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  • Writer's pictureRob Buckingham

Making the “hard” ROI of soft skills soft

Updated: May 9, 2023

We previously shared our thoughts on using the language of soft skills (click to read) and our vision for soft skill development for all. After all, if everyone had great soft skills, wouldn’t the world be a better place? Sure, it would, and we discussed soft skills' positive impacts on organizations (click to read). Unfortunately, soft skill ROI is indirect and, therefore, challenging to prove until now.


Side note: you should know that I’m not an expert in learning and development. What I am good at are product, operations, and finance. I’m an analyst at heart: I love developing a deep understanding and applying what I’ve learned to create new, world-changing opportunities.


Early in our qChange journey, we came across the Kirkpatrick model, a widely used framework for evaluating the effectiveness of training programs. The model consists of four levels of evaluation, each building on the previous level:

  1. Level 1: Reaction - This level measures the immediate reaction of participants to the training, such as their satisfaction with the content and delivery of the program.

  2. Level 2: Learning - This level measures the extent to which participants have acquired the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that were the objectives of the training program.

  3. Level 3: Behavior - This level measures the extent to which participants have applied what they learned in the training program on the job.

  4. Level 4: Results - This level measures the impact of the training program on the organization, such as improvements in performance, productivity, customer satisfaction, or profitability.

The problem with soft skills is that they are tough to measure beyond Level 2: Learning and near impossible to measure Levels 3 or 4. Think about it. What are the top two questions after a training module or class?

1) Did this training meet your expectations?

2) Do you think you can apply these concepts in your daily job?


Another side Note: this doesn’t even comprehend the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve, which tremendously impacts measuring Level 2: Learning! For reference, the forgetting curve hypothesizes the decline of memory retention over time. Learning needs to be applied, or it’s forgotten!


OK, the standard way of measuring learning barely gets us to Level 2, which brings us to employee engagement surveys. These are the industry standard for understanding employee emotions, attitudes (sentiment), beliefs, and values. Each is an essential component to measuring behaviors (Kirkpatrick Level 3), with one critical component missing: actually measuring skills and actions.


And that’s where qChange fits in. Our experiential learning framework provides a real-time, objective measure of soft skills. With soft skill measurement, L&D managers can connect the dots to their training programs, measure program effectiveness, and build a more believable soft skill ROI.


Next up: We explore the crazy idea of connecting the “buying cycle” with learning theory. Are there similarities and key takeaways?


qChange Innovation Stories shares the learnings of building a next-generation experiential learning company in a sea of entrenched capabilities and status quo thinking.


To learn more, email: rbuckingham@qchange.com

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