How important is enthusiasm in change management?

Guest contribution by | 25.03.2024

How do you get people excited about change? This question is on many people’s minds when it comes to implementing change in organisations. Enthusiasm is the prerequisite for participating in the implementation of an undertaking. That is the assumption. However, from a sober point of view, striving for enthusiasm is unrealistic and sometimes even a hindrance. This article looks at what is needed instead and how enthusiasm can be generated in the end.

Enthusiasm is unrealistic

The desire to get others excited about their own idea is understandable from the point of view of the initiators of a change. After all, they have thought about something and are convinced of their idea. Now it’s time to win over fellow campaigners. What could be more obvious than promoting your own idea, inspiring others and persuading them to join in?

This approach overlooks the essential characteristics of organisations. The members of an organisation decide to join an organisation under certain conditions. They make agreements about the type of activity, the location, the structural integration and much more. A change in the organisation also changes this agreement, at least potentially. I suddenly have to perform different activities (e.g. in the case of restructuring), perhaps belong to a new organisation (e.g. in the case of mergers), work differently with my colleagues (e.g. when new working methods are introduced).

The motives for getting involved in the organisation are as varied as the members of the organisation itself. It is therefore unrealistic to expect that all or most of them will be enthusiastic about a particular change. The good news is that it is not necessary.

Enthusiasm is unnecessary

It is part of everyday life in organisations that their members are not enthusiastic about everything they have to do. They do it anyway. Because it is necessary or useful from the organisation’s point of view. Most of us find documentation tasks, for example, annoying. Nevertheless, they are carried out (more or less carefully) by many members of the organisation so that different people can work together on complex tasks.

As members of an organisation, we people do not just follow individual cost-benefit considerations. We also share a common idea of what the organisation needs to achieve its goals and what contribution we can make in our role.

In order to win supporters for organisational change processes, I have to convince the members of the organisation that the change makes sense for the organisation. And not so much that the change is positive and therefore worthy of enthusiasm for each individual member. This makes a big difference to communication in change processes.

Change communication works better without enthusiasm

Instead of focussing on the enthusiasm of each individual, change managers can concentrate on working out the why and wherefore of the change and communicating it in a comprehensible way. Taking the introduction of a CRM system as an example, it sounds like this:

  • Until now, we have operated very individually in sales. Each sales employee had their own customer contacts, which they looked after individually. As a result, we had a close relationship with our customers, were able to react quickly to new needs and place our offers accordingly.
  • This is no longer possible due to the lack of staff and the simultaneous growth of our company. If every sales employee continued to have a fixed customer base, we would not be able to look after all existing customers with the existing staff, let alone acquire new ones. A significant increase in staff is not realistic in the current labour market situation.
  • We therefore want to provide our customers with more flexible support in future. The members of the sales team should look after the entire customer pool together. To do this, we need transparency about the respective customer account, the current status of communication and the history.
  • To enable this transparency, we are introducing a CRM system. This is where we collect the relevant information and make it available to the entire team. We want our customers to experience this in future: No matter who I speak to from company X, they are always up to date, know my needs and respond to me individually!

The true story of change is told here. What is the trigger, what is to be achieved? Without judgement, without an appeal to enthusiasm. The rational and emotional evaluation of the undertaking is left to the members of the organisation. Enthusiasm-oriented change communication anticipates this step and focuses on the positive aspects of the change – in the hope that the organisation members will adopt this evaluation.

Change management without enthusiasm rhetoric is challenging but rewarding

This other type of change communication is both easier and more difficult than trying to “inspire people”. Easier because there is no pressure to generate only positive emotions. More difficult because communication and dialogue take on a different depth.

Possible inconsistencies in the project come to light. Negative reactions cannot be summarily dismissed as a “lack of enthusiasm”. They can relate to specific aspects of the undertaking. The initiators of change must face up to this. That is exhausting.

But it is worth it. It is the only way for those involved to come to terms with the risks associated with the change. What hurdles need to be overcome. The price of the change. If this discussion does not take place, the disappointment is great as soon as the first obstacles appear. Then courage quickly fades and doubts arise as to whether the change is really as unreservedly positive as the initiators claim.

