to respond to this new popularity.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

Making plans in our life helps to give us direction and purpose so that we know what we want to do and why. However, even the best-made plans can come across unexpected changes. Being flexible and open-minded will offer more possibilities to learn and grow than if we refuse to accept change. Sharing our plans with trusted others and asking for their thoughts can offer useful insights we hadn’t considered before. By adapting our plans in response, we might discover new interests, meet new people and learn new skills.

How to practise this skill step

To best practise this step of Aiming High, apply what you have learnt to a real-life situation. Choose one or more of the activities below, remind yourself of the key points and strategies in the step, and have a go!

  • If you find your original travel plans interrupted, take the opportunity to try anew route and see what you discover.
  • Ask a friend, relative or teacher to share their feedback on a plan you are working towards. Make a note to check in with them again at the next milestone in your plan.
  • Think back to your last milestone, imagining you have travelled back in time to that point. What has changed since then? Is there anything you could do differently now?
  • Highlight the parts of your plan which are ‘non-negotiable’ and that you won’t want to change. In a different colour, highlight the parts of your plan which are more flexible and you’d be willing to adapt. As you work towards your plan, checkback to see if the non-negotiable aspects remained the same and which parts were adapted and improved.

Build this step

Advice for

Parents & Carers

As a parent or carer, you might be thinking about how best to support your children to build their essential skills. The good news is that there is lots that you can do that will have a big impact, including:

  • Talking about how you use these skill steps in your own life
  • Trying to show how to use the skill steps, and explaining why you are doing what you are doing
  • Praising your children when they show they are using the skills well, and help them to see that as a worthwhile achievement

We’ve developed a whole series of tools and resources to help parents to build these skills, including:

  • Skill stories for the youngest children (aged 3+)
  • Short activities that you can complete together
  • Regular challenges that you can complete at home to build the essential skills
  • Reward systems like printable certificates and badges

There is also content for older children and young people, including short activities and reflections that they can complete alone, or with you.

Build this step