Driving an accelerated growth mindset 

The years 2017-2018 saw biopharmaceutical company AbbVie enter a new era of growth – with its strong pipeline of critical products, as well as new launches. And, with a new era, came new opportunities for the leadership team to drive the workforce forward – with HR taking the lead.

Enter the ‘Go Wider. Go Farther’ talent acceleration campaign, launched with an aim to articulate a new accelerated growth mindset among both AbbVie’s leaders and employees.

"It inspired and equipped our people to look beyond their current roles, explore different pathways, and actively prepare themselves for role mobility and job agility," shares Agnieszka Romanczuk, Director, Human Resources, Japan and Asia-Pacific, AbbVie.

Fast forward to 2020, and the campaign has seen various projects unveiled under its umbrella, with one of its biggest being Culture Week – an initiative that brings together the company’s over 47,000 employees globally, in an annual celebration of culture.

To add to that, the company also recently completed the acquisition of Allergan in May, at a time when the absence of in-person interactions added a new challenge.

What was the journey like? In this exclusive interview with Priya Sunil, let’s hear more about it – from the acquisition, to Culture Week, and what’s in store for AbbVie employees moving forward.

[TL;DR: Jump straight to our summary of AbbVie's key employee initiatives in the past year]

Q In May 2020, AbbVie completed the transformative acquisition of Allergan, and the momentum towards Culture Week marks the first of a series of important integration initiatives. Why was this so important to a successful integration, and how was it run?

Like AbbVie, Allergan has a well-defined culture. Effective culture integration means onboarding both sides, not just one or the other. As a first step, we wanted to introduce the AbbVie Way to our new colleagues from Allergan. Instead of simply telling them about it, we preferred that they experienced it for themselves. Culture Week was the perfect opportunity.

Culture Week brings together our over 47,000 employees globally, in an annual celebration of culture. This year’s event, held virtually from 20-24 July, was even more critical because it set the tone and sent the message that culture matters to us, pandemic or not.

For our new colleagues from Allergan, Culture Week was a great introduction to the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of our culture. Through the week-long series of activities, they heard stories about how we bring our culture to life every day – in the way we engage each other, do our work, and make decisions that matter to patients.

Q What challenges did the team face along the way, especially amid the COVID-19-driven environment?

The absence of face-to-face interaction definitely made culture integration more challenging. While we enjoy relatively high engagement levels among AbbVie employees, we were starting from scratch with our new colleagues from Allergan.

To bridge this distance, we invited a special speaker for one of our Culture Week sharing sessions – an Allergan employee who had worked in AbbVie before. Having experienced both cultures, he was able to speak from both perspectives and to both sets of audiences. His candid sharing helped AbbVie and Allergan to get to know each other better.

Q How did you ensure Culture Week was relevant across the markets, yet comprised elements unique to each market?

In addition to globally-led event highlights such as this year’s keynote speech by Michael Bush, CEO of Great Place to Work, we encouraged our in-country teams to localise their activities for greater relevance and relatability. In Singapore, for example, we approached equality, diversity and inclusion with a panel discussion where employees of different nationalities talked about their experience relocating to Singapore and assimilating with the local culture.

Over in Australia and New Zealand, there was a stronger focus on mental wellness arising from employees’ needs.

With the acquisition only finalised in May 2020, we are still in the early stages of culture integration. It would be premature to assess our employees’ response at this time, although we are encouraged by their response to Culture Week. We recorded up to a 65% participation rate, including an amazing 600 people who logged on for a webinar on talent philosophy.

Q I understand Culture Week fits into the bigger ‘Go Wider. Go Farther’ agenda. Share with us about this.

Underlying ‘Go Wider. Go Farther’ is the same talent philosophy that we espouse and amplify during Culture Week.

Between Culture Week and our ongoing communication outreach, we have focused on building awareness of our culture among our new colleagues from Allergan. Our next step is to embed the skills and knowledge that they need to thrive at AbbVie.

We are preparing to run culture workshops for them in Q4 2020 so that they gain a hands-on appreciation of the five ‘Ways We Work’. These are behaviours that we expect of all our people and are ingrained into our performance management evaluations. After they have been familiarised with the ‘Ways We Work’, we will onboard them into our performance management system. This should happen next year.

Q Another key campaign at AbbVie is ‘Let’s Be Future Focused’, launched this March. What were the pillars and objectives of this campaign?

‘Let’s Be Future Focused’ is our ongoing response to the COVID-19 situation. In a time characterised by rapid change, deep uncertainty and remote work, it’s our way of staying connected with our people, supporting their wellbeing, and keeping them engaged.

The key message is an encouraging and uplifting one: that we will emerge stronger, into a brighter future, together.

The campaign builds on AbbVie Vitality, our holistic employee wellbeing framework that promotes active bodies, healthy minds, fulfilled selves and balanced lives.

Q Keeping employees safe and resilient in this period goes beyond BCPs. How was this achieved, especially amid the prevalent anxiety in the workforce?

Anxiety stems from uncertainty, so our first order of business was to return a sense of control to our employees.

We made sure they had access to timely and accurate information via our global COVID-19 resource hub and weekly local communications. Further, we helped them adapt to remote work with a S$300 Courts voucher for equipment purchases, webinars on home office ergonomics, and e-learning to equip managers with the skills to manage virtual teams effectively.

We also made telemedicine services available to them and their dependents to allay any concerns about safely accessing healthcare. Armed with these resources, and the assurance that AbbVie is doing all that it can to support them through uncertain times, our people were better able to cope and adapt.

Another key focus area for us is safeguarding emotional wellness. Through formal and informal activities, we maintain and facilitate social interactions virtually because a strong sense of community can keep feelings of isolation at bay.

