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Proving the Value of Soft Skills Training

November 16th, 2020

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In today's job market, soft skills have become as important -- some say even more important -- than possessing all the skills and experience a hiring manager might hope for. Leadership, resilience, good communication and teamwork have become so essential for workers that companies spend millions on programs to cultivate these skills.

" HR executives want to ensure their workers — managers especially — have these vital skills," notes an article on the website of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Are they getting their money's worth?

That's the focus of the article headlined "Measuring the ROI of Soft Skills." It outlines a five-step process to prove the worth of a program.

Interestingly enough, the process begins with answering the question "Why."

"When determining the 'why,' talent development professionals should keep a hard truth in mind: most soft skills programs do not connect to the business," write the authors Jack J. Phillips, Patti Phillips and Rebecca Ray. They say research shows company leaders " want to see the business connection of learning, and sometimes the ROI."

"Having the skills in place is only behavior," they say. "Most funders, after all, want more than that. They desire impact and ROI, so plan for it rather than waiting for them to ask."

The next step in the process is "defining the desired outcomes and business impacts and, when implementing a new solution, developing objectives." Program designers, the facilitators, participants and their managers should all be involved in designing the training to achieve the goals. "All should be aimed at not only learning, but also using these skills and their subsequent impact."

The next three steps all involve gathering, analyzing and using the data to both demonstrate the ROI and to improve the program in order to optimize the ROI.

"As it relates to impact, data sources can include key business metrics such as productivity levels, customer satisfaction scores, error rates and the number of workplace accidents," the authors explain. "As such, a teambuilding program may improve productivity, reduce errors, improve absenteeism rates, reduce employee turnover or raise employee engagement levels."

For behavior change, the authors recommend gathering data from "observation, focus groups, interviews, performance reviews, customer feedback and surveys of both the individual and stakeholders."

In analyzing the impact data, cleaning it to isolate the effects of the soft skills program from other influences is essential. Then, the authors say, "the impact data should be converted to money to quantify the program’s monetary benefits."

The data analysis, they observe, is "is probably the most important step from the perspective of executives."

Communicating the ROI helps build the business case for continuing to fund soft skills training.

This approach, the article concludes, is valuable at any time, however it is especially relevant now given the "vast fallout from COVID-19.

"Both budgetary challenges and interpersonal work conditions will continue to underscore the importance of soft skills. Now, HR has the tools to make that case with the kind of hard numbers that executives appreciate."

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