Is It True That Soft Skills Are Harder to Define and Measure?

two business women talking about soft skills

Easy to spot. Hard to teach. Most learning professionals understand the challenges with helping people learn soft skills. You know the type of skills I mean — those that support working with others. These skills cover areas such as communication, teamwork, and interpersonal relationships.

The development of these types of skills remains a hot topic among learning professionals. It’s a topic we’ve been writing about for years and in today’s business landscape it is of even greater concern, which is why I thought we should revisit the topic.

The interest in softer, relationship-based skills has grown over time. Developing these skills has become increasingly important for all employees, but especially for leaders in an organization. These skills are critical for those who already serve as leaders and those who hope to. Skills such as critical thinking, decision making, and problem solving serve as foundations to the leadership role. They are base skills central to the development of more advanced soft skills.

The Trick to Measuring Soft Skills Development

Developing soft skills is critical for business success. The more important the skills, the greater the need to measure them. Only in this way can you verify successful development and application by the learner. Because these skills are so essential to employers, it’s important that they are measured.

When I speak to groups about measuring learning, people will comment on how measuring technical skills is easy but soft skills is hard. In truth, the process of measurement is the same for both. You use the same means to measure both technical and soft skills learning.

The challenge in measuring soft skills development is not in the measurement method. You still measure soft skills (knowledge and behavior) at the pre/post/transfer points. You interpret the results from soft skill programs just as you do with technical skill programs. The real challenge for learning providers is in defining the soft skill they are teaching.

Define In Order To Measure

For years, learning professionals have churned out soft skills training that tells people they should communicate better, work better in teams, and display interpersonal savvy, but they have often failed to clearly define what that looks like. Many times, employees taking these programs are left to interpret the expectation into action. Since people interpret things differently, a unified change in behavior (standard of behavior) is often not achieved.

For this reason, many learning professionals have concluded that soft skills cannot be measured. This is erroneous. Simply put, anything that can be clearly defined can be measured, and soft skills can be clearly defined. If we know it when we see it, we should be able to describe/define it, teach it, and learn it.

When a soft skills learning program clearly defines what it looks like when you are practicing the skill, (through a measurable objective) measurement is easy. The task for the learning designer is to work with their subject matter expert to clearly describe the expected outcomes in behavior terms, just like a technical skill.

The Lost Art of Defining Learning Outcomes

It has been my experience that defining learning outcomes has become a lost art. That is the main reason we created the Measurable Instructional Design method. This method helps learning professionals determine, describe, and target behavior outcomes in their programs.

Like with technical skills, the measurement of soft skills will help the learning professional deliver more effective programs. Designing soft skills training in a measurable format (including measurable objectives with corresponding instructional methods and evaluations) will create clarity of outcomes for both the students and other stakeholders. It will enable repair of poor performing programs. Measurement of your soft skill programs will allow you to track your employee soft skills development just as you track and measure their technical skills.

Although the soft skills may be the hard skills to learn (because they often require employees to move beyond their natural way of dealing with others), soft skills are not hard skills to measure.

What do you think? Do you believe soft skills are difficult to define? Do you think they are difficult to measure?

If you struggle with crafting measurable soft skills training, please contact us here at eParamus. We can help you learn how to craft effective, measurable learning programs of any kind.

Please follow eParamus on LinkedIn and feel free to connect with me, Laura Paramoure, PhD to discuss the learning challenges you face.

Photo copyright: nexusplexus / 123RF Stock Photo

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