All We Hear is, Radio HR

7 Minutes

Earlier this year, during the work-from-home phase of the Covid19 crisis, Sanjiv Agarwal, He...

Earlier this year, during the work-from-home phase of the Covid19 crisis, Sanjiv Agarwal, Head of HR, South Asia of Swiss Re came up with a unique approach to employee engagement, by broadcasting a weekly radio show. Intrigued by such a novel idea, Vincent Romano, Managing Director of Elliott Scott HR South Asia, virtually sat down with Sanjiv over Zoom, to find out how he accomplished this. What did the show consist of?

The show aired every week for 45 minutes, broadcasting to 2,000 staff across APAC from Tokyo to Australia, and running for six weeks. We didn’t know what would work for us because we were doing it for the first time. However, our goal was engagement with some focus on work topics so we slotted these sessions in alongside music and some interviews with employees talking about how they are dealing with the current challenge, how they are engaging with their family or how they are handling the kids. We also had external consultants on the show discussing how to manage relationships virtually since you can’t go on a date, or what’s on Netflix. Some of the sessions featured staff demonstrating their singing talents as well as fun quizzes.

The whole idea was to keep it alive and engaging with a variety of segments each week. What was the lightbulb moment that prompted you to come up with the idea? It was in response to ‘how do we engage people now that teams are all working remotely?’.

There was an expectation that we would run webinars or podcasts, or get some of our facilitators to come in and run conversations on topics such as stress management. The question was how to make this sustainable, and find facilitators to talk about these subjects in an engaging way. So that got me thinking - I was looking for someone who is able to engage people over a spoken medium in the absence of a physical or visual presence. Where do I find such people? Radio! If we had a radio jockey in dialogue with different experts, the radio jockey will have the experience and skills to stir up an engaging conversation for the audience. And to make it entertaining and “sticky”, we would play some popular music and encourage chat messaging among our employees.

How did you get the rest of the management team on board? The first time I explained this concept to someone, they were hesitant. Thankfully I quickly got support from other stakeholders, and our CEO was quite open to the idea. When designing the pilot, we wanted to have members of the leadership team on the show. So we featured our CEO on the first episode and after that, everyone wanted to be a part of it.

How did you go about planning the show? Once we got the green light, we had a discussion with the radio jockey about the structure of the show. Every episode was planned independently with the jockey and the Swiss Re team. Each week, we would talk about what next week’s show would look like, and the different themes and topics that we will focus on, identify our guests, and decide on what questions we will ask, and what music we will go with. We would run a post-show quiz every week to get feedback from listeners so which helped us curate some of the content for the next show. The radio jockey played an instrumental role in the success of our show. What were some of the challenges you had organizing it? It was like being a start-up - we didn’t have a structure or a committee, just a bit of money and a blank sheet of paper.

We identified the infrastructure, planned how we would deliver the show so that employees can easily listen in, and how we curate the content and make it exciting. We spent many hours making sure that we were responding to our listeners' requests so that it continued to be engaging for them. We got into a steady rhythm, in the end, debriefing every Friday after the show and planning for the next show every Tuesday. How did you ‘talent scout’, and how willing were the employees to be involved? The first show was key for us. While it featured an interview with the CEO, we didn’t ask him about his company vision; instead, we spoke more personally about what he likes and how he is coping with the current situation. The personal angle got people really excited about the show because they got to see the CEO from a very different perspective. From then on, more people wanted to engage with the series. Have you found any undiscovered stars?

We discovered that some members of the leadership team are talented singers. One of the Managing Directors sang a song that she composed in her college days when she used to be in a band. It was beautiful and we kept the audience guessing who the singer was until after the song. Using the chat messaging function, our employees created a huge buzz by throwing up guesses of who they thought it was. Overall, we found three or four singers and a guitarist. It is interesting to think that I interact frequently with these individuals professionally but I never knew that they can sing or play guitar so well. How did you market the show to your employee ‘audience’?

We promoted the debut of the series for about two weeks with mailers, but we didn’t expect a huge response - we were expecting about 50 people. Imagine the surprise when we saw 700 people logging in! The fact that everyone would want to hear from our CEO helped extend our reach. Then more people joined after they heard about it from others. The number grew to 900 during the broadcast as people were calling each other up, using WhatsApp, and sharing the link. What was their reaction to the show? It went so well that our CEO decided to give out our quarterly Corporate Awards over the radio show on a special one-off broadcast, instead of through our regular internal communications platforms.

This show had 1,700 listeners. Our employee survey after each show averaged 9.1 (out of 10) in engagement, a clear sign that our employees were excited and found the show very refreshing. How did it impact the employees? It became a virtual water cooler of sorts, giving employees the opportunity to connect and interact casually. People would get on the show and say “Hey Nick, how’s the weather in Sydney” in their chat messages. People were also involving their families, playing the radio show on their speakers so that the rest of the family can listen and enjoy. We have pictures of people dancing to the radio alongside their kids. What was the key to this success? We've never had a radio show before and the novelty was key to success. Even the radio jockey who was working on the show told me “I never thought insurance people could be so fun”. Do you have plans to do more similar broadcasts? And what changes to the format might you make next time? We are going to do a second series in September and this will run till the end of the year.

We now have a format that works, but we would like the shows to be even more interactive - if listeners have a question, they can come on the show. We have always kept the content structure open, experimenting with different things and we will continue to do so. We have a good feedback loop at the end of the show so that our employees can continue to influence the format, the topics, and the guests that they want to feature on the show. Do you think you’ve found a new profession? I don’t think so! I am not musically inclined, and my family was initially shocked that I was doing this. I would have been the worst DJ! It was great to hear Sanjiv’s insights as to how he came up with the idea for the show and how he went about producing it.

I found it interesting to learn how he managed to get the green light from senior management, especially given how conservative the insurance industry is, and it’s inspiring to understand how positively the show was received; a great example to illustrate what HR can do to add the “human” touch into their company in such difficult times and shows everyone the creativity of what Human Resources can do. It would be great to hear what other creative projects HR has been involved in with your own company during the crisis period so please do leave your anecdotes in the comments section below.

Alternatively, if you’re inspired by the article to create your own corporate radio show, please get in touch with me on LinkedIn or at and I would be happy to share some more insights!