No change project lasts forever – or at least it shouldn’t. Whether change agents measure success by a timeline to completion or the attainment of a specified goal, the workload gets lighter and the end of the project becomes a reality. It is time to tie up the loose ends and get back to business as usual or move on to the next change.
It’s tempting to stop here. But there is one more step.
Danger Point #2: No Exit
A properly designed exit strategy is necessary to check that everything was accomplished as planned, to identify risks to the new current state, and to plan the handover to whoever is going to be responsible for monitoring and managing the new current state.
Incorporate these critical components to ensure an effective exit strategy:
- Documentation – Close the loop! Think of the change project as a closed loop that can be cycled through more than once if necessary. Just as documentation is a critical part of the change process, it’s also a key component of a well-designed exit strategy. It is important to keep a file – archived but accessible – of all steps in the project and all deliverables. This file must be set up to be understood by someone who knows nothing about the change and who may be trying to learn from the process, or perhaps to go back to see what was done before if the change project is ever revived.
- Ownership – In order for a change to be sustainable in an organization, the target audience must see its required actions as a natural part of their job, not as something extra. The business will never take ownership of the changes driven by the project team if the project drones on forever. If the change is never officially finished, it will always be seen as belonging to the change agents.
- Debrief – People like to know when they have finished a job. The change agents want to know they have completed their responsibilities and have permission (formal or informal) to move on. They like to know whether the job they have completed was well-received. Have an official debriefing where the change agents are permitted to comment freely on the change and the change process. Ask open-ended questions:
- What did we do well?
- What can we do differently during the next change?
- How has the way we managed this change taught us to do it better next time?
- How well did sponsors, change agents, and targets fulfill their roles and carry out their responsibilities?
- Next time, how will we ensure targets of change feel more like partners in the change process?