Number One Soft Skill for Quality Improvement

Improvement Insights Blog

Number One Soft Skill for Quality Improvement

At a recent ASQ Webinar on Agile Lean Six Sigma, someone asked what I thought the number one soft skill would be for quality improvement professionals. Here’s my answer:

“I was doing an Agile Lean Six Sigma workshop for one of the ASQ sections, and in the question and answer part somebody [asked], “What do you think is the number one soft ‘people skill’ that change management agents need?” I thought about it for a second; I thought, “Well, listening.” Listening. You have to learn how to listen to what your people are saying.

“I remember I went to the first hospital that I ever worked with, and they said, “We have a problem with nosocomial infections.” I thought, “Okay, what’s a nosocomial infection?” Well, it’s something that they acquired in the hospital (they’re now called hospital acquired infections or HAIs), so I had to learn how to speak ‘hospital,’ right? I did not try to speak ‘manufacturing speak’ or anything else.

“Here’s the deal, don’t try and teach them Japanese: you know, ‘kaizen,’ ‘gemba,’ ‘kanban’… no. Don’t try and teach people a foreign language. Don’t try and teach them to speak ‘statistician’: “Well, you know, we cannot reject the null hypothesis…” I’m sorry, people don’t understand that stuff. What it does is break rapport, right? What do we want to do? We want to learn to speak their language and put it in terms that they understand. When you do that, the connection is magical and you can make a lot more progress.

“So that’s my Improvement Insight for this week: To be more effective, listen. Two ears, one mouth. Two ears; listen more, and then use their language, right? Don’t try and translate it into your language because they don’t understand your language. When you do that, guess what? Magical things happen and people get more engaged in Quality, make more improvements, make the world a better place, we get to hassle-free America, hassle-free health care, and bigger hurries.

“So that’s my Improvement Insight for this week. Let’s go out and improve something this week.”

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