Winners 2023

Best internal communications strategy

Material matters
Rio Tinto’s internal communications with a twist
Rio Tinto
Agency: Linney Group

Rio Tinto is a 150-year-old world-leading resource business undergoing seismic change, strategically and culturally. But how does it convey these changes to more than 50,000 employees, dispersed across the globe, many of whom work shifts at remote locations and do not have regular online access? And how does it ensure that these colleagues engage with any communications?

Rio Tinto recognises that internal communications are crucial to its business success. Good internal communications ensures it keeps its people, communities and business safe. Great communications go beyond safety to transforming how things are done. But brilliant internal communications depend on the skills and attitudes of its frontline employees.

But in January 2023, employees were bombarded by at least two news stories every week across multiple channels. The noise was blocking out the effectiveness, so the internal communications team sought to change its way of working. Its strategy was simple: fewer, bigger, better.

The goal was to inform clearly, engage meaningfully, inspire pride and empower action. It needed a new communications platform and a new way of communicating with employees.

The first change was to identify a wider pool of senior leaders who could act as a conduit to frontline workers. Whereas before, internal comms had focused on a group of just 100 senior leaders, it now identified more than 500 people within Rio Tinto, who were respected by colleagues and so had the power to cascade key messages throughout their areas of influence.

Leadership Matters, as this new pool of leaders is called, began with trialling a two-weekly e-newsletter with the initial 100 leaders, before sharing it with the wider pool. In its launch month, the e-newsletter had 186 per cent unique views and 95 positive ratings. It is now delivered in English and French and is mobile friendly.

Two new annual in-person conferences were launched. Known as Leaders Connect, these bring together more than 500 leaders to align on strategic priorities, share experiences and to be challenged on what needs to change. The conferences were also designed to inspire leaders about Rio Tinto’s future and expose them to leaders beyond mining, to gain new ideas and perspectives. The first event in May was attended by 354 delegates.

A new series of quarterly virtual events, Leadership Matters Live Conversation, were created, coinciding with Rio Tinto’s results. These create space for open and frank conversations with the executive team about how the business is doing and what that means for employees. The first live event was attended by 230 leaders – 39 per cent of the audience. Nine in ten rated the conversation highly.

Creating a new communications platform, Material Matters, led to three key initiatives. Global townhalls were reimagined into a live-streamed TV show format, broadcast in English but with subtitles in multiple languages. The show provides updates on key news and allows colleagues to ask questions of senior management in a fun, informal format. Its debut was watched by 3,000 employees live, with more tuning in later to watch the recording at special site and office-based viewings.

A new monthly CEO newsletter contained a short informal vlog from Jakob Stausholm, sharing his reflections and highlights from the previous four weeks, to create an authentic connection and trust in leadership. His first newsletter was viewed by more than 31,000 colleagues within the first 24 hours; 46 per cent clicked on his vlog.

And finally, the internal comms team strove to reduce the noise. Non-essential activities have been removed from the platform, and messages have been combined to ensure that colleagues are kept up to date in a timely manner. This led to a reduction in all-employee emails, from 27 in the first half of 2022 to just 18 in the first half of 2023, but a significant upturn in views.

The team has plans for the future, including Material Matters on the Move where employees share their experiences, and a bespoke Strategy Matters, targeted at the top 100 leaders, which will develop on the strategy to lead Rio Tinto into the future and help make decisions that define its legacy.

The judges loved this entry, which they described as ‘super clear on strategy and objectives, which were effectively delivered’. They were also impressed at the work taken to identify the critical leadership cohort to target that ensured the messages ‘reached the right people’.