Research: The Hard Truth About Soft Skills

The January/February issue of iSixSigma Magazine is out. Aside from being a fantastic issue in itself, the research feature is one that I particularly enjoyed researching and writing. Thanks to all those who responded to our survey last year we were able to gather solid data from the soft side of Six Sigma.

The research jumps right into the soft skills vs. technical skills debate, one that has been around for years…which is more important, the soft stuff or the technical stuff? We asked Six Sigma practitioners around the world which characteristics or skills they thought were the most important for success as a Black Belt. Sky was the limit, respondents wrote their own answers.

Rest assured technical and analytical skill are among the top five skills cited by respondents, but these “hard” skills fall short behind communication and leadership skills, which topped the number one and two spots, respectively. Interpersonal skills – another softie – complete the top five. The tag cloud below represents the results. The size of the words depicts the frequency with which each characteristic or skill was cited.

As a Six Sigma Black Belt, I know first hand that technical savvy is a must. But I also know that the technical aspects of Six Sigma can be learned quite easily through excellent instruction (thanks Paul), practice and passion for improvement.

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So that leaves communication, leadership and interpersonal skills as critical x’s in the success factor equation for a Black Belt. The data shows that these skills, among other soft skills, are actually harder to learn than the technical skills. Sixty-five percent of respondents reported this to be true.

The full results shed even more light on the importance of soft skills for each Six Sigma role.The resultsalso show how often soft skills are utilized by Green Belts, Black Belts, and Master Black Belts. If you’d like access to the full results, subscribeto the Magazine (or at least borrow a colleague’s issue).

Press Release: Teaching Soft Skills Makes for Six Sigma Success

Comments 5

  1. Doug Mitchell

    We spent about 4 hours of my BB training on the soft aspects of the discipline. Too bad.

    As a subject matter participant in close to 20 projects, I’ve seen the soft skill/communication factor as key to success or failure.

    It really comes back to the fundamentals of deploying 6 Sigma in the first place. Is the company fully committed? Are they picking leaders and super stars for the role of black belt?

    We need to place BB’s that can deliver the message as well as the process/analysis.

  2. Cheryl Howard

    Why are soft skills harder in the Black Belt role? I am a communications professional with a Green Belt, and I have coached a number of folks on their soft skills. I tell them that it comes down to being treated as they want others to treat them: patiently, respectfully, never assuming anything, confirming that their messages are understood and will be acted on. However, the most effective BBs aren’t those who talk OR who handle data but the ones who practice active listening.

  3. DAvid

    I don’t remember how much time we spent on the soft skills in my BB training. I only remember that it was mentioned and generally agreed that the soft skills were harder than the analytical skills. Harder means harder to teach and harder for the BB to exhibit.

    I realize that Black Belts will come in both types, as people do. I think that as a society, we place too much emphasis on those that can ’talk a good game’ and not have the analytical skills to make that ’game’ a reality and not enough on those that actually have the analytical skills. I say a remedy is heightened public interest and patience in the product that comes from both. Analogously, I’d rather have a mute crack auto mechanic rather than one that will behind my ear for two hours and still not fix my car the right way. Telling me what’s wrong has no value to me. Then again, the mute auto mechanic may never get me and my car into her/his shop; I’d need a mechanism to "find" him/her.

    Too often, those with great soft skills ’talk the game’ and behind the scenes, employ those with great analytcal skills to do the work. That’s the common procedure of sales/salespeople/business. I say we need both, but should give as much credit, praise and recognition to the ’behind the scenes’ people that actually do the work as we’ve given to the salesperson/businessmanager.

  4. Carol Dickson-Carr

    Doug Mitchell said it in a nutshell. Both are important–the ability to deliver the message effectively and also to have the analytical tools to implement process improvement. And the survey results reflected that.

    What I found interesting in the study was that 65% of the respondents believed that the soft skills were harder to learn. It’s often naturally assumed that the analytical and technical are there as a black belt (they’d have to be!). It’s an interesting perception, but it doesn’t have to be the reality.

    I wrote an article 3 years ago entitled Strategies to Overcoming Communication Breakdown that might help or serve as a reminder. I tried copy/pasting it here but it was too long, so you can access the article by clicking the article title above.

  5. Arvel

    To Carol Dickson-Carr

    I am not able to get the article on clicking.
    Can you please help me?

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