Lessons in change management brought to you by my family (and Fitbit)

Illustration of office worker asking to be engaged

Sometimes the parallels between personal relationships and the ones we have at work can teach us valuable lessons. This is a mini study in familial change management  – it went a bit like this:


Identifying the ‘why’: What better way to get active than compete with my family? I know, I’ll buy them Fitbits!

Understanding my audience:

  • Subject A, my niece (17), is a digital native.
  • Subject B, my mum (60-ish), while later to the digital party, also loves technology – she uses a mobile instead of a landline, carries her MacBook everywhere and is active on social media.

Assessing the change impact: My quick assumption went thus: both are users of technology so setting up the Fitbit and following it’s guided walk-through will be easy for them (and so I handed the Fitbits over left them to their own devices – pun intended).

Managing the change: Within an hour of this decision I received a distressed call from my mum and then spent the next two [long] hours on the phone trying to help her navigate the process.

Lessons learnt: It struck me afterwards, how many parallels there are with this story and the way we often tackle change management as part of digital transformation. Everyday we make similar assumptions about the impact of new technology on staff, their digital and system literacy, and the level of training required.

Here are four things I took away from the Fitbit ‘change’ experience:

  1. Starting points are rarely the same.

I wrongly assumed that because my mum uses an iPhone she uses it in the same way as my niece and I – she doesn’t. In trying to guide her through the set up process I found out that she doesn’t know many of the shortcuts I do. Simple tasks, like using the swipe and search function to find an app, were new to her. Just because we all used technology I discovered that it didn’t mean the three of us use it the same way. At all.

Change lesson: Before introducing a new technology investigate how people use that technology and what their literacy level is. An example in the workplace is where a system is being upgraded – we often assume training needs are the same because the starting point is the same. The truth is the starting point probably isn’t and some employees may need to be refreshed on the basics before you begin showing them what is new.

  1. Language is not universal.

Not everyone knows what ‘the cloud’ is. My mum didn’t. I know the App Store app icon by sight; to her it was the ‘blue button with the A on it’. I had assumed that anyone using an iPhone understands Apple’s language – my mum did not.

Change lesson: Change management and training becomes difficult without common language. While, you call it a ‘record management system’, you might find your staff just refer to it as the place they ‘save files’. You might describe it as a CRM; they might call it a ‘customer record’. Find out how your employees speak about technology, what terms they know and don’t know and try and speak in their tongue so you can have the right conversation with them when they need it.

  1. Enthusiasm for an outcome doesn’t negate the frustration that may be felt getting there.

My mum was excited about getting a Fitbit but she nearly gave up. Without the language or the system literacy she got frustrated. This frustration manifested as delaying tactics (‘I’ll do it tomorrow’) that could have been mistaken for obstruction. Instead it was just my mum feeling overwhelmed and once I helped her she was back to positive in an instant.

Change lesson: Find the root cause of any negativity amongst staff facing change. Don’t assume it’s because they don’t want to do something, it could be just because they are finding it challenging and need help.

  1. One size learning does not fit all

While my mum needed a step-by-step walkthrough, my niece just wanted to be allowed to ‘do’. When I started to give her some instructions she rolled her teenage eyes and said ‘I know’ and then got back to figuring it out herself.

Change lesson: Sometimes not everyone needs comprehensive training. Sometimes some people need more training than others. Change and training plans should take this into account and respond to the individual’s they support – not dictate a path. Find a way to let your people frame and develop how you do change – this will ensure it supports their individual needs.

These might seem simple lessons but often it’s the simple things are the overlooked first. We eventually got there in the end and are now all happily walking our 10,000 steps a day. But our paths were very different – success came because we adapted to individual needs as they were uncovered.

What’s your experience of managing change in your personal life? What has it taught you that you can apply to your workplace?


2 thoughts on “Lessons in change management brought to you by my family (and Fitbit)

  1. Great article Anika, I was able to draw some parallels between the industry language used on our proposal V’s clients understanding of what it is they are actually buying. Happy step collecting.


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