We invited expert speakers to talk to our employees about mental resilience, and reactivated our mindfulness series virtually. We also strengthened our existing Employee Assistance Programme to ensure that professional counselling services are available 24/7 to any employee who needs it.

All these were made possible because our culture supports innovation, collaboration and rapid decision making. These attributes enabled HR, as one team, to respond to the situation with the speed and agility that our people needed. We also have the AbbVie Vitality framework serving as our guiding light to ensure that we never lose focus.

Q With all of the variables involved – remote working, equality, job security, etc, – how did you communicate and execute this for employees, based on the evolving situation?

We recognise that recent events, whether externally with COVID-19 or internally with our acquisition of Allergan, may have brought to the fore layers of anxieties among our people. Our employee communications during this period, which includes, but extends beyond ‘Let’s Be Future Focused’, are anchored in one key message: All For One AbbVie.

We want our people to know that we are all in this together. Whether it is our COVID-19 response measures or communications around what the Allergan acquisition means for them, we strive to be transparent, equal and inclusive. Our employees know that we are doing our best to deepen a culture that is welcoming for everyone; a workplace where all employees have the opportunity to grow and contribute.

To understand sentiment on the ground and assess employee engagement in these changing times, we ran a two-cycle pulse survey in early June and towards July.

The results suggest that our employees remain steadily engaged, and are supportive and appreciative of our efforts to safeguard their wellbeing. We see this from a healthy employee net promoter score of 53 with just 4% of detractors, and from 76% of employees telling us that are they more or equally productive while working from home.

We were also highly rated on organisational effectiveness and responsiveness (89%). This speaks of our agility. Even before Singapore’s Circuit Breaker began, we were already in BCP mode. We shifted our employees to remote work and quickly formed a core team from across HR functions to centralise and fast-track our COVID-19 response.

We have achieved some success, but we know we can, and must, strive to do better, especially given the changing circumstances.

Q Last, given that HR is facing one of its greatest challenges now – what do you think the future holds for HR going forward?

It’s an understatement to say that COVID-19 caught us off guard. In a business-as-usual environment, HR is a trusted partner to the business but, in a pandemic, we are leading the fight.

The dynamics have changed. Organisations are now relying on HR to drive their COVID-19 response while reinforcing culture, maintaining employee engagement, and driving talent development and retention. Right now, there is an opportunity for HR to demonstrate the value that it brings to the business and, in doing so, cement its position at the leadership table.

While the future of work remains undefined, I believe it will be marked by continuous organisational change with HR orchestrating transformation from within.

We need to step up and step ahead as we help shape the future of work. This means that HR must constantly innovate and experiment. We need to be comfortable with making mistakes and be ready to learn from our experiences.

Q Now, we’d like to know more about you! You’ve been in HR for nearly 30 years. What drew you to the profession in the first place?

I entered the profession more by chance than by design. I had just completed my Master’s degree in applied linguistics with post-graduate studies in management. This was in Poland, in the early 1990s. I was looking for a job as an interpreter. Instead, I received an offer from a computing firm to join its HR function. It was a junior role and very administrative in nature, but I loved every minute of it.

Perhaps because of this experience, I have learnt to respect people in every role, whether they provide administrative support or are starting from the bottom and working their way up. It’s about taking pride in your work. Whatever you do, you just need to love it and keep learning.

Q Having been in the function for so long, how do you keep things exciting and fresh?

The people business is never boring, because people never are! Every person I encounter is unique and offers a new perspective that I can learn from or be inspired by.

Within my team, we’re always challenging one another to be “more” – more creative, more agile, more courageous.

I’ve also had a varied career. As an HR professional, I’ve worked in different sectors (IT, FMCG and now biopharma) and in different regions (Europe, America, and now Asia), so things have always stayed fresh and exciting.

I would encourage HR practitioners who are looking for change to explore different aspects of the profession as well. The function is so broad; there’s so much to learn. Doing so will also shape you into a more well-rounded professional.


Vital stats: Agnieszka Romanczuk has been the Director, Human Resources, Japan and Asia-Pacific at AbbVie since 2015. She brings with her nearly 30 years of proficiency in leading HR initiatives for multi-billion-dollar businesses, spanning three continents, 30 countries, and teams of around 9,000. Through this, she has led transformational change, and partnered with key executives to develop and deploy HR strategies during periods of rapid growth or cyclical downturns, across mature and developing markets.


RECAP: AbbVie's key employee initiatives in the past year

Go Wider. Go Farther

A talent acceleration campaign, launched around 2018 with an aim to articulate a new accelerated growth mindset among both AbbVie’s leaders and employees. Underlying this initiative is the same talent philosophy that is espoused and amplified during Culture Week. “It inspired and equipped our people to look beyond their current roles, explore different pathways, and actively prepare themselves for role mobility and job agility,” shares Agnieszka.

Culture Week

A part of the bigger ‘Go Wider. Go Farther’ agenda, Culture Week brings together over 47,000 employees globally, in an annual celebration of culture. This year’s event, held virtually from 20-24 July, was even more critical because it set the tone and sent the message that culture matters to the firm, pandemic or not. For new colleagues from Allergan, postintegration, Culture Week was a great introduction to the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the AbbVie culture.

Let’s Be Future Focused

In a time characterised by rapid change, deep uncertainty and remote work, Agnieszka shares that this campaign is a way for AbbVie’s leaders to stay connected with its people, supporting their wellbeing, and keeping them engaged. The key message is an encouraging and uplifting one: that “we will emerge stronger, into a brighter future, together.”The campaign builds on AbbVie Vitality, its holistic employee wellbeing framework that promotes active bodies, healthy minds, fulfilled selves and balanced lives.


This interview has been published exclusively in the Jul-Aug 2020 issue of Human Resources. Read this edition of Human Resources, Singapore:

hrsg jul aug20

Photo / provided

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