UTS Library

Communicating Change @ DOT


Department of Transport

PR Company: 

Department of Transport

Award Category: 

Award Type: 

Call Number: 

2009 C7 - 09



Executive Summary: 

The Victorian Premier, John Brumby, announced on 28 April 2008, that the Department of Infrastructure (DOI) would become the Department of Transport (DOT).

The Public Affairs Branch (PAB) was advised of this change four hours before all DOT people received the Premier’s email announcing the change.

The decision to rename and restructure the department recognised that transport had increasingly become a priority policy and delivery area for the Victorian Government. It also recognised that the government’s delivery of major projects would be strengthened by moving Major Projects Victoria to the Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development.

As part of these changes, a new DOT secretary was also announced. The new secretary, Jim Betts, had previously headed up DOI’s Public Transport Division.

There were numerous flow-on effects from these changes.

The aim of the Communicating Change@DOT campaign was to inform all DOI employees, in more detail, of the departmental name-change, new secretary and organisational changes.

The goal of the campaign was to effectively communicate critical organisational changes in a timely, meaningful way without causing unnecessary anxiety.

Guided by internal research, the strategy drew on face-to-face communication between employees and the secretary. Electronic communication was used for urgent announcements and new two-way communication channels were used to monitor and tailor messages.

Situation Analysis: 

The changes that resulted in DOI becoming DOT were a very well-kept secret in State Government. The head of DOI’s Public Transport Division, Jim Betts, was appointed as the department’s new secretary.

There were also changes in senior leadership, some divisions were abolished and new ones created. One division – Major Projects Victoria - was moved to another department.

The level of confidentiality about these changes was so high that PAB was briefed only hours before the Premier and DOT ministers emailed all staff advising them of changes.

Public Affairs faced the challenge of communicating these changes in a meaningful way to DOT people quickly, without causing unnecessary anxiety.

To accelerate communications, PAB’s director became the conduit between the internal communications team and the secretary. This information enabled the team to provide sound, timely advice.


Given the confidential nature of the announcement, there was no awareness of the changes before the campaign started.

To help determine preferred channels of communication, we referred to past internal communication surveys that ran after monthly information sessions and the bi-annual People Forum.

This research showed that department staff like to hear important news face-to-face, and from credible, senior sources. More importantly, evaluation from Jim Betts’ information sessions indicated he was the department’s most popular presenter.

Public Affairs also undertook informal research throughout the communications campaign, asking people for feedback on the campaign and how the secretary was performing.

This research indicated that there was concern the secretary would favour the Public Transport Division over other divisions, due to his previous role. Another issue was the lack of women in senior management positions.

Key messages and communication activities were developed to address these issues.

Feedback included: “His main reason for having the presentations was to make himself known to everyone and let people know that it isn’t a Public Transport Division takeover.

To monitor the effectiveness of the communication throughout the campaign two new communication channels were established. The DOT feedback facility on the intranet allowed DOT people to send the secretary any comments or suggestions and ask questions either anonymously or with their name. All people who provided their name received a response, and anonymous comments were taken on board.

A monthly “Lunch with Jim” was also developed. This forum saw the secretary regularly lunch with 15 DOT people.

Target Policies: 

The communications strategy was aimed at 1800 DOT people. This included all:

• permanent full-time employees

• part-time employees

• contractors.

While most people were based in Melbourne, 15 people were scattered across five different regional locations.

Those working for Major Projects Victoria required additional messaging as they would migrate to another government department.

People in the Public Transport Division also required supplementary messaging as they had lost a popular leader and now had an internal person acting in that role until a permanent replacement was found.

Those working for Major Projects Victoria required additional messaging as they would migrate to another government department.

People in the Public Transport Division also required supplementary messaging as they had lost a popular leader and now had an internal person acting in that role until a permanent replacement was found.


Communication Strategy: 

This campaign aimed to:

·         Inspire people with a story of where we have  been, where we are and where we are going

·         Inform DOT people about the organisational changes, explaining why, when and what it means for them

·         Listen to people’s concerns and suggestions through new two-way communication channels

·         Involve people through new two-way communication channels.

The campaign achieved this through a change management approach document drafted for the secretary (Appendix A.2).


