You’ve probably heard the old expression that goes something like this: “You can’t improve what you can’t measure.” Whether that old management school saying is true or not, it’s pretty clear that we can’t determine how much we’ve improved if we can’t measure the area we are trying to improve. And for many organizations, leaders and learning professionals, soft skills training falls into the “you-can’t- measure-it” category.
The difficulty with measuring the impact of soft skills training probably stems from agreeing upon a definition of the term “soft skills.” The challenge with this apparently simple task is that there are so many conflicting definitions.
One thing is certain: Nobody can provide a clear, easy to grasp definition of “soft skills.” Instead, it’s more of a concept that most of us recognize when we see it, but we cannot always succinctly articulate what it is.
Most traditional training programs focus on hard skills. Programmers learn a new language. Accountants exhibit better balance sheet skills. Analysts deliver more accurate financial models. Engineers deliver better designs. Architects design more effective and efficient structures. Processes improve in speed, output and safety. Hard skills training is safe, and we can measure impact directly from easy-to-see outputs.
Hard skills are important; but today, the single skill or competency that drives career success isn’t a hard skill at all — it’s emotional intelligence. In the article, “Emotional Intelligence – EQ,” author Travis Bradberry reports that 90 percent of top performers across all industries in every job category scored high in emotional intelligence. It is the single most important factor in driving success for our highest- performing employees at every level — including leaders and managers. However, unlike hard skills, emotional intelligence isn’t easy to define clearly, nor do we generally see organizations linking improved performance in this area to improved organizational performance.
Intuitively, we know that improved soft skills matter. It makes sense. If our employees communicate more effectively, aren’t we more likely to see improved sales and customer retention? Will our customers be more satisfied? If our managers learn to listen more effectively and delegate more efficiently, doesn’t it follow logically that their teams will be more engaged and perform at higher levels? So why do we not connect the dots from improved performance in soft skills areas (caused by soft skills training) to improved business results?
In order to build a system to measure the impact of your soft skills training, you have to start with a clear understanding of the strategic goals of your organization. Those form the strategic shape, and they mold the foundation for you to build your training efforts. But it’s not just the goals. Once you’ve set the goals, you have to understand the performance gaps between your organization’s current level of performance and the desired level of performance needed to achieve a specific goal. And it’s improved performance in these performance gaps that we measure to show the impact of soft skills training.