What you say and how you say it: Thoughtful communication at AbbVie


What you'll learn on this podcast episode

The benefits of civility in the workplace are well documented. Operating through a lens of courtesy, integrity, and respect helps align teams, lift productivity, and reduce risk. But how to create a workplace environment that prizes these things when so much of society has become so... uncivilized? How can we maintain our own composure in this trying environment, and is it important? In this episode of the Principled Podcast, host Jen Uner explores the value of thoughtful communications with Shana Fried and Marie Corchado-Stewart, two key compliance executives at the global pharmaceuticals company AbbVie. Listen in as Shana and Marie share how their E&C program addresses thoughtful communications and equips employees for success in a time of considerable change both inside the organization, and outside of it.   

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Guest: Shana Fried

Shana Fried – Grayscale

Shana Fried is AbbVie’s ethics and compliance officer for enterprise compliance, policies, and governance. She leads AbbVie’s compliance team supporting R&D, corporate functions, and operations, EED&I, policy standards, training, governance, and communications. 

Shana joined AbbVie in 2014. A passionate advocate for patients and people, Shana has worked in both the legal and compliance teams to partner with business stakeholders on strategies to deliver products that bring value for patients. Before joining AbbVie, Shana spent nine years as an attorney in the Life Science Transactions practice group of Reed Smith LLP.   

Shana holds a Juris Doctorate from Rutgers University. She is married and has two sons, and enjoys traveling, and being an advocate for social justice causes. 

Guest: Marie Corchado-Stewart

Marie Corchado-Stewart – Grayscale

Marie Corchado-Stewart is AbbVie’s director of standards, training and equity, equality, diversity and inclusion in the Office of Ethics and Compliance (OEC). She is responsible for AbbVie’s corporate compliance training, policies, and EED&I efforts in the OEC.   

Marie joined AbbVie in 2006 and has held various roles, all within the Office of Ethics and Compliance. This has afforded her the opportunity to work cross-functionally with various functions within the organization and gain a deep appreciation for the diversity of thought, background and experiences needed to bring life-changing therapies to patients.   

Marie holds a master's degree in industrial organization psychology from Chicago School of Professional Psychology. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, cooking and spending quality time with family and friends.

Host: Jen Üner


Jen Üner is the Strategic Communications Director for LRN, where she captains programs for both internal and external audiences. She has an insatiable curiosity and an overdeveloped sense of right and wrong which she challenges each day through her study of ethics, compliance, and the value of values-based behavior in corporate governance. Prior to joining LRN, Jen led marketing communications for innovative technology companies operating in Europe and the US, and for media and marketplaces in California. She has won recognition for her work in brand development and experiential design, earned placements in leading news publications, and hosted a closing bell ceremony of the NASDAQ in honor of the California fashion industry as founder of the LA Fashion Awards. Jen holds a B.A. degree from Claremont McKenna College.


Principled Podcast transcription

Intro: Welcome to the Principled Podcast brought to you by LRN. The Principled Podcast brings together the collective wisdom on ethics, business and compliance, transformative stories of leadership and inspiring workplace culture. Listen in to discover valuable strategies from our community of business leaders and workplace change makers.

Jen Üner: The benefits of civility in the workplace are well documented. Operating through a lens of courtesy, integrity, and respect helps align teams, lift productivity, and reduce risk. But how to create a workplace environment that prizes these things when so much of society has become so uncivilized? We've all seen it. In the discourse around politics, at the grocery store, in the airport, on the roadways, maybe even in our own homes. How can we maintain our own composure in this trying environment, and is it important? 

Hello, and welcome to another episode of LRN'S Principled Podcast. I'm your host, Jen Üner, Strategic Communications Director at LRN. Today I'm joined by two key executives at AbbVie, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, Shana Fried, Ethics and Compliance Officer, Enterprise Compliance Policies and Governance, and Marie Corchado-Stewart, Director of OEC Standards, Training and Equity, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Office of Ethics and Compliance. 

Today, we're going to be talking about communications, specifically thoughtful communications, the ability for individuals to communicate respectfully and with intention to those around them. Shana and Marie have been working on this specifically in the program they're building to help level set and equip the organization for success in a time of considerable change, both inside the company and outside of it. Shana, Marie, thank you so much for coming on the Principled Podcast. 

Shana Fried: Thank you, Jen, for the introduction. I appreciate it. 

Marie Corchado-Stewart: Yeah, thanks so much, Jen. It's great to be here. 

Jen Üner: Shana, for some context, let's start with a bit about AbbVie. 

