HR Administration

AbbVie: Optimas 2016 General Excellence Winner

By Andie Burjek

Nov. 21, 2016

wf_1116_optimas_button_300pxThree years ago, global biopharmaceutical company AbbVie separated from parent company Abbott Laboratories, and its more than 125 years of history. With that, AbbVie faced a major challenge: After spinning off from the pharmaceutical giant, how could it both honor its heritage and create a culture totally unique to them? And how could it accomplish this transformation for 28,000 employees in over 170 countries?

“There’s no guidebook or playbook for creating a culture, but we knew we needed to think strategically around what those behaviors would be and what it would look like if we had our desired culture,” said Tim Richmond, AbbVie’s senior vice president of human resources.

The first challenge was to define what the culture meant to newly independent AbbVie.

“We’re not a diverse health care company like Abbott still is today. As a new biopharmaceutical company, we wanted to bring forth the best elements of our past and create those things that are important to our future,” said Richmond.

For example, from Abbott, AbbVie maintained the ability to deliver on business priorities and achieve goals it set for itself. Meanwhile, it created whole new frameworks called the Talent Philosophy and the Ways We Work to define and expand the new culture.

“There’s no guidebook or playbook for creating a culture, but we needed to think strategically around what it would look like if we had our desired culture.” — Tim Richmond, AbbVie SVP of HR

The Talent Philosophy is AbbVie’s transparent way to describe its philosophy for talent management within the company, said Richmond. It encompasses the areas of transparency, performance, accountability, behaviors and differentiation, and employees are encouraged to care about not only what they do but also how they do it.

The ultimate goal of the company culture is to instill in employees and leaders a passion and commitment to impact patients’ lives through medicine — particularly in the areas of oncology, immunology, virology and neurology, which are the therapeutic areas AbbVie focuses on.

Along with the Talent Philosophy, the top leaders developed the Ways We Work based on behavior expectations for all AbbVie employees. They’re a “clear, concise articulation of the working culture,” said Richmond, and they fall under five categories:

  • All for One AbbVie.
  • Decide Smart and Sure.
  • Agile and Accountable.
  • Clear and Courageous.
  • Make Possibilities Real.

The five articulations are incorporated in AbbVie’s talent management and rewards processes, from recruitment and beyond. The company assesses candidates on these factors when bringing in new talent to the company. Once they’ve been hired, AbbVie considers the same factors when conducting performance reviews and rewarding employee behavior. In this way, AbbVie ingrains its change management initiative in other Optimas categories like recruiting, training and benefits (rewards and recognition).

In order to create a “One AbbVie” — a whole, global company unified under the same culture and the same expectations — in three years, the company focused on instilling the Ways We Work across all levels, from new employees to the most senior leadership.

One way they accomplished this was through the AbbVie Way Journey Map, an exploratory way for employees to learn about the company’s heritage and culture, said Richmond. The map is a physical, interactive exercise, laid out in front of participants like a board game. They move pieces around a board and work as a team.

“It’s a really great way to create dialogue about culture the AbbVie way and what’s unique to us,” said Richmond.

Out of the 28,000 employees, more than 10,000 have participated in the map exercise, he added.

AbbVie also offers the Ways We Work workshop, which covers a broad range of skills that fall under particular ways we work.  These skills include relationship building, managing conflict, effective decision-making, and driving efficiency and agility. Over 5,000 employees have attended since 2014, said Richmond.

Finally, AbbVie uses Ways We Work ambassadors in over 50 countries. These people take the work and ideas of the Culture Sharing Committee, AbbVie’s governance committee for culture, and bring it to life in a particular site or laboratory. Their role is to activate employees around the world and get them excited about the AbbVie culture and the ways they contribute to it.

In order to create a global company unified under the same culture and expectations, the AbbVie team instills the values of their programs to new hires and senior leadership alike.

AbbVie’s strategy to spread culture and cultural expectations quickly and effectively through Ways We Work programs has really engaged people, said Richmond.

“The nice thing is, everything I’ve described is embedded in our leadership development programs, all of our rewards and recognition programs. It’s how we assess performance and talent and potential,” he said. “It’s the totality of all those things, hardwired into everything we do, that help us get to where we are today.”

In the three years it’s had to redefine culture and educate employees, AbbVie has seen impressive results. It boasts an employee engagement level of 81 percent, a 9 percent increase from 2013, according to the annual employee survey. It’s also seen a 14 percent increase in culture score, up to 74 percent in 2016 from 60 percent in 2013. Also, AbbVie saw improved retention throughout the company, retaining 96 percent of its top talent in 2015.

AbbVie has also gotten positive feedback from rehires, certain people who left the company before 2013 and came back after the culture change initiative, Richmond added.

“They’ve told us how amazing and different our culture is,” he said. “It’s one thing to be a spinoff, it’s another to be a totally different company aligned and focused on having that impact.”

Culture, as one of AbbVie’s top four business strategies, has effectively bled through other areas of the business, and it’s something that AbbVie leadership encourages constantly.

“I’m passionate about this, partly because of my role and responsibility as head of HR,” said Richmond. “But I also do it out of respect and admiration for this company’s commitment to something that can ultimately drive strong business performance and have a remarkable impact on patients’ lives.”

AbbVie is the 2016 Optimas Award winner in the category of General Excellence.

For its workplace initiative, which demonstrates excellence in the Optimas categories of managing change, vision, business impact, recruiting, training and benefits, AbbVie is the 2016 Optimas Award General Excellence winner.

Read about the rest of our 2016 Optimas Winners.

Andie Burjek is an associate editor at

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