Change Isn’t Always Improvement

Gerwig 2014-03-10

Lotion. Warm vanilla sugar body lotion with vitamin E to be exact. And best of all? It’s a “New Improved Formula.” I’m not sure what you get with the new improved formula. Frankly, I didn’t read the bottle to check. Perhaps on the back it would list out all the amazing benefits of the new formula. Perhaps not.

Some of you reading this article may be highly paid marketing experts. There’s nothing wrong with marketing. Unless it’s misleading or dishonest. I remember a few marketing classes I took as an undergraduate and graduate student in business. I remember there was actually a fair amount of science behind the key marketing concepts. I also spent a few years working with creative marketing teams composed of brilliant professionals who were impressive colleagues.

However, I’m a bit skeptical that the average user of the hand lotion pictured above could tell, in practice, a difference in the old lotion versus the new lotion, the one with the “New Improved Formula.” To use one of my favorite terms, it’s “possible but not probable” (at least in my humble opinion).

Now I’m not against lotion in particular or beauty products in general. The purpose of this article, as you already know, isn’t directly related to the picture. The pictures I use merely help me craft my weekly story, my weekly article. This week, my article is about the fact that “change isn’t always improvement.” Ring a bell? Ever have this experience? Undoubtedly you have.

You could probably go on for hours about things that have “changed” but haven’t been improvements. I know I could. A few examples: Obamacare is a change. Is it an improvement? TSA security screening procedures are a change. Are they an improvement? “New” Coke was a change. Was it an improvement over Coke “Classic.” Income tax was made permanent in 1913 by the 16th Amendment to the Constitution. It was a change, but was it an improvement?

On and on we could go. Of course, not everyone would agree whether a particular change was truly an improvement or not. Undoubtedly, some view Obamacare as an improvement. Others do not. Often, the “benefit” of a change depends upon your perspective. Sometimes the change benefits people in one group but hurt people in another (or have a neutral impact).

Yet I haven’t met anyone who believes that “every” change is an improvement. Regardless of whether the change occurs in the local, state, federal government, in our house, at our place of employment or recreational field, I believe you’d agree that not all change is improvement.

So beware. Be a bit skeptical. Ask to see the improvement. What does the new improved formula do for me? How much will this new healthcare benefit cost? What did I have to give up in order to receive 24-hour service? You get the idea. Understand the cost AND the benefit. To focus on, or understand, only one side of the ROI calculation is short-sighted at best and negligent at worst. Yes, some change results in improvement, but not all. Some change results in added costs or longer wait-times or a less effective outcome.

Though I love the topic of “Change Management” and understand its importance, I must say that it would excite me even more if it were called “Improvement Management.” OK, I admit it sounds weird, but, well, you get the idea.

The other side of this coin is that, rarely if ever, does an improvement occur that doesn’t require change. Make sense? Can you think of an improvement in your life, regardless of the venue, that hasn’t required a change? A change in process. A change in raw materials. A change in consequences. A change in people. A change in duties or scope?

If you have experienced an improvement that hasn’t required someone (or something) to change, please email me. I’d love to hear about it. In the meantime, I will continue checking, asking and validating whether or not all the “changes” that are announced with so much fanfare and hype truly have an ROI in practice.

And at the same time, I will continue to make “improvements” in my personal and professional lives. I will continue to use the tools of “change management” as an enabler to the improvements I seek. But I will be skeptical and cautious regarding every “change” I hear about that doesn’t clearly articulate both the cost and the benefit.

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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