The Ways We Work: An Interview With AbbVie CHRO Tim Richmond

Tim Richmond leads AbbVie’s global human resources function, focused on employee engagement and driving business performance through culture. He is a driving force behind AbbVie’s diverse talent pipeline. In this interview, Tim shares how important it is to set clear standards, clear expectations, and give people a north star. Tim delves into the five pillars of what AbbVie call the “Ways We Work.” These pillars engage AbbVie employees, allowing them to put themselves out there, feel trusted, and feel supported, which is all critical to AbbVie’s culture. Learn what differentiates a good company from a great company and how that's ultimately where everyone’s aspiration should lie.

 

 

Show Transcript

Chris Tkaczyk:

Welcome to Better, by Great Place to Work®. We're coming to you today from the 2020 Great Place to Work For All Summit in San Francisco.

Today, I'm joined by Tim Richmond, who's Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at AbbVie, which is a global research and development-based biopharmaceutical company committed to developing innovative advanced therapies for some of the world's most complex and critical conditions. Welcome, Tim.

Tim Richmond:

Thank you, Chris. A pleasure to be here.

Chris Tkaczyk:

Yeah, it's great to have you here. Tim will also be appearing on the main stage of our summit later today.

I wanted to start our conversation mentioning that Great Place to Work just recently published a profile of AbbVie which is called Why Good Enough is The Enemy of Great. I'm going to hold it up for the viewers who are actually watching the video version of this. You can see the cover of it. It's downloadable on our website as of I think yesterday, or the day before, and it's a profile that explains the history of AbbVie and how it has created such a great workplace culture that has put it on the list of not only the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® but our World's Best Workplaces™ list as well, so congratulations for that, Tim.

Tim Richmond:

Thank you. It's part of our story, becoming a new company in 2013, but it's also a story really of culture and how you can use culture as a differentiating factor in the talent marketplace for attraction and retention. I think also for us that story really tries to emphasize culture as a driver of performance and I think that's a nice story that we'd like to share with others.

Chris Tkaczyk:

As a company that has been recognized on quite a few of our lists, you've seen how the rankings can change from year to year. Currently, I believe you are at ... What is it? Number 87 on the 100 Best which was just announced last month. And on the World's Best list you rank at number 16.

The World's Best list is an incredibly difficult list to get on, because of the fact that the methodology is so different. A company has to appear on multiple national lists that are part of the global affiliate network of Great Place to Work. And so, because of the presence that AbbVie has around the world and the success you've had at creating such a consistent experience for all of your employees globally is why you're getting recognized in all these different countries.

How do you manage that many people over so many different places with lots of different problems and/or experiences in situations?

Tim Richmond:

It's a great question and it is complex because in any market around the world you'll have a different sense of even who you are as a company, and in our case not every medicine that we have is available in every market, and there are certain issues around access to medicines or what the payer environment might be like in a certain country, and so who we are as a company can vary in terms of product mix. It could also vary because in some countries we might have a large manufacturing presence but in other countries we do not.

So one of the things that we really tried to do early on was to create this idea of a standard, what it's like to work for AbbVie. One of my beliefs is it's important to set clear standards, clear expectations, give people a north star if you will, and then ask to hold them accountable to that with some enterprise type concepts that you spread and you try and bring vertically integrated into a business.

At the same time what we've said is ... At this bottom up we have culture ambassadors effectively in every country around the world, and not only in every country, but in every department and every manufacturing site, every laboratory, such that this top down enterprise view but also this bottom up, like what's important to you in country X, or what's important to you in this department or this work group.

It's the togetherness of all those things that's really created I think a high standard for AbbVie around culture, around leadership, around the environment in levels of engagement, which has allowed us I think to be really good in all those markets. We use Great Place to Work as a reference for us around how good we're doing in that journey, and trying to set the right standard.

We really value that feedback because one of our aspirations is ... Becoming a new company part of it's just, hey, look, can we operate? Can we become a new company? Can we deliver on our promise? And Great Place to Work allows us to think about it in the context of not just do you have the structure, and do you have an enterprise, but can you set a high standard for culture? Can you set an expectation for leadership? And if you do that in all those places you can feel pretty good, and this allows us to have that reference.

