There’s Money in Those People Skills

In my experience all activities, whether in the public or the private sector, involve a combination of the Technical and Behavioral. Improving a process, consequently, always involves a mixture of these two things.

A recent study of U.S. labor markets between 1980 and 2012, by David Deming of Harvard University (“The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market” January 21, 2016), shows that jobs with a combination of High Math skills and High Social skills was correlated to the strongest relative growth in the share of employment; jobs with High Social skills and Low Math skills was correlated to the second strongest growth in the share of employment.


For wage growth, the study found that jobs with High Social skill levels regardless of the level of Math skill requirement was correlated to the strongest change in real hourly wages.


The study used, among other inputs, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Information Network database or O*NET. To characterize a job’s Social Skills intensity, O*NET uses four factors:

Coordination: adjusting actions in relation to others’ actions;

Negotiation: bringing others together and trying to reconcile differences;

Persuasion: persuading others to change their minds or behavior;

Social Perceptiveness: being aware of others’ reactions and understanding why they react as they do.

I think the usefulness and importance of these four elements speak for themselves.

The O*NET Math definition has three high level dimensions:

Extent to which an occupation requires mathematical reasoning (for example, the job of an Actuary requires considerable ability to think probabilistically);

Problem solving method: whether the occupation requires mathematics to solve problems (for example it is difficult to solve the problem of a certain metal alloy failing prematurely under a weight load without application of mathematics);

Fundamental knowledge: whether the occupation requires an understanding of the underlying mathematic principles (as opposed to letting a computer algorithm do the work without the person understanding the underlying principle. For example, a Process Excellence professional using Minitab to create a control chart but not knowing themselves how to calculate the control limits).

In terms of ongoing operation as well as improvement, a mix of Technical know-how — running the numbers, doing the analytics etc. — is important but without the ability to understand the Behavioral component and to deftly use Social skills as a leader, group member or as a Process Excellence practitioner, your prospects for a more successful career are reduced.