Shana Fried: Sure. Happy to tell you about AbbVie. We are headquartered in North Chicago, Illinois, but we do have a broad global reach. We have approximately 50,000 employees worldwide. Our products are used by patients in over 175 countries, and we are really privileged to provide life-changing solutions for patients treating over 60 conditions. And I personally feel very lucky to work with a fantastic compliance team, including Marie, supporting enterprise compliance at AbbVie. 

Marie Corchado-Stewart: And Jen, to add to that, I could speak to what we do specifically here within the OEC. At AbbVie, our team is responsible for the very exciting topic of corporate and global level policies and training. And some may laugh at that, but it really is exciting because we get an opportunity to continuously monitor changes in the environment, to identify new risk areas and business needs that help us evolve our program. So it requires us to ultimately work with various groups across the organization to get this done. And it's important to have this partnership so that we can align on the requirements that exist for a given topic and work together to implement them into policy and issue relevant training. 

Jen Üner: That's a really critical role for the organization right now as you're going through changes. And this arena of ethics and compliance is especially important as the regulatory environment is also changing. We've seen this detailed in guidelines recently from the DOJ, for example. Tell us how these factors are impacting the program you're building for AbbVie. 

Marie Corchado-Stewart: Yeah, it's actually a direct impact, Jen. Our training program is actually based on the DOJ's guidance related to policy and training governance. Our training approach includes critically evaluating our content in the manner that the material is relevant for our learners. We also play a really critical role in evaluating the content in terms of how the content is delivered. So we're looking to make sure that it's refreshed, that it's relevant for our learners, and we're also using different modes of training, including formal and informal training to get those messages across. 

We've also incorporated more shorter training so that employees understand what is relevant and applicable to them. Appropriate audience selection is also a really important part of our training approach. It's not a one size fits all. So we have to make sure that the content that we're issuing is relevant for our learners. And we do that using different communication strategies to get this information out. One approach that I think is helpful or has been helpful for our organization is aligning our training topics to our Code of Business Conduct. This helps our learners understand where they are in their learner journey. We've also implemented a governance committee, and this committee helps us to continuously evaluate training topics and helps us make training decisions ultimately. 

Shana Fried: Marie mentioned our training governance. There's so many factors that impact how we think about risks to be addressed by our training program. And as part of our training governance, we consider changes in business environment, both internally and externally. We look at our own internal audit monitoring and investigations data to consider whether there are any trends to be addressed or any scenarios that we can pull through to our training. And of course, we also think about any new external enforcement cases. We review those cases and look for facts and information that can help to inform areas where we should be emphasizing in our training. 

And then of course, we also have new employees joining from outside of AbbVie all the time. Acquisition of companies are common and including the recent acquisition we had a couple years ago with Allergan. So we have to make sure that our training resonates with all of our employees and takes into account the perspectives and the tenure of our different learners, our new employees, and our more tenured employees, while also staying on top of key risks and compliance trends at the same time. 

Jen Üner: That's a lot. So walk me through the thinking behind this communications course you created to help your colleagues. 

Shana Fried: So acting with integrity is the basis of our compliance program. The Thoughtful Communications course really teaches our employees to be respectful, clear, lead with integrity and credibility. And communication is our entire day at work. It's how we do business. So misuse of or unintended or misleading communications can introduce risk to our company. A lack of care in how we communicate or intent is one way that things can go wrong. 

Communication, I would argue, is one of the most common pitfalls of compliance because it's ubiquitous. There's so many different modes of communication we're dealing with all day. Verbal, presentations, text messaging, recordings of meetings, informal hallway discussions, and now we have Teams and other shared digital workspaces where we communicate. So to help educate our employees, we've developed a custom and scenario-based course to address these important but sometimes easy to make mistakes. We evaluated existing AbbVie and Allergan training content, and we took the best of both of those programs to frame up our approach in our recent training. 

Marie Corchado-Stewart: That's right, and the course is pretty simple. We wanted to base it on some simple, easy to understand and to apply communication expectations, and we're leading it with accuracy, integrity, and impact. So on accuracy, our learners, we want them to understand that our communication always uses clear and respectful communication. We don't use any of those different modes of communication that Shana just covered to indicate or instruct, encourage actual or even perceived illegal or behavior that does not align to our Code principles and the expectations that we have of our learners and how they should be engaging with one another and external stakeholders. 

On integrity, we are emphasizing that we tell the truth and we present our communication in a way that is civilized and respectful, always taking into consideration the intended audience. And for impact, we consider our message's impact. And it needs to be on our commitment to maintaining our reputation, protecting confidential information, and ultimately complying with the law. 

So at the end, our goal is to maintain a good standing with our patients, customers, regulators, and even government. And thoughtful communication is one way that we do that. So the training is based on those three key principles, but we really pull it through using a few simple situations our learners may experience. And we're using a lot of scenarios in our course's current state to make sure that it resonates with our learners. 