It's one of the challenges that we face, which is being as good as we need to be in all those markets, but the aspiration really is to be a great place to work, and so it's a higher level calling even, but that's a fun challenge for us. I know even ... I'll use Ireland as a recent example. Not just number one in their industry but number one in the country of Ireland. That's a fantastic recognition for us.

Chris Tkaczyk:

Yes. Exactly. When you mentioned the culture ambassador program that you guys have ... do you call it a program internally? How do you refer to it?

Tim Richmond:

It's certainly part of our culture initiative. Part of it's just to create these agents, if you will, around the world.

We try to do two things with the ambassadors. One is first we want to set a high expectation for the leaders, but then also we wanted to activate at other levels — again, this bottom up approach, and so that's where the ambassador concept came in.

Chris Tkaczyk:

These are folks who … this is not their full-time job. This is in addition to whatever title they have.

Tim Richmond:

That's exactly right. That's exactly right.

Chris Tkaczyk:

Across the entire organization.

Tim Richmond:

Exactly. And so, it's always that person that you have that's got that extra energy for what it's like to work here, that extra energy for making things better, but you're right: it’s on top of their day job, their real job. These are remarkable people who are helping us grow, but also giving up extra time and energy to do that.

Chris Tkaczyk:

And how does somebody at AbbVie become a culture ambassador?

Tim Richmond:

It starts at some level by raising your hand. I think in some cases of course we've probably dominated a few people but we really have said to people, "Look, it's our expectation that you'll have a culture ambassador," and so they've gone through their own process of identifying the right talent for whatever reason it might be, and we've got people at all levels.

We have from the lowest level in the job grade hierarchy to even higher levels we find this range, and all we try to do is harness that energy, and create some standards, and some ideas, and some concepts, but to harness that energy locally.

One of my best examples, there's a group that we have that's within our R&D unit, it has to do with patient safety. It's an important part of our business. That group, just to use an example, I was going to this culture ambassador and they're all showcasing you can imagine around the room, “Here's what we're doing in our group,” and they were all very different.

They had done somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 different things related to culture in their work group. I probably wouldn't have prioritized any of the 40, but you know what energized me and made me happy is? They did, and they did it for themselves, and that's what they said was important to them. Our activation through the culture ambassador was to give them freedom and opportunity to create what would make it a better culture in their view and in their eyes in their work group, and so all that matters is that it's working for them.

Chris Tkaczyk:

We're in the middle of having a podcast discussion and what I think is really cool and I learned about through the work that I did editing the company profile that we published was that you have your own internal podcast at AbbVie.

Tim Richmond:

Yes.

Chris Tkaczyk:

There's a number of companies that I've heard about that are doing this now, it's kind of something of the past few years. Can you tell me the story about how that podcast came about?

Tim Richmond:

It's a great story from my perspective because at least the first ones that I became familiar with were really led by an employee who said, "Hey look, I want to talk culture and I want to create these podcasts." It became really an individual who raised their hand and said, “I've got this capacity, I've got this technology and I've got this idea that's using podcasts to tell our story.”

It can be much greater than the impact of a written communication or something you might find on some website because there is something relatable about a podcast whether it's the leader being perhaps more authentic or just a different way to be viewed and seem, and a way of stories to be told. And so, podcasts for me I've really grown to like them for the vehicle that they can be to share your message, but also to bring a level of authenticity and realness and really personalize. I can have a job title and you can think there's this hierarchy but I hope at a podcast you're just seeing me for who I am, and there's something that's really nice about that.

Chris Tkaczyk:

How often does it come out?

Tim Richmond:

It depends. I've done probably now on average one a month. And I think again, so there's always that idea of how often to communicate and on what channels, but the podcasts for me are something I actually kind of expect us to do now because I find them enjoyable. I get lots of feedback from people that says, "Hey, I was in the car driving into work and I listened to your podcast." And like, "Really?" Because you don't expect that at first. I was teasing about my mother, my mother would listen to the podcast but that's just because it's my mother.

