21 Soft Skills All Six Sigma Belts Need

By / in Six Sigma /

One of my most popular articles is 101 Things a Six Sigma Black Belt Should Know. Of course, the list is primarily a list of technical tools and skills needed, but anyone who has worked as a change agent knows that there’s more to it than that. Soft skills are at least as important, if not more so. Some of the soft skills are people skills, others are intuition about a change project’s chances of success, and still others involve an understanding of the organization. When I teach Six Sigma classes I have several lessons and assignments around these topics. I thought it would be fun to see how long a list of soft skills I could come up with. Even more fun would be to see how many readers of this post could add to the list. So, here we go:

  1. The Six Sigma Black Belt should be able to excite leadership about the need for change
  2. The Six Sigma Black Belt should have an intuitive sense for which projects are right for their organization
  3. The Six Sigma Black Belt should know how to assess a project’s likelihood for success
  4. The Six Sigma Black Belt should be able to recruit sponsors for their change activities
  5. The Six Sigma Black Belt should know who to turn for when they need a mentor
  6. The Six Sigma Black Belt should understand the mix of personality attributes needed to make a team successful
  7. The Six Sigma Black Belt should understand the team development stages and how to guide a team through these stages
  8. The Six Sigma Black Belt should be able to resolve conflicts between team members
  9. The Six Sigma Black Belt should know when to exercise control and when to release control in a team situation
  10. The Six Sigma Black Belt should know how to plan and facilitate effective meetings
  11. The Six Sigma Black Belt should be an effective public speaker
  12. The Six Sigma Black Belt should be able to facilitate brainstorming sessions
  13. The Six Sigma Black Belt Should know how to achieve consensus
  14. The Six Sigma Black Belt should know what to do when consensus isn’t possible (e.g., nominal group technique.)
  15. The Six Sigma Black Belt should be able to create a stakeholder communication plan
  16. The Six Sigma Black Belt should know how to gain the cooperation of cross-functional stakeholders
  17. The Six Sigma Black Belt should know how to assess restrainers and drivers relative to a goal
  18. The Six Sigma Black Belt should know how to obtain the voice of the customer
  19. The Six Sigma Black Belt should know how to learn about customer needs that customers may not be able to vocalize (e.g., Gemba, Follow-Me-Home)
  20. The Six Sigma Black Belt should know how to determine the relative importance of different customer demands
  21. The Six Sigma Black Belt should understand Kano analysis

This is all I have time for at the moment. I’m sure there are many other skills not on this list. Can we come up with a full 101 things? Your input is required!

Comments

  • dikedrummond April 13, 2009 at 10:19 am Reply

    Hi Tom,

    Now here is a topic that warms my heart. I totally agree that “Soft skills are at least as important, if not more so” as you state in your post.

    Here are a few more I would add to the list:

    Asking Open Ended Questions – the foundation for any empowering leader.

    Understanding how to Deal Effectively with Dysfunctional Behavior on the part of Team Members. There are three stages to this:
    – Prevention
    – Early Detection
    – Clean Resolution

    Energy & Attitude
    Understanding the role of the leader’s energy and attitude on the energy and attitude of the whole team. They will model you … so be careful about “who you are being”.

    Listening
    Really listening, not sitting there thinking about what you will say next or what technique you can use in this situation.

    Empathy
    A genuine appreciation for the challenges and frustrations of your team members. Once you empathize effectively, your team can enter the process improvement “process” cleanly. Until the feelings are on the table you will meet with resistance.

    Effective Communication
    Using a matrix of in-person, voice and electronic communication to keep everyone informed and up to speed both up and down the “chain of command”.

    Coaching
    Helping your people diagnose the source of the problem and find their own answers. This involves effective use of empathy and open ended questions – and, when done well, ensures you don’t have to be the one with all the answers.

    That’s just a start and I will keep posting until my well runs dry.

    My two cents,

    Dike
    Dike Drummond
    http://www.superteams.com

  • dikedrummond April 15, 2009 at 2:06 pm Reply

    Hello again Tom,

    I have a couple more:

    1) Support and Positive Feedback;

    Here is a great Deming quote:
    “All anyone asks for is a chance to work with pride.”

    This is a “soft skill” that is vital to any change/innovation/process improvement. Being able to tell your team members something as simple as “Good Job” once in a while.

    Give them a pat on the back. Catch them doing something right and make this a weekly or even daily habit.

    2) Another key soft skill is the ability to TEACH.

    It is one thing to come in as the Expert/Guru and tell people what to do. It is completely different when you are an effective teacher and your team takes on the knowledge and skill set you provide.

    This is especially important in the interface between the highly technical analysis of LEAN Six Sigma and the day to day reality of an assembly line.

    This ability is the difference between giving them a fish and providing a one time quality improvement …. and teaching them how to fish which puts them on the path to continuous process improvement [even after you are long gone].

    More tomorrow,

    Dike

    Dike Drummond MD CPC
    http://www.superteams.com

  • dikedrummond April 16, 2009 at 2:41 pm Reply

    Here’s another:

    Being able to clearly communicate to the team WIIFM – the “What’s In It For Me” of this proposed Process Improvement.

    Much resistance and skepticism vanishes when the leader is clearly able to understand and communicate the benefits of completing the LEAN Six Sigma Process to the people involved in the day-to-day activities of the Value Stream.

    I recommend you complete this vital bit of communication as early in the course of the project as possible.

    that’s two more cents,

    Dike
    Dike Drummond
    http://www.superteams.com

  • Thomas Pyzdek April 18, 2009 at 8:16 pm Reply

    I think this is a great point, Dike. Of all of the soft skills, this may be the most important. When a person knows that they’ll get something out of the effort they often switch from being a resister to being an active supporter. I’ve seen it time and again.

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