With a significant amount of information to communicate and not much time, the team’s first priority was ensuring the department’s outgoing secretary announced the changes to DOT in a bulletin immediately after the ministers and Premier, providing localised information.

A story appeared on the intranet homepage the same day announcing the new department’s name and secretary. It also linked to his profile.

The team organised eight information sessions over a few days, all hosted by Jim Betts. Each division was given specific times for their information sessions. This allowed the secretary to tailor key messages to each division, field specific questions and avoid overcrowding the theatrette. Some messages were the same for all divisions:

·         no redundancies

·         DOT will become the best-performing public  sector organisation in Australia

·         we are here to serve our ministers

·         the department has a new mission and vision

·         DOT puts people first

·         I want your ideas and feedback to help us do things better.

People unable to attend these forums received the same information through either a bulletin from Jim or accessing a videoed presentation on the intranet over the following days.

“Please don’t judge me by fine words and promises in my first week as Secretary. Words are cheap. Judge me instead by how you feel about your working lives in six or twelve months time.” Jim Betts, May, 2008DOT Secretary

Key Actions

After the information sessions, an internal communications checklist was created for the new secretary. The aim of this document was to recommend tactics and new communication channels, and understand his priorities for delivery.

To accelerate the response, each activity had a box next to it where Jim could rank his priorities.

Based on this document, the following communication activities were implemented in accordance with his priorities over the following two months:

New email addresses and stationery

A mini-communications campaign to encourage all DOT people to change their email signature block to “Department of Transport” and make them aware letterhead, stationery and templates will be updated over the next couple of weeks (Appendix A.3).

Frequently asked questions

PAB created a list of frequently asked questions and answers for the intranet.

Electronic question and suggestion box

PAB worked with another division to establish a functionality that allowed any person at DOT to email suggestions or questions to Jim through the intranet. This could be done anonymously or a name could be provided. All entries with a name would receive a personal answer from the secretary.

Lunch with Jim

A monthly forum that allowed all willing DOT people to meet the new secretary, hear his story and ask questions.

Create a new intranet page for the Secretary and leadership team

The intranet was updated with clear, concise content about the new secretary and his leadershipteam. New photos and profiles were created.

Revamping and renaming the existing corporate newsletter

Given the new direction of the department, this publication’s focus shifted from projects to people. A competition was run to rename the magazine.

New secretary’s welcome for DOT induction manual

This document stated the department’s mission and vision and told the DOT story.

Change is a constant

After the initial announcement, there were more organisational tweaks.

Given the pace of change, bulletins were sent to DOT people (Appendix A.4), advising them of changes to senior management and any key milestones as they occurred. It was critical to send timely information and mitigate fast-moving rumours and misinformation.

The department’s final structure was launched in mid-June. Public Affairs organised a series of information sessions hosted by the secretary and his new leadership team to help people understand the changes, and what it meant for them. The presentations were supported by a brochure produced (Appendix A.5) by PAB and the new People and Organisational Development division.

Over the following few months, the secretary continued to send bulletins to DOT people that communicated further changes or key milestones. The tone of these bulletins was always upbeat, helping reduce anxiety among DOT people.

Both informal and formal feedback helped shape the messages in ongoing communications.








Based on the results from the December 2008 ‘People Survey’, the internal communications research project undertaken by Enhance in April 2009, and negligible negative feedback from the lunches (Appendix A.6) and electronic feedback facility, the communications campaign was a success. All objectives were 100 per cent successful. The assessed objectives show that the department has achieved its goal of effectively communicating critical organisational changes in a timely, meaningful way without causing unnecessary anxiety.

Moreover, Jim Betts has won the trust of DOT people by actively supporting an extensive internal communications campaign that promoted two-way dialogue. This was essential to maintaining employee engagement in the midst of adversity. Providing people with the means to comment or ask difficult questions ensured their deepest concerns were addressed.

The positive communications around the change at DOT have laid down strong foundations for its future:

“Communication is improving…there is a general feel that good change is upon us with Jim in charge, that leaders are more accessible, that we can speak up with our ideas...” (quote from DOT person in Enhance research summary, June:2009).