Chris Tkaczyk:

Of course.

Tim Richmond:

But they have employees who are voluntarily saying, "Hey look, I saw your podcast and I listened to it. I really enjoyed it." That's something that's quite nice.

Chris Tkaczyk:

In addition to the lists we've already mentioned I do want to point out the fact that AbbVie also appears on a list of the Best Workplaces for Diversity™.

I'm assuming that like technology in general that there tends to be a skew towards certain demographics. What has been the biggest challenge around diversity and inclusion at AbbVie?

Tim Richmond:

It's a great question. I always think it's probably not the one thing — it's all the things related to D&I. We put equality into that mix too, so we talk about it as equality, diversity and inclusion, and we want to be holistic in each of three elements.

The biggest challenge for us is continuing to grow our unfair share of the best talent, that also happens to be diverse, into all areas of our company. We do happen to have quite, I would say, a strong sense of representation across the traditional demographics.

But I always think that there's just never quite enough and I think there's always something more that you want, and I always think about so why culture, and in our case ED&I? They're highly correlated in my mind. You can't I think have people who would be attracted to come and join your company, and stay and grow in your company if you don't have the right culture.

I think for people who have lots of choices, for people who in our industry can work and be attracted to science, and we want to do that certainly, but also can be attracted to the culture. I don't think you get ED&I if you don't have culture, so the thing for me probably was just creating the talent engine. Part of being at the head of HR is to create this talent engine in our company at all layers that creates culture but also creates high levels of representation.

Our statistics are quite good in many ways. We're a majority female company and I don't know if people know that. We have a majority of women in the United States and globally in our company, and something close to 48% of our people leaders are women.

Chris Tkaczyk:

Wow.

Tim Richmond:

So the idea of equality, the idea of gender equity, these are really important concepts for people who have my role. I think that will continue, but I think again high levels of representation are important.

Chris Tkaczyk:

That's great. You hit all the what we consider to be the great lists that we produce in partnership with Fortune including the Best Workplaces for Women™ and for millennials, which are our biggest lists that have at least 100 companies on them, and AbbVie scores pretty highly on all of those.

It also is a great explanation for when somebody says to you or asks you the question, how is it that you're able to create that great global culture? You look at you're excelling in diversity, you're excelling at gender equality, you're excelling at making sure that every employee across whatever age group, or age demographic, is having a consistently great experience, so congratulations for that.

Tim Richmond:

Thank you.

Chris Tkaczyk:

I want to turn the conversation more towards a personal nature and ask you: in your time at AbbVie, what has been the singular best day that you've ever had at work?

Tim Richmond:

It's a great question. I think certain days do stick out, certainly our first day as a new company sticks out, so January of 2013 is a day that I'll always remember and I think partly it's just because the excitement of that opportunity. And we had far more questions than we had answers, but it was one of the great days because we had accomplished this launch of a new company. We had accomplished so much about becoming together, becoming AbbVie. We didn't know what it meant yet, but those are days that I'll never forget personally or professionally.

I think that the other days that I'm most satisfied with my job is when you go back to the value of employee feedback, you see the impact that you're having. We have our week of possibilities where every year thousands of our employees volunteer their time to make an impact in the community. Those are days that are bucket fillers.

We have a program called Learn, Develop, Perform. We have just over 30,000 people in our company and we have this program, and we know development is important for our employees, that every year in the first part of the year we run a week called Learn, Develop, Perform. It's remarkable to think about in a company with just over 30,000, but something north of 20,000 of our employees participate. So putting a premium on development, putting a premium on growth, and advancement highly correlated to culture. Those are the days that for me are so satisfying because it's not because we've made some impact that was required and we all had to participate. No. This is a volunteer activity. People who are signing up and saying, “I want to participate.”

