Stage 6.8  Terminating and Moving On

A change agent can make a career out of one innovation and/or one client system. For such a change agent disengagement is not an important issue because it never comes. For most change agents, however, it should and will come. You should think about the consequences of disengagement and plan for them well in advance of actual termination. The two questions that should concern you are "when?" and "how?"

When do you begin to disengage?

You can begin to think about disengagement when you start to observe signs of internalization of the innovation or, preferably, when you see signs that self-renewal capacity is beginning to build.

There are three basic conditions that allow withdrawal on happy and honorable terms.

  1. Problem Solved: 
    There is good evidence that the originally diagnosed problem is on its way to solution.
  2. Change Accepted: 
    The innovation has been accepted by the leadership and is beginning to diffuse rapidly among other system members;
  3. Renewal Achieved:
    There is evidence that the system is generating a self-renewal capacity.

Which of these three criteria you choose will depend upon your degree of success in the endeavor as well as your own objectives and ambitions. Alternatives "a" and "b" are obviously more limited than "c," but you may not be able to wait for "c" to develop if you have competing demands and obligations from other client systems. Moreover, it probably takes a good deal of experience and clinical insight to sense the moment when your clients are ready to step out on their own.


How do you disengage?

Because of the need for follow-up and continuing aid in adaptation, the disengagement process should be gradual. You should not leave your clients without fully thinking through with them how they will carryon without you. Discussions and specific commitments to continued work on the innovation should be a part of these closing phases of the relationship.

In addition, you should not be blind to psychological problems which may surround the act of disengagement. Remember that you have worked to create a strong relationship in which there has been some degree of mutual dependency. If you have done your job right, you now have many good friends throughout the system. They will be reluctant to have you go and you will be reluctant to leave on this account alone. Talking to them about the necessity of termination and discussing how they will carry on the project will smooth the transition.

Complete termination, however, is neither necessary nor advisable in most situations. Even after you have departed you should be available for emergency help and scheduled annual reunions. These continuing friendships   with former clients are an important part of your personal reward system,   one of the great satisfactions of being a change agent.

When change agents have succeeded in gaining acceptance, they are very much inclined to think that their job is done. It is now up to the client to take over long-term maintenance. It is a reasonable assumption;  the responsibility of the change agent must end somewhere. Your time and energy are not unlimited and there are clients in other places waiting for your help.

If you have been able to develop a change program along the lines suggested in the Guide, your task will now be relatively simple. Because you have worked collaboratively with your clients and involved them directly in all phases of the change process, by this time they should be well trained in helping themselves; they will have a good understanding of diagnosis, retrieval, selection, and so forth. That is the ideal, but we know that it is not usually the reality.



The Change Agent is selling something.  --- The client is buying something.
What are the limits of this relationship? There have to be limits. 
In marriage it is “…till death do us part.” And this works perhaps half the time.
Merchandisers sometimes like to say: “ALL SALES ARE FINAL!”
but when are they really final?  The claim is really a dodge, a hope that there will be some legal protection if the product is a lemon.

Lawyers have spent millions of hours just struggling with this question.
Defining obligations and limits, usually in the fine print of contracts

The change agent must also struggle with limits.
There must be an “exit strategy.”  How often have we heard that!

  • if things go terribly wrong but also even
  • if they go terribly right!

The change agent needs to think through when and how to make a break with the client.

Limiting Cases

  1. The change agent is invited to take on the role of Change Agent for the system on a permanent basis and accepts.
  2.  The change agent takes on another role in the system which furthers the function for which the change project was initiated.
  3. The success of the change effort inspires the system leadership to invite the change agent to join them as their new leader.