Change is not Improvement

In response to: Why executives order reorgs

“We trained hard… but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion; inefficiency, and demoralization.”

These lines, from the Satyricon of Petronius written 2,000 years ago…

Unfortunately it seems this quote is not actually his. Instead apparently someone attributed the quote to him to give it the weight of time. I think that the sentiment expressed rings true speaks to the experience of many.

The Improvement Guide: the Practical Approach to Enhancing Organizational Performance, is an excellent handbook on making changes that are improvements rather than just a way to create the illusion of progress. The book uses three simple questions to frame the improvement strategy.

  • What are we trying accomplish?
  • How will we know that a change is an improvement?
  • What changes can we make that will result in improvement?

The second questions if rarely used. Without that question it is much easier to make vague statements that seem like reasons to change and why it would be an improvement. But if you have to document how you will know the change is successful it makes it more difficult to change for just the appearance of improvement.

Once the organization does that regularly, the next step is to actually measure the results and validate the success or failure of the improvement efforts.