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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 implement strategic plans, track progress, and draw out learning to refine those plans over time. 

In the previous steps, the focus was on how to develop strategic plans to solve complex problems and then to assess whether those plans have been successful. This final step of Problem Solving looks at how we can learn through our strategic plans, to make us better at solving that complex problem.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • How to review progress as you go
  • How to address operational challenges you might face
  • How to manage impact challenges 
  • How to spot unexpected secondary effects
  • How to learn through testing hypotheses

Reflection questions

  • How will you learn through the process of implementing a strategic plan?
  • What are the types of learning that you might get?
  • How can you use this learning to help you to address a complex problem?
  • Do you have examples of having done this?

What you need to know

Reviewing progress

Every strategic plan needs to think about how progress towards the goals will be checked to keep it on track, and how you can ensure that resources are being used effectively as you go.

There are four dimensions that are worth considering as you monitor and seek to learn from your strategic plan:

  • Operational delivery of your plan
  • Impact of your work 
  • Unanticipated secondary effects 
  • Resolution of hypotheses
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Operational challenges

Sometimes there are operational challenges as you implement a plan. Perhaps you were unable to secure the resources that you need, or tasks were completed incorrectly, or external factors have undermined your efforts.

It is important to recognise these challenges so that you can adapt your plans accordingly – securing additional resources, moving timelines and milestones, or changing some of the tasks you had planned. Reviewing progress regularly against milestones will help you to spot operational challenges early and make changes.

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Impact challenges

At other times, you might experience a challenge around the impact of what you are doing. Perhaps you are delivering the operational plan, but it is not leading to the outcomes that you were expecting. For example, you might be delivering a marketing strategy perfectly but it is not leading to the uptick in sales that you had predicted in your logic model. Alternatively, maybe you were running an employability workshop that had good attendance, and that covered all the materials but still led to fewer new offers of employment for participants than you had predicted.

At this point, it is worth taking learning from the situation. What was it in the original model that you produced that was wrong? What were the logical assumptions that did not hold up? Are there hypotheses that were disproved unexpectedly? 

If we are open to this sort of learning, then we can revisit some of our assumptions, improve them with what we see in reality, and then adjust our strategic plan accordingly to get back on track for our goals.

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Unanticipated secondary effects

Complex problems are, by nature, those where there is not a simple best answer. Instead, there are complexities and interdependencies between parts of a problem that mean that sometimes solving one part of the problem generates different problems elsewhere. These are known as secondary effects, and while they should have been considered earlier in the planning process and through the analysis, they are not always predictable. 

As such, it’s important to keep scanning for unanticipated secondary effects which could undermine the effectiveness of what you are trying to achieve. This might include talking to those individuals you are working with or looking at broader social and environmental effects of the work that you’re doing.

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Learning through testing hypotheses

Finally, as your strategic plan progresses, you should have the opportunity to test different hypotheses that you developed around the complex problem that you are grappling with. 

To make this learning as valuable as possible, you should be looking for early opportunities to test hypotheses on a small scale through carefully controlled tests, like A/B testing. This learning will ensure that as your plan develops, it is doing so on a strong foundation of evidence. 

If you can do this, you will have mastered problem solving, and be able to grapple with complex problems effectively.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can start by reviewing the content from Step 13 and Step 14, which focus on how to create and implement strategic plans to address a complex problem, and how to measure success along the way. 
  • The teacher can ask learners what they might expect to learn through implementing their strategic plans. The four broad areas above can be talked about in turn – at this stage, these should be about consolidating learning and can be discussed to build understanding. 
  • This step is best built through reflecting on a project that learners have run, or are in the process of running. They can reflect on each of the challenges that might have come up and how they learnt something valuable from them. 

Reinforcing it

This step is best reinforced through reflection on an on-going project. Similarly, during wider subject learning, the teacher can flag when they have gained valuable insights. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed by asking learners to reflect, either in written form or through conversation with the teacher. The reflection should address the operational challenges, impact challenges, identifying unexpected secondary effects, and testing hypotheses.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to individuals who create and implement strategic plans to solve complex problems at work. To build this step in the work environment, managers could:

  • Discuss with the individual how to create and implement strategic plans to address a complex problem and how to measure success along the way. To achieve this, a manager might explain some of the concepts covered in Problem Solving Step 13 and Step 14.
  • Model a process of becoming better at solving a complex problem by learning lessons from a strategic plan as it unfolds. This demonstration can show how, by considering the four broad areas referenced above, we can learn something about the nature of the complex problem we are trying to fix. During the demonstration, a manager could show what could be learnt from considering each aspect.
  • Task an individual to perform a training exercise where they can practice taking learning from a strategic plan to better understand a complex problem. 
  • Reflect with the individual on how they found the process, after the exercise has been completed. 

Practising it:

This is an advanced skill step, which will take time to master. The individual can develop this skill step through:

  • Working with colleagues: On long term projects which are about solving a complex problem, with a focus on learning as much possible about the problem in order to accelerate progress towards solving it.  
  • Working with customers or clients: When helping a customer understand the impact of a shared plan, with a focus on using the lessons learnt from a strategic plan to accelerate progress towards solving a complex problem.

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed through a reflective conversation with the individual: 

  • During this conversation, a manager can explore with the individual what they have learnt about the nature of the complex problem they are trying to fix. To show evidence of this skill step, an individual would explain what they have learnt as they progressed with a strategic plan to address this complex issue. In particular, we are looking for the individual to show what they’ve learnt as a result of them considering different dimensions of strategic plan

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Questioning an individual during an interview, asking them to explain how they would solve a complex problem. To evidence this skill step, an individual’s answer should show they plan to learn about the nature of the complex problem by reviewing aspects of their strategic plan as it unfolds

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 you work on a complex problem, following your strategic plan, you may find extra challenges present themselves which you could not have predicted.  For example you may be studying hard to get good grades in final exams and due to being unwell, miss a number of lessons and the introduction of some new learning or important information.  In such a situation, it is important to not panic but rather calmly amend your plans to tackle the new problem of missed learning. That way you can still reach your end goal. If the extra challenges are not tackled and plans are not changed you are less likely to be successful in reaching your end goal. This would be frustrating and disappointing. You may, for example need to ask the teacher or lecturer to provide some extra support by way of a catch up lesson, or to share some online materials to support you to access the missed lessons content or for you to attend an extra tutor group for revision. By taking action early on and refining your plans you are more likely to succeed.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

There may be times at work when a plan needs to change as you focus on a particular project or work stream. A business may not have been able to get all of the resources that they needed for a particular product, or perhaps a delay in receiving a particular component or even a piece of information has slowed work. This can be frustrating. By reviewing progress regularly against milestones will help issues, be they operational or impact challenges, be identified early on. Changes can then be made and learning taken from the situation. This could potentially save the business time and money,and ensure the business is still on target to meet their end goal.

Why this skill step matters in the wider world

Complex problems do not have a simple ‘best’ answer. Sometimes as you solve one part of the problem, it causes a problem elsewhere. These secondary effects are often unpredictable and appear as out of nowhere. By checking in regularly and reviewing how a plan is going you may be able to spot potential secondary effects and deal with them before they become too big a problem. You may also be able to test different hypotheses as your strategic plan progresses and take learnings from these to develop it further.

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!

  • Put time on your calendar to reflect and review your progress as you work towards a goal. What learning can you use to refine plans to ensure success?
  • Think back to when you have experienced operational or impact challenges or experienced unanticipated secondary effects when working on project – what learning did you take from the situation?
  • Remember you can learn through testing hypotheses as a complex problems crop up. Create hypotheses for problems you have read or heard about in the news.

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