Inspiring success through investing in culture

By Rami Fayed, Regional Vice President Middle East and Africa, AbbVie

People often ask me ‘what makes an office a great place to work?’. They usually expect a long-winded answer, but I can often summarise it in just one word: culture.

It can be easy for culture to be overlooked by companies and viewed as a “nice-to-have” rather than an essential part of any company. Too often, attention from senior management is focused towards revenue and the overall bottom line, rather than the character and personality of the organisation.

It was Tim Richmond, Senior Vice President for Human Resources at AbbVie, who set out to change this in 2016 by transforming AbbVie’s culture. AbbVie 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.
 

He said that culture is essential to every facet of a company and helps to define who a company is. However, culture is not automatic, and it cannot happen overnight; it needs investment, it needs time and most importantly, it needs resources.

But what exactly is culture? It is a difficult concept to define. To me, culture is the sum of an organisation’s leadership, values, traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviours and attitudes, which helps a workplace achieve its core purpose.

According to Richmond, once a culture has been defined, it must be fostered, rewarded, and monitored over time. For us at AbbVie, this comes to life through creating an always-evolving work environment that fosters innovation, personal development, inclusion and collaboration. Through ensuring employees are motivated, satisfied and happy in the workplace, employees become engaged, which ultimately results in increased operational performance, as well as employee retention.

In the UAE, as an example, we foster our workplace culture by giving our staff some of the best benefits. This includes encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle in the affiliate through negotiating corporate gym discounts, dietitian visits, office physical activities e.g. jogging, football and aerobics. There’s even a dedicated innovation room with a foosball table to help colleagues unwind after a busy day.

However, executives should not just be concerned with the tangible benefits when wishing to instil an engaging workplace culture. Although still important, recent surveys indicate that employees want more than just a place to work, they want to know their work has a positive and purposeful impact. Opportunities to volunteer at work can help boost morale, workplace atmosphere and brand perception.

Giving back to the communities in which our employees work and live is also a big part of our culture. Every year, we take part in the global AbbVie CSR initiative, ‘Week of Possibilities’ where all AbbVie employees in over 50 countries are invited to participate in volunteering in the local community and are given the time off to do so. Most recently, we visited the Dubai Center for Special Needs.

Upskilling employees is essential for fostering a positive and engaging workplace culture too. We have tried to move away from traditional top-down trainings and instead adopted a blended learning approach focused on experiential learning. By leveraging this approach, employees are given the opportunity to learn new skills, build diverse capabilities, and accelerate their development to take on new roles within the company. Our focus on development has led to 14 job moves within the affiliate in 2017, and in the same year we imported/exported a total of six talents within AbbVie globally.

This transformational shift in culture has had a real impact on our business, not just in the South Gulf but also globally. From our employee engagement surveys, we have seen a +3 per cent increase in employee engagement since 2016. This is +14 per cent ahead of industry benchmarks and is defined as employees’ pride, energy, optimism and commitment that fuels discretionary effort. This is also reflected in our 1 per cent absenteeism rate, and low voluntary turnover of 6.2 per cent.

Despite all this work, culture is never finished and should be constantly evolving. We encourage our employees to share their feedback and suggestions about AbbVie’s culture. At AbbVie in the South Gulf, we have a team of Culture Empowered Officers (CEOs). These are appointed employees at all levels of the organisation who take a proactive role in shaping the affiliate culture. We also have an email platform, so employees can share their feedback about culture at any time.

Our culture survey results are very favourable as we have seen from the global Great Place to Work award in 2017, as well as AbbVie’s UAE Top Employer certification in 2018. But we never take these results for granted. Echoing the words of Tim Richmond, “culture must be nurtured, and there is always room for growth”.

References available on request.