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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 14, individuals will show that they can develop strategic plans, and assess whether they have been successful 

In Step 13, the strategic plan was introduced as a mechanism of taking the problem-solving analysis that might have been carried out and turning it into action. This step builds on it by thinking about the mechanisms by which we can work out whether a strategic plan has been successful.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • How to assess success 
  • Setting targets 
  • Setting milestones

Reflection questions

  • How can you assess the ultimate success of your strategic plan?
  • How can you measure that you have achieved what you want to?
  • How can you track progress along the way?
  • Do you have examples of having built these into a plan?

What you need to know

Assessing success

In the previous step, we saw that the first step of developing a strategic plan was knowing what your overarching purpose was. This is sometimes called the mission statement and should set out how the world will be different if you achieve your plan. 

If the strategic plan is at an organisational level, this might be addressing a significant national or international problem. If it is for a smaller innovation or stream of work, it might be a more focused problem in a particular geography or user group. In the context of education, it might be answering a complex academic question. 

Ultimately, the success of your strategic plan will come down to whether this complex problem has been solved. However, sometimes these purposes are set as a multi-month or even multi-year aspiration.

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Setting targets

You are probably already familiar with goal setting from Aiming High (see Aiming High Step 11). Targets are the tangible way to know whether you have been successful in achieving your goal and help you to track your progress.

Targets might also be an essential part of a financial model – for instance, if you know that you have to sell 40,000 hats to break even, then you should have a goal that is above 40,000. 

The targets that you create should help capture an important part of what you are trying to do. They will inevitably become a focus, so you need to make sure they are right, so they don’t become a distraction from what really matters.

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SMART targets

As a reminder, targets should always be SMART:

This means that they are:

  • Specific – it is clear precisely what you are trying to do
  • Measurable – you can measure whether the target has been met or not
  • Achievable – it is not too hard or too easy
  • Realistic – it is something that makes sense to do 
  • Timed – you know when it needs to be done by
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Setting milestones

Even targets are quite long-term, and if your strategic plan is going to last a year or more to implement, then you will want to know whether you are on track to achieve those goals.

This is where milestones come in. These are best thought of as markers along the route to achieving a goal – you can use them to see that you are still on the right path, and to make corrections if you are going off that path. 

Milestones are like targets in that they should still follow the principles of SMART but might be more incremental towards the overall goal. For example, to sell 40,000 hats by the end of the year (my target), a milestone would be to sell 10,000 hats in three months, and to have orders for a further 10,000 at that point.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • Teachers should first revisit Step 13 with learners, to ensure that they are confident with the purpose of a strategic plan and how we can go about implementing a solution to a complex problem. 
  • The teacher can then open up a conversation with learners about how we know if we are successful when we’re implementing a solution. Learners should be challenged at each stage to think about solving the overarching problem, having goals to check that the problem has been solved, and then using milestones along the way to see whether we are on track to solve a problem. 
  • If learners are not familiar with SMART targets (although they might well be from earlier steps of Aiming High) then it is worth spending some time to explain these, ask learners to critique examples you give, and then to create their own smart targets.
  • Finally, learners should practice creating milestones, thinking about how to break down one of the bigger goals into interim goals that help to structure progress towards that final outcome.
  • This works particularly well if it can be applied to a current project that the learners are working on. 

Reinforcing it

This step can be reinforced when learners are creating plans – whether for their college or university applications, running a youth social action project, or a learning investigation.

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through observation of learners implementing a project, and whether they can apply the concepts shared here. 

If it is not possible to run a project, learners can still develop plans to address a complex problem and use this as a way of demonstrating their ability to plan a project and to identify whether the project is successful along the way, and at the end.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work:

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

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

  • Reflect with the individual on why it is useful to monitor the success of our plans– the individual is likely to conclude this is valuable because it helps ensure we solve the problem with set out to fix. The manager might use some of the reflection questions listed above to scaffold this conversation.
  • Discuss with the individual how they might find out if their plans are successful. The manager might explain here how success criteria and SMART targets can be used to determine a project’s success 
  • Model how milestones can make it easier to solve a complex problem. To make this point, a manager might give a demonstration of them breaking down a SMART target into milestones and explain how these can help us keep us on a track. A manager might then compare this with a plan that does not feature milestones to emphasize this point. 
  • Task an individual to shadow an experienced colleague as they go through the process of break down a SMART target into milestones. This could be a senior manager undertaking a planning cycle to set out a team’s activities for the next year.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: When we want to check if what we are doing is working, with a focus on using success criteria, goals and milestones to help us do this.
  • Working with customers or clients: When you can help a customer believe your approach to fixing a problem will work, by showing them you have a clear plan that is easy to follow. 

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.

  • A manager might check in with an individual at the start, mid and end point of a project, asking the individual to provide an update on their plans. Evidence of this skill step in action can be found in the individual referencing some of the above techniques to help them qualify the success of their plans.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Questioning an individual during an interview, providing an opportunity for them to show they know the steps involved in developing a strategic plan. Here, an observer can use probing questions to check an individual is aware of used key concepts described above.
  • Observing an individual during an exercise which is about them producing and then presenting a plan in response to complex problem. During the presentation, an observer can listen for evidence of the techniques above.
  • Asking the individual for examples of where they have implemented a strategic plan before, and how they assessed whether it was a success or not.

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

We know the first step in creating a strategic plan is to be clear on what it is you want to achieve. This is as important whatever stage of education you are at. If you achieve what you set out to achieve – you know your plan was successful. Having clear targets in your plan is important. For example, if your overall aim or goal, is to get a ‘good score’ in your end of year test or exam, what do you actually mean by ‘good’? A clear target of say 70% is tangible – you will know whether or not you have been successful in achieving your goal. This is an example of a SMART target.  

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In most businesses and organisations, strategic plans (or strategy plans) will have ‘milestones’ written into their action plans. A milestone is a marker along the route to achieving the goal. They allow those responsible for carrying out a particular project or implementing a plan and their managers to check in that they are still on course to reach their overall goal and to take action if this is not the case. If you have smart targets and milestones written into strategic plans it means there should be no surprises! For example, an events company, responsible for organisation of a large music event may have the overall target of filling to capacity the 30,000 seater stadium for the performance date in 12 months’ time. A milestone marker would be that with 6 months to go the event, at least 80% of the tickets are sold. If they were not, increasing social media or other advertising for example may support them to hit their goal of the event being a sell-out.

Why this skill step matters in the wider world

Complex problems are often difficult to get to grips with. They can throw up all kinds of challenges,whether they present themselves in education, at home or at work.  If we are able to think more strategically when faced with a complex problem and create a plan to tackle it, we can reduce some of the stress and frustration that problems can cause. As humans we mainly prefer order and like to feel we have a degree of control over a situation. A clear strategic plan, with definite targets and milestones along the way can be really beneficial and help us to feel more ‘in control’.

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!

  • What milestones would you suggest a friend includes in their strategic plan to run 5km without stopping in the next 3 months when they have yet to get any trainers?
  • Create SMART targets for a problem you have.
  • Working with a friend create a strategic plan for a project of interest to you – this could be to start your own small business venture, to plan a trip or raise money for a charity of your choice.

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