The Vomit Principle (or how to implement significant change)

For each and every organisation going through significant change, communication is critical to the success of implementation. In theory this sounds simple – but in practice, getting messages through at a time when there is a high level of anxiety and upheaval is not always easy. In the context of a significant organisational restructure, for example, shock at the level of change can cause many people to simply stop listening. So how do you disseminate important messages during times of change?

Step 1: Adopt the Vomit Principle
If you haven’t said it so much that saying it again will make you vomit, you haven’t said it enough – that’s the vomit principle. Tell it, and tell it again. One of the greatest mistakes an organisation can make at a time of major change is to communicate key messages only once or twice, assuming that everyone has absorbed and understood them. It is important to continue to communicate the message long past the point you may think is sufficient, as it can take some time for all staff to truly hear and digest what is required. Even if staff are not resistant to the change, they may have difficulty absorbing the scale or impacts of it, or may be feeling ‘change fatigue’ if the organisation has recently experienced a series of upheavals. Keep sending the message until staff tell you that they have heard it enough!

Step 2: Utilise various channels for communication

While it is important to leverage existing communication channels, don’t assume that this is enough. Weekly written communication, supported by updates in meetings that cascade throughout an organisation, may normally be sufficient practice. However, at times of significant change, relying on one-way communication channels is a pit many organisations fall into.

Middle managers are as crucial to the success of any change process as the Executive, and consulting with these roles is key to successful implementation. Bringing them together in an open weekly discussion forum is a great way to hear their issues and concerns and to work with them to minimise the impacts of the change on staff. If you can get these managers on board they will support their teams to operationalise the required changes. On the other hand, if you don’t engage effectively with these managers they may prove to be the greatest barrier to success.It is equally important to bring staff from all levels together to communicate directly and hear how they are managing the change process. Setting up a change forum, for example, will enable operational staff to be engaged, work together to solve problems, and be equipped to support others in their teams throughout the change. Staff who participate in these forums often end up functioning as ‘change champions’ who can be a great support in embedding change throughout the organisation.


Step 3: Consult with staff to minimise the impact of change

It is important to work with impacted teams to understand the effects of the change on how they work, as well as to mitigate any challenges or issues arising from the change. Facilitating workshops where teams can reflect on their post-change workloads, workflows, processes and practices is a critical step in embedding and operationalising change. In many cases, roles may need to be redesigned or work priorities reassessed, and workshops are also a great forum for resolving these issues in a collaborative way. It is impossible to over emphasise the importance of providing teams with a level of input and control over the implementation of changes – this is vital if you want the change to stick.

Step 4: Provide ‘how to’ guides and supporting information

Finally, you can help staff to cope with change and keep the ball rolling on implementation by providing a range of targeted support tools. Process maps, training or coaching programs, tailored toolkits and other supporting documentation (such as new organisation charts, up-to-date contacts lists, and organisational vision statements) are all critical in supporting staff to understand the outcomes of the change and how to move forward.  For example, Fyusion worked with one client to develop a Team Leader Toolkit to support new team leaders to hit the ground running following a major restructure. These Toolkits included organisation charts, individual change plans, meeting and communication frameworks, and handover procedures, and provided team leaders with a valuable guide and support platform in the context of significant upheaval and uncertainty.