Old Main at Geneva CollegeThis past weekend I had the chance to return to my alma mater, Geneva College, for the first time in about 25 years. I drove out in order to speak to a group of alums and students, and knew that things would be different. But I really wasn’t prepared for what I saw.

First, driving into Beaver Falls, and later going through the heart of the city, I was shocked by how time had seemingly stood still. Everything looked the same, if not a bit more rundown. Some of the businesses (the ones that were still open) hadn’t changed a bit.

But the real change was on the campus. While time stood still in the town, the campus, for the most part, had moved forward, like an oasis in the desert.

The most drastic change was that a major road, Route 18, had been rerouted so that it went around campus, rather than directly through it. This had been talked about when I was a student from 1979-83, but was just completed a few years ago. The winding S-curve that went through campus had been a major hazard, with trucks dumping their loads right in the paths of students on their way to classes or the dining hall. Now, what was once a dangerous intersection was now grass and sidewalks.

Additionally, there are new buildings standing on ground once filled with old houses. But some of the older buildings are still there in all their glory. As I toured the campus, I noticed that while the exterior of the buildings remained the same, parts of the interior had been upgraded.

Change.

For many, it’s a dirty word. Any change with the Facebook interface is usually greeted with the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. But change is necessary, as long as it isn’t change for change sake. We need to move forward and progress.

While the campus at Geneva looked very different to me, I knew there were a few things that hadn’t changed, particularly their core values. Geneva is still committed, even more so, to providing an excellent, world-class liberal arts education. The school is committed to academic excellence.

Alexander Hall on the Geneva College Campus

You see, the structure may change, the look and feel may change, but at it’s heart, the college is the same.

Any changes we make in our business must be for the purpose of improvement. Offer better products and better service. Offer them in a more timely fashion. Advance in areas of technology that improve your efficiency, as well as the user experience. That kind of change is important, but we still need to hold fast to our core values.

Last year I noticed some changes in how my web host was handling things. I had gone with this company at the recommendation of a friend, based on value and customer service. But last year, while the price remained the same, the product wasn’t quite as good, and the customer service went downhill fast. I soon discovered that they had cut some corners, presumably to save money. Yes, they made changes, but they also gave up on some of their core values, including providing excellent customer service. As a result, they lost me as a customer and my website was moved to a more reliable host.

Sure, when some things change, people might complain. But if the changes truly are for the better, they’ll get used to them. What they won’t get used to is a change for the worse in your core values. If you built your business on quality products, your customers won’t accept cutting corners. If your business is known for great customer service, scaling back will be met with complaints, and possibly a loss of business.

On the other hand, an inability to adapt — a resistance to change — can be lethal. Beaver Falls is a former steel town that has not been able to adapt to the changes in the industry and economy. It was really depressing to drive through the city, and see how run down it has become. I stopped at the radio station where I had my first job after college. Nothing had changed. What was once a vibrant, local radio station in a flourishing community, was now merely a shell of its former self. Yes, it was still there and on the air, but nothing like what I remember. If you don’t change; adapt; update…you’ll be frozen in time while the rest of the world passes you by.

Are you able to adapt to the changes around you? Is your business advancing and changing, while maintaining your core values? How are you moving forward, while staying the same?