Three Artistic Proofs To Drive Continuous Improvement

By Polly Walker

In my 25-year career, I have facilitated or been involved with approximately 80 process improvements. These projects ranged from small, quick fixes in one section or business unit all the way up to complex, multi-department systems improvements. Even though the size and scope of the process problem and solutions varies greatly from project to project, there is a technique I use that ensures the engagement of the workgroup, the buy-in of team members and management and, ultimately, the success of the project.

Almost all of us have heard of Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher. Among his accomplishments was coining the term “the three artistic proofs”, or Ethos, Pathos and Logos. If you have heard these terms, they are relevant to giving a great speech or effectively persuading an audience. For each of the three artistic proofs, I will provide a short definition and then outline how that technique is key to an effective process improvement project.

Ethos: Credibility or character driven by using language that is appropriate for the audience or topic.

As the leader (a facilitator, a project sponsor, etc.) involved with the process improvement, you want to use language that is appropriate for the team, the project sponsor and all audiences involved with the process improvement. You will want to adjust the technicality or the complexity of the language based on your audience. For example, the work group itself should be mainly comprised of the subject matter experts so when speaking with them or presenting results, use their technical language and acronyms. On the other hand, if you are explaining the process improvement recommendations to an executive leadership team you will want to adjust the language to simpler, higher level language.

Pathos: Emotional appeal, inspiring action by sharing experience.

Emotional appeal is also a critical skill for managing the project. You should be able to explain (by appealing to the emotions of the audience) how the process problem impacts both the team members and the customers. Additionally, as the facilitator you should be working to build relationships with and among your work group as you move forward with the process improvement project. Relationships and emotion are key to building consensus and moving quickly through the four stages of a team (forming, storming, norming and performing) not only during the process improvement but after the project is done and the team members are implementing the changes.

Logos: Appealing to logic, convincing the audience by using reason, citing facts.

Gathering and citing facts is key to your process improvement project. You need to have the relevant data and information on the process issues to ensure team buy in and share the depth and breadth of the problem. This is especially important if there is denial that there is even actually a problem. Additionally, data gathered before, after, and during the project to show if the changes worked is also critically important.

Even though the size and scope of the process problem and solutions varies greatly from project to project, the “three artistic proofs” (Ethos, Pathos and Logos) can help ensure the effectiveness and success of any process improvement project.

Polly Walker’s areas of focus include leadership development, quality management, customer service, team member engagement and process improvement. She is an engaging and experienced facilitator, team builder, trainer, and change manager. She holds an Operational Excellence Certification from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, a Quality Improvement Associate (CQIA) certification from the American Society for Quality (ASQ), a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, and is on the Board of Examiners for the Southwest Alliance for Excellence.

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