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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 13, individuals will have to show that they can develop strategic plans to address or solve a complex problem, and then put them into action. 

In the previous steps, the focus was on building the ability to create a range of solutions for complex problems, and being able to use analysis based on logical reasoning and hypotheses to work out appropriate approaches. This step builds on this by turning those insights into a strategic plan to address that issue.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What is a strategic plan
  • How to define your strategic purpose
  • How to use your analysis
  • How to plan your approach
  • How to choose your resources and structure

Reflection questions

  • What is a strategic plan?
  • What different elements does a strategic plan have?
  • How should problem solving and analysis inform your strategic plan?
  • Do you have any experience of strategic planning?

What you need to know

What is a strategic plan?

A strategic plan is a systematic approach to achieving a purpose or a goal – for instance, in addressing a complex problem. Strategic plans could be set at an organisational level, and most organisations will have a strategy that sets their direction for several years. However, strategic plans can also be more focused and targeted. 

There are several elements to a strategic plan:

  • Purpose
  • Analysis
  • Approach
  • Resources and structure
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Strategic planning: purpose

The starting point of a strategic plan has to be a clear statement of purpose – what is it that you are working to achieve? This might be drawn from the definition of the problem, or the part of the problem that you have decided to focus on.

This can be quite broad, but should also be tangible. For example, to become the leading hat company for teenagers, or to support individuals of all ages to build their essential skills.

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Strategic planning: analysis

This is where you draw together all of the research and analysis that you have carried out to understand the complex problem that you are looking to address. This should include:

  • The primary and secondary research that you have carried out (Step 7)
  • The causes and effects that you have identified (Step 8)
  • The solutions you suggested and evaluated (Step 9 and Step 10)
  • The logic that suggests that your approach should be successful (Step 11)

Together, this should give you a clear rationale for your approach.

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Strategic planning: approach

The approach you take should follow logically from the analysis of the problem that you have carried out. This is about what you will do to will address the problem.

That might include a series of different hypotheses that you are going to test to reach the optimal approach. 

For instance, you might become the leading hat company for teenagers by tracking the trends that you can see through social media, copying the designs that are successful, and promoting your versions through Instagram influencers.

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Strategic planning: resources and structure

Resources and tasks are likely to be familiar to you from some of the earlier steps of Leadership. Having decided on a broad approach and what the goals are, it is important to get stuck into the detail of what:

  • Tasks need to be completed, and in what order (this is covered a lot more in Leadership and Aiming High)
  • Resources are required to complete the tasks
  • Structure of individuals and tasks will make success most likely
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Advice for

Educators

Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher should be sure that learners are secure in the earlier steps before approaching this step, as it draws on what has come before it.
  • The teacher can start by opening up a conversation about what should be part of a strategic plan. They should particularly emphasise the link between how all of the problem solving techniques that learners have been exploring are still relevant here to define the purpose, analysis, approach, structure and resources. 
  • This step is most easily taught through the lens of learners creating a plan to address a complex problem. For example, that might be to make an improvement in the school, college or local community through youth social action or a learning project. 
  • Together learners can work together to create a plan addressing each element of the structure above. This can be reviewed and discussed by the teacher. 

Reinforcing it

This step is not as easily reinforced as some of the others, because it is quite involved. However, it is possible to reinforce parts of it – for example, when planning experiments or investigations in science and other subject areas. Learning projects lend themselves well to reinforcing this step. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through learners creating a strategic plan which can then be reviewed the teacher to ensure that it fulfils the criteria set out above. This could be complemented with a conversation with learners to check their understanding of the approach they have taken and why. It is particularly important that learners have made the link between the problem solving and analysis they have done and how this informs the approach they take to implementing a solution.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to individuals who need to create strategic plans to solve complex problems at work.

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

  • Model an example of a strategic plan to show its features. 
  • Explain to an individual when it might be useful to develop a strategic plan, linked to their areas of responsibility. 
  • Task an individual to identify where they might find it useful to implement a strategic plan in their work. This might involve a discussion about the complex problems an individual is facing.
  • Reflect with the individual about where they can find good examples of strategic plans ‘in action’ which they could use to help them form their own. 

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: At points in the time when there is a need to take a systematic approach to address a complex problem. The individual might need to create a strategic plan for their team, or area of responsibility. 
  • Working with customers or clients: When convincing a customer or client or customer to invest in your way of fixing a problem, with a focus on showing them your rationale and approach.

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed through reflective conversations with the individual whilst they are involved in developing a strategic plan. This could be one they have developed as part of a training exercise.

  • During this reflective conversation, a manager can review the strategic plan to check it fulfils the criteria set out above. They might also use questions to check an individual understands the approach they have taken and why. To do this a manager could look for evidence to suggest the individual makes a logical connection across their stated problem, analysis and approach and solving to solving it. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Questioning an individual during an interview. This can provide an individual with the opportunity to show they understand what constitutes a strategic plan and are aware of how to go about developing one – ideally, with the experience of having done so.
  • To supplement this assessment an observer could consult an individual’s references to ask for evidence of how they have gone about developing a strategic plan previously. Evidence of this skill step can be found in a reference which describes how the individual sought to analyse a problem, put forward a logical approach and implement a plan with a clear structure and adequate resourcing.

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

In education there will be friends, teachers and tutors or mentors, you can call upon for help and guidance along the way as you seek to develop a strategic plan which can help you to work out how you might solve a complex problem. A strategic plan can help you to understand what you need to do next and help you to stay on track to meet your goal. When putting together a strategic plan you first need to be clear what it is you are wanting to achieve. You will then need to consider the steps you will take to reach that goal and be successful. You can develop a strategic plan at the start of a new course of study, or at the start of the academic term or year, or at any time when you want to be clear on your goals and the steps you need to take to get there.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

The purpose of strategic planning within any business or organisation is to set overall goals and to develop a plan to achieve them. In the workplace managers will need to really dig into the detail of the plans: identifying the tasks to be completed and in what order, the resources required in terms of time and cost, and importantly who will be carrying out each task and when. Such detailed planning will influence the roles and responsibilities of everyone who works there and will need to be carried out as new projects are assigned and undertaken. In some businesses and organisations there may be someone or even a team of people who have a strategic planner role. They have the task of gathering, analysing and organising information in order to create action plans. A strategic planner has to be fully informed – they have to have access to all of the information.

Why this skill step matters in the wider world

We live in a complex world and therefore complex problems can surround us in all areas of our life. In order to be successful, we need to strategically plan how these problems can be tackled. A haphazard approach to complex problems rarely brings positive results. Being aware of the key elements of a strategic plan is important. Once your strategic plan is in place its then about action and actually getting on and doing it. You may have a strategic plan in place to support you in earning and saving money for a large purchase you wish to make, like a car or a house, or you may have a plan in place to help you reach your health and fitness goals or even a plan to help you rest and relax when all your work is done.

How to practise this skill step

To best practise this step of Problem Solving, 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!

  • Find out more about strategic planning. There are articles, different models, templates, tools and courses on online.
  • Take time to create a strategic plan for a complex problem you may have at home – for example you may want to redesign and redecorate a room, or perhaps you could consider a move to another home or even area. What would you need to include in your strategic plan?
  • Investigate jobs which have a strategic planning element – as well as the ability to solve complex problems what other skills are essential in this type of role?

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