Change, Buy-In, and How Aristotle Taught Continuous Improvement 1

At its heart, Continuous Improvement requires persuasive communication skills.  This is because of the inherent resistance to change that all change agents encounter.

Make no mistake: people don’t want to change.  If they did, tobacco manufacturers would have gone the way of the dodo many decades ago.  But people like their bad habits, no matter how inefficient, costly, or destructive they may be.  So how is a CI practitioner to succeed?


Like me, Aristotle has never seen a single episode of Game of Thrones.

Keep in mind: if (1) people don’t want to change, and (2) we can’t make them change (really…  we can’t), then (3) we are out of a job.  Sometimes you have an opportunity to help people understand the benefits of change, but those people don’t want to hear what you have to say.  So how can you work through the defenses that those people have put in place?

Aristotle solved the problem centuries ago.  He did it with something called rhetoric.  And if you use its concepts well, then maybe 2300 years from now people will be blogging about you (instead of him).

The following rhetorical concepts apply just as much to continuous improvement as they do persuasive speech:

  1. Ethos: Translating roughly to “credibility”, ethos is a concept that pertains to a speaker’s authority over a subject.

  2. Pathos: This rhetorical concept describes a speaker’s ability to appeal to an audience on an emotional level.

  3. Logos: This concept equates to the logical organization of your presentation.

  4. Kairos: The Kairos is the setting, or the time and place.

  5. Telos: This is the attitude and purpose of a communication.

It should be easy to understand the connection between continuous improvement and these rhetorical concepts.  Let’s use an example: Suppose you are a CI consultant who has been hired to improve an organization’s processes.  Sure, the person who hired you has “bought in” to the need for change.  Hopefully all of the senior gatekeepers are on the same page.  You will likely encounter resistance from many in the organization, as not everyone is likely to feel the same pain in broken processes.  It will be necessary to win the support of those responsible for creating and using new processes at every step.

This is where the rhetorical concepts apply.  First and foremost, you must establish your ethos.  Without this, nobody will trust you.  Your kairos needs to align with the organization’s situation, otherwise you will appear “out of touch” with their needs.  Telos allows you to make a connection with your audience; without establishing this connection your audience won’t believe that you have their best interests in mind.  Some people will oppose change; it will be necessary for you to use pathos to reach those individuals where they will recognize the benefits you are able to provide.  Finally, logos can be used to obtain buy-in from those who need to see numbers and facts in order to understand the benefits of a new process.

What do you think?  Feel free to leave a “registration-free, no fee, straight-from-you-to-me” comment below!

One comment on “Change, Buy-In, and How Aristotle Taught Continuous Improvement

  1. Pingback: Change, Buy-In, and How Aristotle… ← Anthony DoMoe

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