The problem with soft skills

How to measure the immeasurable

For most of us, soft skills are already an integral part of our workplace. Whether it’s looking for candidates with the appropriate soft skills to fit into a certain role or developing soft skills within an organization, we need clear ways to define a person’s level in order to make informed recruitment or staff development decisions. But, when these skills are by their very nature difficult to quantify, how do we measure them?

The first step is to define exactly which skill you are measuring and break it down to make it more specific. For example, if the skill is communication, we can break it down into types of communication (written, oral, etc.) and the specific situations in which staff may need to communicate. When dealing with language learning for companies, this is an important consideration because we often need to deal with communication in more than one language.

Once we have decided on the specific skill, we can start to look at how to rate that skill. This is often in done terms of competency with ratings such as ‘poor’, ‘satisfactory’, and ‘good’. However, in situations such as dealing with personality, it’s more appropriate to classify according to types.

There are three main ways of collecting the information needed to assign ratings to these skills:

Human feedback

We see this in appraisals and workshops. When people are asked their opinion on another staff member’s skills, many companies use surveys to gather the information. Another example on a smaller scale might be when a trainer makes notes on how a staff member behaves in a workshop and gives direct feedback on how well he or she has done.

Specialized testing

There are some situations where it’s possible to test a specific skill. A good example of this is in language learning where there are several tests, such as TOEIC or IELTS that cater to specific styles of communication. However, while these tests can be a valuable indicator of a person’s level in that skill, they sometimes don’t relate to how well a person can apply that skill in real life.

Evidence-based portfolio

As technology advances, this method is becoming increasingly popular. Using real examples of interaction and work is a great way of getting a snapshot of their skills. With cheap data storage and advances in the way we store staff development information, the evaluation process can focus more on the actual behavior of staff members rather than just percentage scores from tests. In the future, as big data provides us with more insights into behavior in the workplace, this method of measuring ability and development is likely to become even more popular.

So, which is the best method? The short answer is – they all are. Each of these methods is equally valid providing it is implemented in the correct way. All of these methods work well for different situations so it’s up to you to choose.

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