How to Measure Soft Skills In The Workplace

Jack Ma, the chairman of Alibaba, says soft skills are the future. Humans cannot process data quicker than machines, so don’t try. Do what they can't, which is collaborate, influence, lead, and problem solve. He follows the countless professionals who advocate soft skills as the way forward, the future, the key to unlocking the workforce.

Our previous article, Why You Need To Start Measuring Soft Skills, explained the importance and challenges faced when attempting to measure soft skills; without measurement, strategies to introduce these skills into the workplace can become hap-hazard and subsequently redundant. The unquantifiable nature of soft skills makes measuring them, in the workplace, easier said than done. However, If measured correctly the benefits are huge, with research from Michigan University finding that soft skills training can deliver an ROI of 256% as a result of a 12% increase in team productivity and retention.

Having looked at the importance of measuring soft skills and the challenges we face when doing so, we can identify the most effective way to measure soft skills in the workplace. From reviewing the challenges, it is clear that it must be as objective and quantifiable as possible, and it must be comprehensive enough to identify potentially difficult to spot gaps. Considering the nuanced nature of soft skills, this is no small challenge, but there is a solution.

At Ethical Angel, we start with a Soft Skills Audit to identify the key shortcomings within employees skill sets. This is then followed by the deployment of 360-degree feedback to effectively measure, in greater detail, employees’ soft skills ability levels throughout the development process.

Why conduct a soft skills audit?

A soft skills audit is a quick and effective way to get an overview of the soft skill gaps within your business. This overview will highlight which areas of soft skills development need to be prioritised, and where in your organisation it is needed most. In addition to this, it will provide you with a data driven analysis that can highlight the issues and need for greater investment to management.

At Ethical Angel, we help organisations to take this initial step by offering a free, no strings attached, soft skills audit which you can claim for your organisation here.

The next step of the process is to get a 360 degree feedback system rolled out. It provides a quick and easy method to constantly measure soft skills training and follow your employees' progress, allowing for much greater development in the long run.

What is 360 degree feedback?

360 degree feedback is a tool that allows individuals to gain feedback from a multitude of sources, such as managers, colleagues, or even clients. This feedback, when combined with a self-report, provides an incredible holistic profile of a specific employee. Clearly outlining their strengths and weaknesses, whilst providing an easy solution to measuring and monitoring soft skills within the workplace.

360 Degree Feedback Example

Implementing a 360-degree feedback system allows L&D/HR leaders to create detailed development plans. Meaning that they can truly embrace the future and harness the endless benefits of soft skills.

A great example of this in practice is here at Ethical Angel. Within our Experiential Learning Product, employees are accessed on their Soft Skills throughout the whole process, via a 360 degree feedback system. Data comes from three perspectives:

1. The Individual - Employees self-assess themselves, both before and after a training project, against 12 key soft skills. This allows for clear individual development, giving the learner a great understanding of exactly where they are at, at every stage of the process.
2. The Cause - After completing projects, Causes rate the individual. This gives the learner even greater clarity with regard to their development.
3. The Team Leader - The individual’s manager can then close the feedback loop by giving additional feedback on the soft skills that are being developed. This crucial step gives the individual another perspective on their skills, which can then be used to help identify the next training project that they should complete to further develop their soft skills in the workplace.

By following this process of 360 degree feedback you allow for greater measurement of soft skills, which in turn allows for greater development and higher productivity.

Why use 360 degree feedback for assessing soft skills?

Positive: Multi-directional Feedback

360 degree feedback overcomes the challenge of subjectivity by incorporating feedback from a number of sources. This is at the core of 360 feedback and incorporates elements such as employee self-report and stakeholder feedback alongside manager feedback to remove as much bias as possible, instead of relying solely on manager feedback. This allows for a greater understanding of gaps within an employee's soft skills and greater improvement in the long run.

Negative: May not be very informed feedback

When commenting on another person, the go-to default is to be as positive as possible, and subsequently, not very specific. This could lead to haphazard data, which could lead to poor measurement and analysis of an employee's soft skills.

+ An easy resolution is to carefully pick the reviewing peers - making sure that they have a good understanding and knowledge of the employee.

 

Positive: A culture of continuous improvement

A consistent programme of 360 degree feedback leads to an environment where every single employee is trying to improve their skills and subsequently their performance within the business. Constant feedback accelerates employee development, helps teams to achieve goals and strengthens team spirit. In Qualtrics’ State of Play 2018 report into employee engagement, over 50% of employees wanted to be assessed at least every 6 months. 360 degree feedback allows this to happen, and is surely the way forward?

Negative: Getting hung up on negative feedback

It is worth noting, however, feedback can sometimes be fairly negative, such as genuine criticism and hard to hear truths. This can be hard for some people to handle and can lead to alienation within the office, and an opposite effect of what 360 degree feedback is there to combat.

+ Make sure survey questions are worded in a way that encourages honest but constructive feedback. It’s HR/L&D’s responsibility to support and coach to get the best out of 360 degree feedback, which will in turn have a knock on effect on measurement and development of soft skills. As long as this support structure is in place then honest, negative feedback, can lead to an opportunity for great growth.

 

Positive: Easier to spot development opportunities

If a review comes exclusively from a ‘line-manager’ you only get a one dimensional view of the employee, right? In contrast to this with 360 degree feedback, you get a holistic, full dimensional evaluation of an employee’s strengths and weaknesses. This allows you to build a solid development plan to build upon, and fully harness the power of soft skills.

Negative: Requires investment and commitment

It is no secret that a 360 degree feedback plan needs buy-in from senior management. It’s called 360 for a reason, it requires application from every single aspect of the business, from managers to interns. If this isn’t present then interest among employees and consequently the incredible benefits, with regard to measuring and developing soft skills will soon fizzle out.

+ The solution is clear, before initiating, make sure you have that senior buy in. This allows 360-degree feedback to be applied consistently and effectively. If this is the case, then the feedback plan will truly flourish.

 

Conclusion

As you can see, the case for introducing 360 degree feedback is strong. It allows for clear and effective measurement of soft skills in the workplace, which in turn will drive greater development. The benefits of this are huge for your employees, who will develop key soft skills such as communication, leadership, and empathy. The benefits are also huge for companies which, after effective soft skills measurement, can now truly unlock the benefits that it offers, such as increased engagement and ROI.

To find out more about how to utilise 360 degree feedback as part of an experiential learning programme, allowing you to effecitvely measure and subsequently develop soft skills, Read our White Paper: Driving Learning And Development Through Experiential Learning.

 

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