Assumptions Versus Reality

Assumption: Employees go to your offerings first for their learning.

Reality: Most employees turn to Google, YouTube or other channels before turning to internal company solutions.

Assumption: Employees want what your learning function is offering.

Reality: They may want it but not even know it exists.

Assumption: Employees trust your learning team and the content you provide.

Reality: Most employees are turned off by the corporate learning function, and your brand may not be not as strong as you think.

You likely have a good learning team with good intentions. Perhaps you’ve won some awards or experienced some buzz about a recent initiative or framework. The reality is, however, that most employees don’t care about your intentions — and it shows in low engagement scores, slow talent acceleration and lack of individual contributor retention.

What really matters is the perspective of your employees — not your learning function. Are they showing up for learning events? Are they fully engaged in their development? Do they understand that individual development leads to improved performance and greater rewards for the individual, the team, the company, the shareholder and the customer?

Our Company, Our Challenge and Our Goal

AbbVie is a biopharmaceutical company delivering a consistent stream of innovative medicines that solve critical health issues and have a major impact on people’s lives. Approximately 30,000 employees around the world deliver transformational medicines and therapies that offer significant patient benefits.

At AbbVie, we faced the common L&D challenges described earlier. However, using creativity, technology and innovation, we created an employee development juggernaut. Events regularly sell out. Employees take to social media to talk about their personal development, and employee engagement scores have increased. Almost two-thirds of global employees participate, and nearly 65% of senior leaders are involved in teaching; C-suite leaders publicly and actively participate. The solution includes webinars delivered by content experts, a 24-hour radio program, multiple in-person events, functional viewing parties, a TED-like event and a go-to online portal with resources for development.

These changes all started because we wanted to drive culture, improve engagement and encourage development. From this goal, a unique program called Learn.Develop.Perform (LDP) was born on a shoestring budget. You can do the same with a similar approach, tailored to match the needs and culture of your company and employees.

In 2017, we set out to develop a week-long event with the following objectives:

  • Create and launch an identifiable brand.
  • Host over 20 live, globally broadcasted webinars with expert content.
  • Encourage live events and meet-ups.
  • Feature nearly 80 leaders and their development stories on LDP Radio.
  • Build a microsite to serve as the hub of all things LDP.


  • Over 14,000 campaign registrations.
  • Upward of 90% participants ranked programs as “helpful for development.”
  • Engaged 54% of people leaders.
  • Significant global reach.
  • Strong participation by the highest performers.


  • “This is the first time I have seen a genuine effort across the organization to develop its employees. This has been sorely needed. Bravo!”
  • “I loved the variety of topics. LDP sent a signal to all of us that AbbVie cares about people development and is making it a priority for both employees and people leaders.”
  • “I loved LDP and AbbVie’s willingness to assist in the development of all their employees.

What Makes It Possible

  1. Create your brand: Spending time on your brand promise up front is critical — and by “brand,” I don’t mean a logo or catchphrase. Instead, think about what you want your program to convey. Is it bold or humble? Is it colorful or muted? Is it open for everyone or highly selective? Think through these questions in advance, and let them guide all your decisions about what you do and how you present your style.
  2. Determine your delivery: For AbbVie, webinars delivered by content experts were critical. Our population consists of scientists, engineers and employees with advanced degrees. We needed to bring experts forward in a trusted format. There was nothing flashy about the webinars, but the content was current, relevant and backed by research. They addressed topics such as careers, development, storytelling, feedback, branding, difficult conversations, business acumen, presence and more.
  3. Deliver messages with unconventional marketing: When delivering a new solution or program, marketing effectively can be difficult. It can be tempting to say, “Me, me, look at me!” But nobody really wants to hear about your team, your department or your function. Instead, learners want to know the focus is on them. Stay true to your brand promise, and invest in marketing efforts. If you do, word of mouth marketing will begin!

Continuing Success

We designed this week-long event to raise awareness and get people excited about their development. The results were so strong that the organization demanded we continue! People continued to call for more development, more learning and more expert content. We moved forward by adding one new webinar every month and ramping up for LDP Week 2018. We stayed true to our brand promise and advanced with additional goals:

  • Global growth: Focus on increasing our global position.
  • Raise the bar: Innovate and increase the number of delivery methods.
  • Stories: Leverage development stories of our leaders and employees.
  • Mobile: Leverage mobile technology to bring LDP to employees no matter where they are.

In 2018, we delivered 22 global webinars featuring interviews with AbbVie leaders. We hosted 405 self-created webinar viewing parties across the globe, and more than 250 webinar replay viewing events took place following the week of LDP. We also delivered a TED event and LDP Radio — a live, 24-hour radio broadcast interviewing over 50 leaders from across the globe.

The results were astounding, with over 16,000 employees engaged and most metrics improving. Moreover, employee engagement related to development rose significantly. The most substantial new set of development offerings, by far, were offered through LDP.

You can accomplish these results, too. Steal the idea of doing something amazing, but bring your own style to it and use the following tips as your guide:

  • Define your brand: Determine up front what you do and don’t want your brand to say. Let this brand, not your intuition, be the guiding principle for what and how you move forward.
  • Realize your intent: Clearly outline what you are setting out to achieve. Our goal wasn’t an increase in employee engagement; we set out to drive development and create a more deliberately developmental organization. What is your intent? What challenge do you need to tackle for the organization? Focus and align.
  • Know your audience: Your employee population may have certain demands by nature of who they are. Understand their personas, and play to them.
  • Iterate along the way: Start with what you have. Our shoestring budget helped us begin, and our resources grew with each success. Refine as you move forward.
  • Don’t wait for the C-suite, and don’t listen to naysayers: Don’t wait for approval from everyone or the endorsement of key leaders. If you can move forward without it, and your plan is solid, get started with the team who is ready to go. With the right approach in place, others will want to join in!

With clarity and determination, you can hardwire development into your organization.