The implementation of HRConnect ensured a gold win for AbbVie in Excellence in HR Change Management at HR Excellence Awards 2020, Singapore. Find out how with this online, self-service platform and culture in place, AbbVie's employees were better able to adapt to working from home, in this interview, with Share Lee Tan, HR Director, Singapore covering the area office and AbbVie Biologics Plant, AbbVie.

Q What is your organisation’s winning HR strategy, and what are some milestones you’ve accomplished along this journey?

As a global research-driven biopharmaceutical company, AbbVie has always been seeking new ways to address the world’s most pressing health needs; as an employer, we are always looking for opportunities to bring out the best in our people.

Our HR strategy is anchored in our enterprise-wide commitment to high-impact performance, agility, and innovation. In our eight years as a biopharma company, we’ve already achieved tremendous growth. (2013).

Just from a people perspective, we’ve doubled the number of AbbVie employees worldwide, and together, have forged a strong and distinct culture and identity for ourselves.

The milestones through that journey are numerous, beginning with the foundations laid as early as 2013 with our Talent Philosophy to show how we value and reward our people, the five Ways We Work behaviours that underpin our culture and showing us how each of us can grow in these leadership traits, the AbbVie Vitality that gives us the framework to support our employees in developing Active Bodies, Healthy Minds, Fulfilled Selves and Balanced Lives and the AbbVie Principles in which we articulate who we are and our values as a company.

These have become the foundation for us to drive countless culture and talent initiatives.

We are delighted to win the HR Excellence Award for Change Management and in a way, I think it is because the attitude we take in managing change is something that is hardwired in our team. For instance, we have always engaged closely with leaders, the business and employees to drive the many priorities we have in HR. We have seen many successes; some may be smaller than others, but no less significant, others have opened new vistas for us.

For example, one of our aspirations is to be recognised as the Employer of Choice. Looking back to 2014, the year I joined, this was critical as we were launching AbbVie’s first manufacturing plant in Asia, located in Singapore. We needed the best talent to find a home in AbbVie and grow with us. To me, engaging, communicating our culture, values, and ways of working, and being able to instil change managing with better ideas were critical to how well we have been able to inspire and mobilise our people.

Two significant milestones that show us how well we had done this were our internal Employee Engagement and Trust Scores and when we achieved our first top ten Great Place to Work Award in 2015. We were the only young biopharma company to achieve the award. It was a winning moment. To me, that’s our people saying that our culture and talent strategy is working.

Q How has this strategy helped you achieve your HR priorities, and what role has the leadership played in helping make this initiative a reality?

We won the recent HR Excellence Change Management Award mainly by demonstrating one of our biggest successes in 2019 with the implementation of HRConnect.

One of our HR strategic priorities as early as 2018 was to deliver an enhanced HR and payroll service delivery model. In 2019, we started to overhaul our HR and payroll service delivery beginning with the Japan and Asia Pacific region. Our outsourced service operation wasn’t delivering the employee experience or administrative ease that we wanted. Singapore was chosen as one of four sites in AbbVie hosting our new in-house regional HR service centres.

I credit our culture of innovation for the bold decision to address this with in-sourcing. Our HR leadership team envisioned the future and was confident that we could develop new in-house capabilities for a digital-first, ‘employee as customer’ service model that we call HRConnect. Singapore is both the location for the Service Centre and as a regional office, we are also going to be an active user of HRConnect.

The message underlying HRConnect resonated with our business leaders and key stakeholders who were fully supportive of the initiative. They recognised that it was opportune to rethink how we optimise people, process and technology so that we are freeing up time for employees to focus on higher-value priorities. Our HR team in Singapore took pride and ownership of the initiative and worked tirelessly with the HRConnect team on the project implementation plan.

Throughout the implementation journey, we actively engaged our leaders and change agents to perpetuate the HRConnect message so that employees will see the benefits of HRConnect and alter their behaviours to make full use of its services.

Q Unexpected roadblocks are part and parcel of executing any initiative. What were some of the barriers that you and your team experienced while rolling this out, and how did you successfully get past them?

We never once underestimated the magnitude of HRConnect. It was not just about building a system, redesigning processes and deploying new technology. It also involved rethinking people’s roles, remoulding their behaviours, and helping them adapt to change. We worked with our HRConnect Change Management team to develop a full change management programme.

Perhaps because of this, many of the roadblocks that we faced had been anticipated. One of our priorities was to ease the job role anxiety that our HR and BHR colleagues could feel due to changing processes. Initially, we considered building a wider-than-planned service scope for HRConnect to address more service areas. A series of open conversations and feedback sessions with HR and BHR later revealed that this could cause undue capacity challenges within the team, so we decided to throttle back and take a phased approach.

Communication within the team is key.

Q As evidenced by the win, this initiative clearly delivered some amazing results. What was your game plan for measuring ROI? What are some proud achievements you can share with us on this front?

With HRConnect, we transitioned from a high touch model towards a culture of empowerment. We sought a behavioural change to create a proactive self-service habit rather than reaching out to BHR for tasks that could be better handled by the Service Center. This is a mindset shift to many of our business stakeholders and employees. For instance, we dialled up the change management activities at the AbbVie Biologics Singapore manufacturing plant to onboard the leaders and managers to the vision of empowerment and demonstrate the advantages of the new model to the operations employees.

Our greatest success metric today is the utilisation rate of HRConnect. It is kudos to the team that within 10 months of launching HRConnect, our utilisation rate hit 75%, surpassing expectations. I’m also particularly pleased that, within the same time period, about 4,500 ‘Ask A Question’ queries were recorded with a drop-off rate of 35% - drop-off because of the knowledge articles recommended during the online enquiry process.

This is a significant step towards the self-service culture that we are striving for, because in over 1,500 instances, employees were persuaded to read a recommended knowledge article to resolve their query instead of engaging a consultant.

Q Given just how quickly the external business environment is adapting, how do you ensure that your HR team keeps pace in HR Change Management and is constantly upskilled to manage newer HR scenarios?

For us, 2020 was headlined by two major events. One gave us retrospect, and the other showed us the way forward. The first, of course, was the pandemic. It really proved that our digitalisation journey with HRConnect is very relevant today and in the future. With an online, self-service platform and culture in place, our employees were better able to adapt to working from home. The operational burden on HR and BHR was also significantly eased, giving HR the bandwidth to be even more strategic on what really mattered: taking care of our people.

The other key event was our integration with Allergan where we are paving the way to integrate people, process and technology. We are taking the same change management attitude in our many HR successes - with HRConnect and with various strategic culture and talent initiatives.

While new HR scenarios will most certainly continue to emerge, I am confident that we have the fundamental skills and development priorities in HR: a clear definition of high-impact performance, a culture of agility and innovation and the ability to harness our digital capability, a commitment to putting our people first, and the courage to do what’s right and what’s needed at the right time.

Photo / AbbVie 

Read more interviews on why organisations have won trophies for their HR practices - head over to our Winning Secrets' section! 

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