Enthusiasm is one-sided and sometimes a hindrance

An organisational change project is complex, multi-layered and therefore never clearly positive or negative. Neither for the individual organisational member nor for the organisation as a whole. It is unclear whether the customers of our example company will feel just as well looked after in the pool solution as they did before the change. The undertaking harbours risks.

Purely enthusiastic rhetoric ignores these and makes them taboo. As a result, the voices that point out the risks are not heard. This can lead to frustration and resistance among those affected. Above all, however, it harbours the danger that not enough care and energy will be devoted to containing the risks. After all, they do not exist or are not “speakable”. Then, for example, no active efforts are made to maintain the quality of customer service in the pool solution. The CRM is then introduced, but the customers migrate. The organisational goals of the change – growth through optimised customer care – are not achieved.

Only if those involved talk openly about what is welcome about the change, but also about what is difficult, will they find solutions for the difficult aspects. And what is welcome becomes something concrete that makes it seem worthwhile to master the difficult aspects together.

Enthusiasm can arise when it is not the primary goal

When mastering together, something like enthusiasm can eventually develop. However, this requires initial successes. If enthusiasm is declared a prerequisite for change, the result is a frustrating struggle for the “right” emotions for everyone involved.

Enthusiasm cannot be prescribed or manufactured. It arises when those involved recognise an organisational purpose in the change, are able to contribute their intelligence and experience the effects of the change for themselves and the organisation as a whole during implementation.

Extra bonus

Here you will find 3 additional questions on change management answered by Anne Lamberts (please click on plus buttons):

Can the emphasis on rationality in change communication lead to important emotional aspects of employees being neglected?

Anne Lamberts: Emotions are important for the implementation of change projects. The question is, however, which way of dealing with emotions is appropriate. On the one hand, I advocate not only wanting to evoke positive emotions. Worries, fears and anger can also contain important messages about the change project. For example, that certain risks have not yet been sufficiently considered. They are also a sign that a processing process is taking place. This is a prerequisite for those involved to integrate the change project into their behaviour. However, both positive and negative emotions cannot be actively generated. The attempt often even leads to resistance. This is why I also advocate change communication that focuses on conveying meaning, while dealing with the existing emotions and their significance for the change should take place in dialogue formats.

When does it make sense for employees not only to understand the purpose of a change, but also to identify personally with the objectives?

Anne Lamberts: Here too, personal identification can be helpful, but it cannot be “manufactured”. It is an internal process that takes place differently for each member of the organisation. A sense of purpose is the basic prerequisite for this individual process to get underway. It therefore makes sense to focus on this first step because I can actively influence it. Instead, in many change processes, the communication of meaning is neglected, but a lot of effort is made to increase personal identification. Organisations could do without this. If the meaning is there, identification will come naturally to the extent possible.

Why is change management worthwhile without the rhetoric of enthusiasm and how can this be determined?

Anne Lamberts: It is worth it emotionally and economically. Emotionally, because the initiators do not feel responsible for the impossible task of generating positive emotions among their fellow campaigners. That takes the pressure off. Economically, because unnecessary resistance and the associated additional effort in the change project is avoided.


Anne Lamberts runs her own blog in which she writes (in German) about effective change processes in companies:: It’s definitely worth a look.

In the context of product development, the enthusiasm of users is considered an essential feature in order to stand out from the competition. The Kano Model explains which characteristics have which influence on customer satisfaction.

If you like the article or would like to discuss it, please feel free to share it with your network.

Anne Lamberts has published another post on the t2informatik Blog:

t2informatik Blog: Patterns and methods in organisations

Patterns and methods in organisations

Anne Lamberts

Anne Lamberts

Anne Lamberts is a systemic organisational consultant in Hanau and helps teams and organisations to successfully implement change. Her clients include corporations, medium-sized companies and public authorities. As a teaching consultant at the Change Academy in Speyer, she also imparts change know-how that takes into account the special features of organisations as social systems and thus opens up new options for action in change management.