THE DIAMOND IN THE DATA
James Weekley shares his experiences over the last three years at RELX, writing how the company has become an internal communication success story
At RELX, we define employee engagement as the sweet spot where commitment, motivation and advocacy meet. The Harvard Service Profit Chain clearly indicates that employee engagement matters. It drives retention, customer service, innovation, wellbeing, productivity, referrals, performance and growth, while mitigating risk.
Our commitment and motivation scores have always been off the chart. Such is the extraordinary professionalism and loyalty shown by our people. However, in our global employee opinion survey at the end of 2018, we found a diamond in the data. Employee advocacy had become the global drag on employee engagement across RELX.
At the start of 2019, we decided upon a near-singular focus to drive employee advocacy through our internal communication approaches. We would tell human interest stories focusing on the areas that our employee opinion survey told us would drive engagement. We knew which levers to pull.
What we did worked, it continues to work and, unlike many communication interventions, we can prove it.
Setting out the strategy
Collaborating closely with our partner, Shorthand, which provides a no-code platform for immersive storytelling and Seenit, which provides a globally accessible, user-generated video platform, we set about launching our experiment.
We developed a campaign for 2019 to tell human interest stories that focused on our known drivers of engagement. The results were astonishing.
Then, in 2020, we doubled down on our approach, broke more records and won a prestigious award. The pandemic threatened to throw us off course. We adjusted to the new environment and made yet more progress through 2021. In these three years, we have featured over 1,000 RELX colleagues from every corner of our business in every corner of the world, meaning we have immersed ourselves deeply in our organisation.
"We would tell human interest stories focusing on the areas that our employee opinion survey told us would drive engagement. We knew which levers to pull”
The height of the pandemic in 2020 also brought about another personal revelation. I didn’t only want to tell human interest stories, I also wanted to talk more openly about the human challenges we all face at work that can hinder our success: communication skills, influencing without authority, navigating anxieties, dealing with crises, managing others and many other themes besides. If these challenges weren’t difficult enough for people before the pandemic, then in 2020 they became a whole lot harder.
I wrote an article on why ‘followership’ skills are more important than leadership skills. It was a controversial start for sure, but one that generated a lot of positive debate within our organisation. The chair of Elsevier, one of our businesses, dared me to write a book based on my ideas. In late 2021, Workability was published, and we have been releasing chapters to our internal audience and sharing on social media ever since. I regularly receive feedback from all over the world from our people on how valuable these practical, human insights have been in helping them navigate our modern and changing world of work.
These articles, also created in Shorthand, have become a mainstay of our story schedule.
How to achieve results
Most internal communicators fail to achieve the traction they seek or the success they feel they deserve within their organisations because they don’t use data as a means of firmly establishing their licence to operate. At RELX, everything is powered by data and how our people make it sing. Our small, but high performing, communications team is no different.
First, we listened out for the immediate feedback. What were our people saying about the stories we were telling? The message was clear, it was working. We kicked off with our people sharing their stories about flexible working, successes in career progression and women in technology. Our content was attracting never-seen-before levels of comment. We were appealing to the emotional and the rational. Our people told us they loved our approach. They said it was making a huge company feel smaller and just that bit more human. Our annual internal communications audit told the same story. Buoyed by this initial reaction, we put our foot on the gas.
Then we tracked reads and views. Human interest story reads and video views started to climb way beyond expectation; both internally and on carefully targeted social media, where our people are our biggest follower group. In 2019, we achieved around 40,000 reads from a dozen or so stories. By the end of 2021, we hit over a quarter of a million reads from just twice that number of stories. And people say the long-form story is dead.
Video views accelerated from a total of around 10,000 in 2018 to over 45,000 in 2021 at a company in which video, surprisingly, has never been a favoured channel.
“It is clear that the culture at RELX and trust from the senior management team encourage such experimentation for our communications teams”
But was this really having the impact we wanted? The purpose of communication is to change behaviour. Were we doing that or not? Our employee opinion and pulse surveys have consistently shown an acceleration of performance in advocacy, engagement and employee referrals since we started our work. Over the last three years, advocacy across RELX has risen 12 percentage points, engagement by 13 percentage points and referrals 14 by percentage points.
We take this data as a clear vindication that our strategic, long-term, human approach is working.
More than this, we know it worked pre-pandemic, it worked even better during the pandemic and because the approach is distinctly human we are confident it will work through whatever comes our way next such as the return to offices and the growing trends in employee activism.
It is clear that the culture at RELX and trust from the senior management team encourage such experimentation for our communications teams. Having established a strong reputation for flawless delivery of the more routine communications before 2018, the stage was set. Our colleagues and future colleagues are only one of many audiences we speak to and our storytelling approach through Shorthand is used for our external audiences too. RELX does amazing things for its customers which, in turn, help them drive innovation and improvements for society.
With the media increasingly focused on only telling bad news our decision to disintermediate the media and tell our own stories through our own content and channels, both internally and externally in a scalable and sustainable way, is setting RELX and its businesses apart.
James Weekley’s Workability, was published by Novaro in September 2021