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  • Writer's picturejohn pryor

Three Things my Mother-in-Law Reminded me about Change Management

A few weeks ago, I was visiting my mother-in-law near Denver Colorado. She’s getting on in her years and I go visit to keep her company and help out with little things that need to be done. Between her daughters and sons-in-law, we try to keep her busy.

One evening I was taking her to dinner, meeting up with her daughter and son-in-law. She and I were traveling from Littleton to Louisville, about an hour drive. I was driving and Mom was navigating. We left in the late afternoon and travelled on a road called Wadsworth. Wadsworth gives a pretty straight shot from one place to the other, but Wadsworth has a lot of traffic lights, that always seem to be red. Apparently, it is notorious; even the Lyft driver warned me about Wadsworth when he picked me up from the airport.

So, we traveled along Wadsworth and stopped frequently, ultimately getting to where we needed to go. We had a nice dinner in a trendy part of town and when we went to get in our car to head back, it was dark outside.

And then Mom started to get stressed. “I can’t see the mountains” she said, “I don’t know where we are. I don’t know which way to go.”

“Its okay, I’ve got maps on my phone, we’re fine” I said as I pulled out my phone and brought up the app. “It’ll just tell us where to go.”

She reminded me she used maps and knew all of that.

So, admonished for doubting her level of tech — savviness, we got in the car, turned up the volume on the phone, and headed for her home.

All was good for the first 15 minutes. “I know where we are now” she said.

“Okay cool. See, maps are great. And it says we’ll get there 10 minutes earlier if we go this route.”

“Oh, good!” she said.

After a couple minutes she says, “Our exit is coming up — Wadsworth.”

“Well, the app is telling us to go a different way. Let’s just try this and see how it goes.”

“Okay” she replied skeptically.

All was calm, and then we passed the Wadsworth exit.

“That’s our exit. We need to be on that.” She was getting excited now. “You have to turn around.”

“Its okay, let’s just trust this. I use it all the time and it works. And it says we’ll get there faster going this way.”

“No, we have to go back.” She was angry now. Visibly angry, raising her voice.

“Let’s just try it. We’ll try something new. You’ve used the maps before. It’ll be okay. If it doesn’t work in 20 minutes, we’ll turn around.”

And that’s how it went for the next 20 minutes.

“This is the wrong way.”

“It’s okay, let’s just try this, we’re fine. Let’s see if its faster!”

Eventually, we made it to her home, early. As we approached her house, she even thought it was a good route to “get the car up to speed for a bit” and the next day she wanted to try the maps app on her phone. So, I thought that was a score for trying something new.

But the evening’s events, and Mom’s very serious emotional reaction to trying a new route got me to thinking. Why did she react like that? What could I have done differently?

In the end, a simple drive with my mother-in-law reminded me of some very important points about change.

When she boasted of her tech ability with maps apps, I was pleased. I thought the biggest hurdle was getting her to relinquish her navigator role to an app, but she seemed good with letting the phone navigate instead of her. She was experimenting with the change.

All was good until she was clear in her mind where to go, and her navigator replacement, suggested something different. Then she pushed back really, really hard. If she was driving, she would have taken that first Wadsworth exit. If she could have controlled me, she would have forced us to take the next exit and turn around. But she did not have control and had to just trust something she was unfamiliar with. That’s hard to do and she pushed back.

But what great reminders about change! There is a point during a change where you must give up something, in this case control, and that can be difficult and create reactions you do not expect. Even with early adopters, this can happen.

Additionally, I was so far along on the learning and change curves regarding the technology we were using, that her reaction seemed almost otherworldly; kind of like “Where the heck is this coming from?” I was taken back a bit and it took me a while to figure out what was going on and how to talk and walk her through the experience.

When thinking about how this applies to work, or other personal changes, I came away with three things to remember.

First, change is everywhere. We find change in our shuffle of organizations and staff. We find it when introduced to new processes and tools. We find it when driving mom home from a restaurant. Be aware of that.

Second, what’s old for me may be new for you, and that feeds into the lesson #1. Be aware of that.

Third, even when you think all is smooth sailing, be prepared for a squall. Those who say they are on board and are actively trying something new may need help letting go of the old way, learning and adopting the new way. Don’t ignore them because they say they are on board; expect they will need some assistance along the way.

Before publishing this story, I called up my Mom-in-law to check in on her. And to say thanks for another lesson learned.

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