EPA Masterclass: Disrupting Hierarchy

7 August 2012 By Freya Cole

Cheryl Batagol & Matt Vincent
Cheryl Batagol & Matt Vincent

As a part of the Citizen Leadership Project, Leadership Victoria (LV) along with the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) presented a masterclass on organisational change and leadership to an array of alumni and participants. This event formed part of the Citizen Leadership Project, supported by the Hugh Williamson Trust.

In 2011, LV Program Manager for Ideas Josie Daw, was made aware of the recent organisational changes at the EPA through a conversation with LV alumni and EPA Director of Strategic Relations Matt Vincent.  

The collaborative approach to addressing change at the EPA was an ideal example of innovative leadership and was facilitated in a session which highlighted the importance of honesty in the workplace and employee engagement.


In September 2009, the EPA was close to despair when they received a confronting letter from the Ombudsman saying that they had failed as the environment regulator.

The letter was in regard to a land fill inquiry in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs where potential explosive gas was discovered in residential areas. 

It was difficult news to absorb however, the leadership team at the EPA was determined to turn the negative in to a positive.

 In an attempt not to focus on the negatives, Merritt invited his staff to be involved in the company crisis through a program called Speak Out.

He asked his staff to be honest and upfront about how it felt working for a publicly shamed organisation.

By involving his staff in the organisational change process, it created equality across the board and directly targeted the problem of low-morale among EPA staff.

“I hired you to be you,” Mr Merritt said when addressing his staff during the designing and constructing stage of the Five Year Plan that would eventually help the company out of the rut.

During the masterclass, members of the EPA staff were asked to share with guests how they felt during the change process.

Many felt that the inclusive process was empowering because they experienced first-hand the leadership decisions in the future of the company.

Organisational Psychologist Andrew Marty from SACS Consulting then spoke to guests about Destination Based Change methodology.

Mr Marty said that people are usually resistant to the idea of change and that in a workplace these types of emotions are absorbed by others.

“Negative emotions are almost three times more contagious then positive emotions,” he said.

He emphasised the importance of recruiting change-ready staff that are flexible, intelligent, innovative, and honest.

Mr Marty told the class not to fall in to the trap of hiring people that are all like-minded to you.

“People are attracted to people they are most similar to,” he said.

“But a diversity of backgrounds is crucial in creating a harmonious and change-ready workplace.”

Leader-in-Residence Chris Kotur then facilitated any questions from guests that were in turn answered by EPA staff.

The class then broke into several smaller groups to work one-on-one with an EPA staff member on a hypothetical case study.

This activity allowed guests to gather first-hand knowledge about innovative leadership and how to deal with a crisis.

At the conclusion of the session, guests were asked to have exchanged business cards with at least one other to ensure connections were made to foster the skills learnt in yet another successful LV masterclass. 

To view photos of the event, please visit LV's Facebook page.