It's like my example with the ambassadors. You want to go fill your bucket? Go talk to a few of those folks and they'll tell you about what they've been doing, and say "We're really doing something here that's fantastic." We can talk about — and we do all the time — this impact on the patients that we serve, but I think for me it's about the impact we're having on our employees who are energized, focused, engaged, and really to me that's the best part of my job being the head of HR for this company.

Chris Tkaczyk:

That's great.

As part of doing the research for creating this profile of AbbVie I spoke with one of your employees, Subha Kurahni[2] , who's a solution architect, and she's also a member of one of AbbVie's employee resource groups which is called the Asian Leadership Network.

When I asked her the question about what her best day was she said it was the day during the Diwali festival celebration, I think it was last fall, where she had to get up onstage in front of hundreds of people and address the crowd. She just said that she didn't feel confident enough so that she could do that. She said that she typically is not someone who takes it, and goes on stage, and addresses people, but she said that the fact that she was able to get the support and encouragement from her colleagues to get up there and do it, and she just said it filled her with so much energy and pride that she could do that.

That's such a small thing, and then if that can really impact and change the experience for one person, it's a testament to the great sort of culture that the employees have created for themselves, not just from coming from the company, which is a nice story.

Tim Richmond:

I appreciate you sharing that because that's a reflection of … culture’s hard and you'll hear from lots of companies that it's difficult to do, and you read externally about how culture is so difficult to change, but we've had this great energy from day one which has been built on principles of inclusion, built on the principles of our Ways We Work, which is this idea about how we intend to operate together.

Chris Tkaczyk:

I was going to ask you and say can you talk about the Ways We Work and what that means?

Tim Richmond:

They were the original genesis of what it was going to be like to work at AbbVie. We started with this idea of let's describe that culture, and just as you'd expect companies do, we're flip charting around the room, and then we're coalescing around certain things and scoring with your dots, what are your preferences? And the outcome of that were these five Ways We Work.

I knew from the beginning, and I said to our CEO Rick Gonzales, I said, "We're going to do some things here that really are consistent with a talent philosophy that are going to make what you accomplish only equal to how you accomplish them." In other words, the high performing jerk, we're going to make that unacceptable, undesirable, and —

Chris Tkaczyk:

The assholes of the world.

Tim Richmond:

Exactly. We'll encourage them to either get onboard or we're going to decide that they're better off working somewhere else.

So from day one the Ways We Work are a statement of how we intend to operate together and we access them equally with what you accomplish, so that's whether it's from a rewards perspective, an assessment perspective, development perspective, how matters. So each of our employees around the world gets scored on each of those five Ways We Work every year.

So part of it's reinforcing, but part of it's also we're giving you feedback about how we see you demonstrate those, so from top to bottom we've set a standard and we've been holding people accountable to that. Over time what you see is the lightning of that environment such that much more I think positive and appropriate people leader behaviors, and what that does is drive engagement, and satisfaction. And so, to the example of people putting themselves out there, feeling trusted, feeling supported, that's critically important.

I think setting a high standard for leadership is what can differentiate again from a good company to a great company and that's where our aspiration is.

Chris Tkaczyk:

I do want to list for the audience who's listening today what those five ways are.

So the five Ways We Work at AbbVie are:

All For One, AbbVie

Decide Smart and Sure

Agile and Accountable

Clear and Courageous

Make Possibilities Real

Those sound like very vague descriptions about how you're going to measure performance, and to learn more about what those are you have to read the profile.

Tim Richmond:

You do.

Chris Tkaczyk:

So go to the website.

Tim Richmond:

It's a good plug.

Chris Tkaczyk:

It's going to drive people to it, right? Otherwise, they're not going to find it.

Tim Richmond:

That's right.

Chris Tkaczyk:

I want to go back to the podcast quickly just because I think there's a really interesting story also around that.

AbbVie is based in North Chicago, Illinois, and very famously the Second City Comedy Troupe is in Chicago, is from Chicago originally. I want you to tell a bit about how the Second City folks got involved with AbbVie as part of the podcasting.

Tim Richmond:

The first thing I would do is I would give a lot of credit to our vice president of talent, Angela Lane. She had this idea, again, about learn, develop, perform.

