Richard Batchelor

Change Management & Strategic Human Resources

August 29  2011

Managing Change Enthusiasts

Whenever a change comes along there are those people who are very happy to see the change and are very encouraging of the change event. I call these people the change enthusiasts.

By its very nature, the word enthusiast sounds full of energy and uplifting and that is very true of the people I put in this category. They are excited, positive, vocal, keen and motivated to take the change forward. You’d think they’d be every change manager’s dream! Well in theory that may be the case, but in practice, controlling their exuberance and managing their reactions can be a challenge themselves!

So what am I talking about? Here are some of the issues that often arise with change enthusiasts:

1. They tell everyone about the change straight away, so preventing managed and targeted communications about the change.

2. They try to help with the change even if they have no knowledge of the topic or what is being transitioned.

3. They distract a lot of people from doing their jobs and undertaking tasks in the change activity, as they rapidly move between different activity strands trying to get involved and telling everyone how great things are now that “X” is happening.

4. They want to be first for the change, whether that is practical or not.

5. They think they can lead everyone through the change, acting as some form of change agent, but more often like some military leader.

There are many other activities that will often be seen, and as I am sure you can sense from the above, each can occur in degrees of irritation, leading to total intrusion on the change event processes.

How can you manage these people?

You need to identify these people quickly. Fortunately they most often self-identify – they are the ones with the hands in the air first when you ask for volunteers and running to help you deliver the new things. But the challenge is trying to keep them on board with the change, whilst diluting their impact. Their energy can be great at getting infectious enthusiasm for the change, but similarly it needs control.

Speak to the enthusiast and welcome their positivity. Tell them how great it is that they are onboard and how helpful it is that you don’t need to work with them to take them forward through the change. Big up their positivity.

Explain how they need to keep in touch with everyone else’s level of acceptance. They can’t go running ahead or we will lose the rest of the team/group/division.  

Think of tasks for them that they can do which helps but stops them from having too much leeway. They are great at town hall meetings, handing out information, or giving brief statements. The energy they have will sow through and bring some positivity. They are also great as plants or catalysts in discussion groups on the change. But be careful not to leave them unsupervised as their energy may rebound significantly to push others further away from acceptance.

Don’t ask enthusiasts to develop and change communications, create any plans or speak on your behalf. Their enthusiasm for the change will prompt them to create overzealous timeframes and unwillingness to see any negativity that may exist. They can be so blinkered by their own positivity; acting in any change agent role can allow them to run so far off with the change event delivery that many get left behind in bewilderment and confusion.

Enthusiastic energy is awesome for delivering change, but can be a bit like a power generator, without an outlet for their energy that is both relevant and measured, they can hit critical mass very quickly and flip into total despair that the change is not taking place fast enough.

So the next time you find yourself with someone who is really enthusiastic about a change activity, remember you need to manage them not just those that have a more diluted expectation.