In the words of luminary American musician and cultural warrior, Jimi Hendrix, "In order to change the world, you have to get your head together first".
In 2010, EPA Victoria entered its 40th year in the shadow of regulatory failure and the crucial need to modernise and transform the way it operates.
Though deeply unsexy to those forced to work through its red tape and battle its staunch adherence to its own rules, the environmental regulator simply combed over the flaws and remained comfortably convinced it still had game.
The Victorian community, industry and government were having none-of-it, putting pressure on the regulator to be more effective. It was clearly time for change, time to transform to a modern regulator that was accountable, transparent, targeted and consistent.
Winning fundamental reform required fast cultural shift; the courage to take on and listen to the critics, and expand the limits of what was considered realistic operations for Victoria’s pollution watchdog.
Although most progressive change campaigns root themselves in an analysis of economic and political systems, EPA instead began a narrative of the components it was working to change, addressing staff as its primary audience, and then external stakeholders.
A story-based strategy framework was developed to bridge the gap between messaging the change process and movement building amongst staff, providing vital tools for EPA’s reform leaders to tell their change story.
The approach, grounded in communication at every step, recognised that every issue had a web of stories around it, to provide staff with personalised understanding of the issue, and the opportunity to influence the change narrative through their own framing of messages, messengers and interventions, such as feedback.
The change-story structure was consistently simple:
- What is the change?
- Why is the change happening?
- When will it happen?
- What is the process?
- What support will be available?
- What will be expected of employees as a result of the change?
A Short Case Study – Putting the Restructure to the People
After introducing a new corporate plan, the CEO used it as a map for alignment of the business structure, a natural strategic step that was of no surprise to staff. Urgency was lent to communicating tight timeframes of moving staff to appropriate roles. The ongoing change narrative addressed issues like fair process, openness, and equality making them meaningful and resonant truths that drove culture.
Most importantly, the restructure translated well as a chance to create a fairer, saner, more hopeful future. Strategically, this saw first change at Leadership level, communicated as ‘getting it right’. Next staff joined the restructure movement in a well managed process that ensured they had capacity to inform and influence the changes.
Harnessing narrative was innovative; it built a movement whereby 100 staff became a critical force in the multi-layer reorganisation. Centred on story telling, the change agents reached into the business through their team networks using tools such as workshops, discussions and collaboration across the organisation to develop and own the change vision, and propose this to the executive.
Internal communications captured each stage of the process, helping build a movement of story tellers with the capacity to capture and communicate the change to key external stakeholders to ensure no surprises.
Once the “winning” restructure was announced, the hard work to physically move people into new teams and new locations was done quickly. Having built communication capacity throughout the contribution and support process, it was natural to continue its anchoring role through the upheaval of change.
The best way was to acknowledge quick wins and recognition of constructive and collaborative staff, an acknowledgment that the organisational change could only grow from ground up and was dependent on engagement.
Communication of the change narrative – harnessed effectively – throughout the scale up of the restructure and inclusion of each individual story built a movement amongst staff. The first step towards this deeply considered change process, to solve EPA’s issues, was changing its story.
About Paulina Vorbach
Paulina has over 17 years of marketing and communication experience gained from some of Australia’s most successful major events including the Sydney 2000 Olympic & Paralympic Games and Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games, Australia’s largest and leading NGO, World Vision Australia, and most recently, Australia’s most progressive environmental regulator, Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), Victoria.
She has significant experience developing and executing best practise marketing and communication strategies that change behaviour (organisational transformation and consumer change behaviour), protect organisational reputation, and are customer-focused.
A firm believer in achieving work-life balance, Paulina aspires to being an exceptional leader whose authentic style supports and guides teams to be successful.