How Tim Richmond Built Culture at AbbVie, One Employee at a Time

Inside the HR leader’s approach to establishing a culture for the Abbot Laboratories spinoff.

by Kathleen Fox

Tim Richmond, Senior Vice President, Human Resources at AbbVie

From competing for top-level talent to ensuring benefits are aligned with industry standards to adapting to an ever-changing workforce with different expectations and career goals, talent remains a big challenge across industries and functions. One element inherent to the success or failure of talent acquisition practices is the culture of a workplace. For many prospective employees, culture and fit are just as important as pay, benefits, and opportunities for long-term growth.

Tim Richmond encountered this firsthand when the research-based pharmaceutical branch of Abbot Laboratories spun off to become an independent company, Abbvie. Richmond, the company’s senior vice president of Human Resources, was tasked with leading the construction of a completely new internal company identity. The result was the creation of the “AbbVie Way” a codified approach to how the new organization would think about culture. Here, we explore a few key principles that guided Richmond’s past and current efforts to ensure every employee is part of the AbbVie Way.

Culture Matters

“You can have the best products and you can have the best services. But the environment that you create around the work that you do permeates everything in a positive way if you do it well.”

Oftentimes culture isn’t made a priority for busy, growing companies because leaders are focused on things like revenue and market growth. But Richmond makes the case that culture is essential to every facet of a company, from business development to employee retention to operational excellence.

When articulating the Abbvie Way, the team developed three pillars to capture the scope of the cultural transformation: Our Business, Our Culture, and Our Remarkable Impact.

You Must Invest in Culture

“You invest time, you invest energy, and you invest resources into culture.”

Richmond emphasizes that culture can’t be achieved quickly; rather, it requires a continued investment from the organization to become integrated into the daily cadence of an organization. The Abbvie Way provided Richmond and his team a framework to hardwire Abbvie’s culture into talent programs, business practices, and every other facet of the company.

One of the first steps the team undertook was to make an explicit and clear talent philosophy. These principals installed explicit and transparent expectations for all employees and offered talent development programs and educational opportunities to help foster future leaders.

Make Culture Active

“You have to activate these things. You’ve got to make them real and valuable for you.”

Richmond said that if the AbbVie Way had just become a buzzword or a saying on the bulletin board, it would have failed. A big component of activating culture is involving everyone throughout the organization, not just the leadership team. This additional participation and transparency increase excitement, buy-in, and accountability company-wide.

In the case of AbbVie, staff members across the organization and at all levels participated in town hall discussions to define and develop five tenants of the organization’s culture:

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

Culture Never Stops

“One of the things I’ve learned is you can create the concepts, but if you don’t reinforce them, no one cares.”

Richmond and his team learned that culture is an integral element of what a company does and who they are, which drives both performance and satisfaction in the workplace. Once a culture has been defined, it must be fostered, rewarded, and monitored over time. For AbbVie that translates to professional development opportunities, team building exercises, and annual performance surveys.

Richmond and his team implemented an employee satisfaction survey with thirteen dimensions of satisfaction and engagement. He said that the scores continue to increase year after year with satisfaction rates currently around 80 percent.

For Richmond, the biggest takeaway from building the Abbvie Way is that there is no end when it comes to culture building and employee engagement. Culture must be nurtured, and there is always room for growth.