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How to plan for exits in your organisational change management strategy

Written by Insocius - 4 minute read

Everything comes to an end.

We don’t always acknowledge that everything and everyone is finite – possibly because that thinking can be uncomfortable, foreshadowing pain and loss.

It’s easy to identify endings in our personal life, but they are also the ebb and flow in our business life, too. We leave jobs (voluntarily or otherwise), projects end, we retire, close colleagues move on, teams are disbanded.

The focus in business for several years has been on collaboration. However, when the strategic direction of our organisation changes, so do the relationships we’ve spent time and energy building.

With only a few exceptions, we don’t plan as well for the exits we face as we do for beginnings. So, drawing on a myriad of examples from other fields, here are some thoughts about how to transform exits and endings into good beginnings as part of your organisational change management strategy.

How to transform endings as an organisational change into good beginnings

1. Ideally, clarify what triggers an ending at the beginning

The more unplanned an exit or ending, the more of an upheaval it can be. A successful ending shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

So, if a change of organisational strategy has been identified up front as a trigger to end the partnership, and communication is open, partners can prepare.

This gives partners control and agency. While it hardly seems the best way to begin a relationship, these initial conversations and planning around what might dissolve the partnership demonstrate an organisation’s sense of responsibility.

An example of this is impact investors, who invest capital to generate long term positive social and environmental impact – even after they exit their chosen organisations. (Global Impact Investing Network)

They discuss when they may exit even before the investment is made. Impact investors consider the growth path of the organisation so that both parties can plan accordingly, enabling investors to reap their investment while ensuring the organisation continues in a sustainable state.

Many organisations might consider this whole-life approach rather than simply focusing on the beginning.

2. Enable a conversation

A partnership is made of people and processes. Unlike machinery and plant, which can be turned off without consideration for its feelings, people continue to think and feel.

Good endings demand that people be heard; exit interviews are vital in organisations for this very reason. Gallup believes that employees who have a positive experience leaving the organisation are nearly three times more likely to recommend it than those who have neutral or negative experiences.

The same is likely of the partners that you’re going to leave behind. A well-considered conversation can give your organisation the opportunity to demonstrate its values in action, proving itself to be open to learning, and showing you value your partners’ contribution.

Such conversations may be uncomfortable – after all, this is an opportunity for people to express their emotions – but your role is to be an empathic witness to any elements of pain and disappointment from the close of your partnership. Staying with the discussion demonstrates the values of your organisation.

In employee exit interviews, the goal is to enable the ex-employee to say what they want. This is also the case when partnerships are disbanded. Bearing this in mind, you should listen more than you speak and resist the temptation to be defensive.

Consider the broad topics you think might be relevant from your history together and craft some open questions around them. This ensures that you guide, but don’t lead the conversation.

The conversation should show respect and gratitude for the partner’s work. Which leads us to our next thought…

3. Celebrate the achievements

The wellbeing and management literature talks about the human need for appreciation to maintain confidence, and a sense of being ‘seen’.

In the light of strategic change which means the dissolution of a partnership where you may not meet again, the opportunity to recognise partners for their achievements should not be missed in your organisational change management strategy.

While achievements are easier to identify and celebrate when projects have gone well and to plan, often a change in strategy is more sudden and unexpected. Because of the emotions that this can arouse, focusing on past achievements may not be so straightforward.

There may even be a temptation to dismiss any achievements. But resist this; there will always be positives to celebrate.

The role of celebrating is to acknowledge the achievements of the past in this, the present, to enable people to plan for the future. This is key to honouring the contribution of your partner and the partnership itself.

4. Understand and mark the end…

Systemic constellations specialist John Whittington writes that endings are crucial episodes in our lives and need to be attended to, otherwise they can ‘haunt’ organisations and individuals, and in many cases, repeat.

Reflection is vital to make sense of the partnership story, and to place all personal stories into the whole. It’s the first step of getting ready to leave. Without discussion, or acknowledgement of emotions and achievements, and integration of these into our current experience, new beginnings can be difficult.

Rituals are often under-estimated in terms of their importance in business but can mark the passage from one state to another. Like a funeral, it’s a form of farewell, a way of drawing a line under the past and turning to face the future.

So, you may want to consider what would be an appropriate ending for your partnership. It could be anything from a toast to your accomplishments to a wake for the project you once worked on together.

To end well is an intense experience...

…but good endings are the best possible springboard for new beginnings for the individuals involved and ultimately, your organisation.

If you’re looking for ways to embed positive exits and endings into your organisational change management strategy and are in need of support with this, contact our team at Insocius today; we’d be more than happy to discuss your unique requirements and put a plan in place with you.

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