AbbVie’s Tim Richmond on How To Design a Development Program as Individual as Your Employees

Originally published on LinkedIn. Tim Richmond is AbbVie’s Executive Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer. AbbVie ranked No. 19 on The Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2020.


On Feb. 25, 2021, we hosted Learn.Develop.Perform. (LDP), our companywide initiative to inspire every AbbVie employee to reflect, explore and act on their development. Since we launched LDP five years ago, we’ve received tremendous results – from strong year-over-year participation and improved employee engagement scores to external recognition. I’ve been reflecting on why that is. Lots of companies offer employee development … what makes this different?

I believe there are three learnings for any leader looking to offer purposeful development for employees over time.

1.   Make Development Strategic.  

It’s essential to provide employees with the development that is aligned to their individual needs and specific to their opportunities for improvement. But to build something that lasts takes more.

  • We customize our curriculum. We look at business strategy, talent review data, focus group findings, external research, leader and employee feedback and more. From a range of inputs, we identify what employees need which best supports performance. At any time, we know exactly the development priorities that align individual interests with business imperatives. This means what we offer is highly relevant and makes a difference to employees’ success. And because it drives results, it’s embraced by their leaders.
  • We prioritize innovative solutions. I’ve talked in the past about how innovation is at the heart of what we do as a company – and this is also true in how we deliver development to employees. Our team has found ways to deliver creative, fresh offerings that engage and educate our workforce – we’ve produced music videos, TED Talks, a 24-hour radio station, a comedy sketch show, our own television program, podcasts and webinars. If you want to engage year over year, you can’t be afraid to try something new!
  • We make our senior leaders accountable. We know employees want to hear from senior leaders – and we know leaders play a critical role in contributing to development. That’s why, in 2013, we articulated our Talent Philosophy, our expectations of leaders as it relates to managing talent. That philosophy explicitly holds leaders accountable for the development of their team members. It is integral to our high performance as a company. This accountability has over time created a culture where our leaders are deeply engaged in our employees’ learning. This year, more than 50 senior leaders will lead sessions during LDP, sharing their personal development and career experiences.
In 2018, AbbVie leaders hosted a live segment on LDP Radio, a 24-hour radio station accessible to employees around the globe.

2.   Put Employees in the Driver’s Seat.

With strategic, innovative offerings in place and strong leadership commitment, you can empower employees to chart their own courses.

When speaking with employees, I often suggest they start with self-reflective questions such as “what matters most to me?” and “what does ‘success’ look like?” The answers serve as a guide for determining their desired development path.

Then, we empower them to bring that development to life – through our offerings. While we celebrate development during LDP Week, we offer new programs monthly throughout the year. In addition to our library of training programs, our extensive collateral lets employees take control, by providing the resources they need: anywhere, anytime.

Our drive to make development accessible to all employees resulted in LDP receiving an Innovation Award from Great Place to Work For All.

As part of LDP in 2018, I gave an internal TED Talk to AbbVie employees on the importance of finding your purpose – a key element in defining your career path.

3.   Focus on Results.

AbbVie’s approach aligns business strategy with employee needs, then empowers employees to act. But we don’t take it for granted that we are getting the results we need.

We measure. We measure program participation and look for continuous improvement opportunities. We survey employees, asking if they get the development they need to perform at their best. We measure the impact of skills development on our culture. And we measure the relationship between development and engagement – in fact, it’s one of the top drivers of engagement at AbbVie and we know when employees are engaged, they’re motivated to go that extra mile. Ultimately, this focus on tangible results increases employee and business performance, leading to better outcomes for patients.

A development-focused culture – where employees have opportunities to grow in their roles, find purpose in their careers and understand how they impact their organization – is no longer an aspiration for employees and potential talent, it’s an expectation.

I’m committed to ensuring that expectation is always a reality at AbbVie.

What creative approaches have you taken to develop employees? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you.