The genesis of all that started with we'd learned through employee feedback was the biggest driver of engagement we had in our company is development. So we started talking about how do we create a culture of development such that we can grow talent, we can expand our capabilities, we can grow our capabilities, but also if we do it right and do it well we can also drive higher levels of engagement.

And so, that's where the LDP week came.

Chris Tkaczyk:

Learn, develop, perform.

Tim Richmond:

Yes. And I love, and I'll just do a little plug for it, the idea of learn and develop are really critical, but don't forget the third part is the critical part. All in the service of performance, so that's why it's LDP, so learning, development, in the service of performance.

We could bring lots of content, and we do, but one of the things they did is said, “We're going to have a whole week, and it's going to be global, and we're going to do podcasts. We're doing to do different ways to engage our employees. We're going to have in-person sessions. We're going to have global ways that people can sign up and participate.”

But then, we also thought, let's bring in some external people and let's find different ways to engage. I give her credit, it was her idea. On multiple occasions now we've used Second City to come in. They did some hilarious things. They did YouTube. This year we had LDPTube and they had all these funny vignettes and all these different things that we tried to actually make it entertaining. We tried to make it fun and irreverent. You should see it. These Second City people are hilarious.

Chris Tkaczyk:

Is it all on YouTube?

Tim Richmond:

I don't know that it's on YouTube. It's on our internal website.

Chris Tkaczyk:

So it's all internal video?

Tim Richmond:

It is. It is. Look, come back and ask me again later and I'll see if we can share some examples. They're fantastic.

Chris Tkaczyk:

If there's one that you want to share that we can put on our website —

Tim Richmond:

Sure. Let's just agree. We will do that because I think it's great way to show and for the practitioners out there another way to engage people. We'll be happy to share it. Thank you.

Chris Tkaczyk:

We can also embed it on the podcast page for this episode.

Tim Richmond:

All right. This will be a good little challenge. But they did all the improv you'd expect them to do but they also just did a fantastic job of engaging our employees around development, and had a little fun along the way. It was fantastically well done.

Chris Tkaczyk:

So Tim, tell me about the genesis of living the AbbVie principles.

Tim Richmond:

Again, you think about this progression and journey as a company and now in our eighth year.

I remember going to our CEO and saying, "We do so many things well. We're building a brand. We're building higher levels of expectations for performance, and also culture, but I still think there's something perhaps that we're missing." There was a lot of things going on in communities around the world and there were times I know employees would turn and look around and say, "What does my company think about that?."

I said, "I think there's an opportunity for an even stronger articulation of what it is we stand for and what it is that we believe in." And in his great way, he thought about it and he said, "You know, I think you're right. I think there is more that we can do and why don't you just go about doing that." So we went through a process of working with our employees at the senior level first, but then really all around the world to create this concept of, what are these principles if we were to have them? What would it say? What would we make a declaration of?

I'll just use one example, which is again related to diversity and inclusion, and in there it says that "We treat everyone equally," and there's a comma, and then it says "With dignity and respect." That's such a strong articulation, and what I always say to people around the world, our employees, when I'm talking to them and I'm sharing this detail and trying to make them resonate even stronger for them is I say, "When we say that, I hope you understand that we're actually talking about you." And that was part of the reason for doing it.

So whether it was making an impact in our community, whether it was operating with integrity, but this idea of these principles are a strong articulation and we knew that the best companies are willing to say that, and be clear, and courageous about we believe these things.

My hope is that 100 years from now when someone walks into an AbbVie building and see the words on the wall they'll know it's not just the words on the wall. They'll know it's something that we all believe in, that we're passionate about and if you're going to work at AbbVie you have to believe the same things too.

Chris Tkaczyk:

Great. Tim, thank you. It's been a great chat. I want our listeners to go to our website to not only download the profile but you'll be able to find video from Tim's main stage appearance here at the summit that he'll be doing later this afternoon.

Tim Richmond:

I look forward to it, Chris. Thank you very much.