In January 2008 I was promoted to CMO for Reed Business Information, a division of
RELX, a large information companies servicing businesses, doctors, scientists and lawyers. It was a great role and I was super excited to get started.
However, before i even started, I was just back in London after a two day trip to China, and was out running when the world went black.
I woke up to find myself in Kingston Hospital with all kinds of drips and wires in me. I was completely stunned as I thought i was following a very healthy lifestyle at the time. The problem was that my heart was beating irregularly and whilst no one could tell me exactly what was wrong, they wouldn’t let me out of the hospital until it was back to normal. That process took two days. Two days when I felt more scared and vulnerable than ever before. I didn’t know what had caused this situation and what the future would hold.
The day after I was finally released from the hospital, I went to see a cardiologist who checked my heart thoroughly and then gave me the good news that there was no permanent damage. ‘Live your life’ was his advice. That was my wake-up call that I needed and that episode was followed by what I now call ‘my health obsessed years’ when I read firosciously about health, particularly about nutrition and, as I learnt, I upgraded my habits. My diet became 100% plant-based, my running became more moderate, I introduced a practice of daily meditation into my life, I started to go to bed earlier, stopped drinking alcohol, took regular blood tests. After a few years, this ‘healthy lifestyle’ became normal to me. My energy went through the roof and I was a strong advocate for plant-based nutrition in particular.
The trouble was that my great personal healthy habits didn’t seem to get lasting results in others. I definitely inspired friends and family to make changes, but they didn’t seem to stick with them for very long. So I realised that I needed to improve my skill and ability to inspire others to want to change. I enrolled in a college and trained to be a life coach and then a health coach which gave me the skills and tools to enable me to help other people. I started a health coaching practice, created a blog and wrote a few books on wellness topics like Sugar, Stress and Time-Management and eventually pulled it all together under the brand ‘Raw Energy’ with a mission to energise workplaces and purpose to ‘Fuel Business Growth’.
Raw Energy became my side-hustle, a project of passion which took a lot of my creative energy and enabled me to express myself and share my knowledge. By day, though, I was Global CMO of a large information business that had changed dramatically from a print-based magazine publisher to a global, data, analytics and software company. I was responsible for a lot of people and processes and was in the midst of a massive business transformation. All around me, my colleagues were looking stressed and overwhelmed.
I was keen to help in a big way, but didn’t know how or have the language I needed until the opportunity presented itself. At the start of 2014, I was sitting in an executive leadership meeting discussing the topic of the day :how to accelerate revenue growth. The Head of HR presented the strategy around people and this strategy was very comprehensive, covering the key elements you’d expect to see: recruitment, retention, learning & development, recognition. It didn’t, though, talk about health at all, but inspired me to go on a journey of discovery to:
find out what companies who were really good at promoting a healthy culture were doing – I looked to the technology companies and to the US market for inspiration
find out what RBI was already doing and discovered we were doing a lot! It just was poorly communicated, with a single page on the intranet
find out what problems the employees were trying to solve, we did a health survey and got a huge 84% response
That led to a process of testing and learning to see the impact:
We organised a wellbeing event which gave me the opportunity to bring in a whole range of experts to deliver inspiring talks
We connected people together though amazing food
We provided one-to-one testing to enable people to access personal health insights more easily
We launched a 50 Days of Wellbeing challenge to encourage people to move
We organised stress awareness training and mindfulness programmes
The employee reaction was phenomenal, and over the next three years, these tests turned into the RBI Living Well philosophy and framework (below) which supported the development and engagement of a whole range of initiatives to support the whole employee programme.
With the support of a cross-functional team and an army of wellbeing champions, over the next three years the RBI Living Well programme scaled across 50 offices, impacting the lives of 3k people across the world, and has subsequently scaled to other RELX divisions.
By the time I left RBI at the end of 2016, the Living Well philosophy had 86% awareness, a more engaged (+46%), more energised (+36%) and more resilient (+26%) workforce. Absence through sickness plummeted 40% and these results combined got externally recognised by winning the CIPD ‘Best Corporate Health & Wellbeing Programme.’
Whilst I left the business at the end of 2016 and moved to Australia to start a whole new chapter 100% focused on promoting a healthier and more human-centred workplaces, the RBI Living Well programme has continued to grow and thrive and make a lasting difference to the RBI employees and the RBI business that continues to achieve accelerated growth.
Key Lessons from creativing the RBI Living Well programme
Think of employees as customers
Follow an innovation process
Senior level sponsorship & role-modelling is key
Create & fuel a cross-functional ecosystem
Recruit, train & support wellbeing champions
Invest in engagement: added value content, multiple channels
Create philosophy, values and framework to facilitate innovation & engagement
Test, measure, learn & build on the successes