In this particular course, we are using a couple of scenarios related to how we reinforce how we should be talking about competitors. We address how emails may be used in a hurry, and sometimes that could lead to unintended consequences of reflecting a message that was not intended. There is also some pitfalls in using informal communication channels such as text messaging, and we have a scenario around that. And we also touch on the use of social media. Ultimately, the course is pretty short. It's a good 10, 15 minute course. It has really good interactive transitions, embedded videos, all of which help us to reinforce these points and bring the content to life. 

Jen Üner: So short but sweet. It's a lot of ground to cover in 10 to 15 minutes. So it sounds like you've done a really great job of packing in the content into this new learning piece. So congratulations. 

Marie Corchado-Stewart: Thank you, Jen. I think I just want to highlight there, short and sweet is kind of where we're going with our training approach. I think there's some topics that we certainly need to dig into a bit more and provide more context. But where appropriate, we are going for a short and sweet because we feel that that message will resonate more clearly for our learners. So we're taking every opportunity to use that approach. 

Jen Üner: That's great. And it is communications, like you said, it's something people are doing every day, but it is really important to have those reminders about the appropriate way to communicate with colleagues in a business environment. Quickly, I mentioned the DOJ at the top of the podcast. In March, the DOJ updated its guidelines about what an effective ethics and compliance program looks like, which to be fair, they did kind of hint at in September and October of last year. I'm sure we have an article on our blog at lrn.com about this. But how did that guidance impact your program development? 

Marie Corchado-Stewart: Well, I think the DOJ guidance overall impacted our approach altogether. As I mentioned, we're really focusing on our content and the mode in which we're communicating training requirements. So really leaning our content towards principles-based training. I think that this helps learners understand how to apply it in different situations. Our messaging in our training content is crisp and clear, again, easier to understand and apply. We're using different modes of training such as microlearning, both custom created content, and also leveraging LRM material to pull this through. We're also taking the opportunity to use different tools in training, such as test out. So at the beginning of a course, there may be an opportunity for an employee to test their knowledge. These are for existing employees who have already taken similar training in the past. And we could actually test the training effectiveness of previous courses. 

Also, there's a tool called the Role Profiler, and this allows an employee to pick their training content based on their role. It's really important for us to hear about what the learner needs. So we've started to incorporate a voluntary survey at the end of our courses because we want to hear from our learners. This is the best way to improve our training approach, understand what the needs are and where we could be better in our training content. And not to forget, we also have knowledge check metrics that are always used to better understand training effectiveness, and again, give us a line of sight to what is to come, what our learners ultimately need. 

Shana Fried: And just building on what Marie was just saying too, in terms of the 2023 updates on the DOJ guidance, there's a renewed focus on use of personal devices and third party messaging platforms in the new guidance. And so we did take a look at that and made sure to refresh our training scenarios to ensure we're addressing text messaging and other electronic messaging in our thoughtful communications. We've also developed a helpful infographic that we're providing to our employees to use as a quick reference guide. 

Jen Üner: Oh, that's great. That's good to hear. I mean, when you think about it, it does really impact all modes, all devices, all places. So how are you tailoring your program for audiences in various regions? I know you said you're a global business. What kind of adaptations are being made for various regions or business units, and what is next for AbbVie learners? 

Marie Corchado-Stewart: Well, our training approach touches all employees globally in some capacity, but our training approach does include tailoring our content to relevant audiences. So for example, when issuing global content, we translate the material. And in some cases such as with our Code of Conduct, we translate the material into over 30 languages. We've also been partnering with HR to make the best use of our HR data, and this is to use job codes so that we can isolate certain groups. And this allows us to be more pointed in certain content where necessary. Audience assessment, in fact, is one of our key projects this year where we're really taking a critical look at how we can isolate groups. And I think one good example is the work that we're doing with manufacturing operations. We are evaluating their training needs through interviewing stakeholders, identifying what are the differences perhaps in some of the scenarios on a given topic that would resonate most with that particular group. 

They also have a unique working environment. So we're also taking into account when we issue the training and the time that we allow them to complete the training. We're also evaluating if there are different types of training content and modalities that we could use, such as maybe it's a reinforcement one pager, or even utilizing live training in this case to help us pull through these messages. So we are going to be taking a very critical look at audience and do the best that we can to make sure that the content not only is relevant for our learners, but that we're presenting it in a manner that makes sense for them. 

Jen Üner: Relevant and resonates. So this all reminds me of something that Richard Edelman did say in a recent paper from their annual Edelman Trust Barometer, and that's that the workplace is one of the last islands of civility. We surely have a link on the LRN blog to this piece of work also. So that phrase really cemented for me the idea that some things we learn at work can really be useful outside of the workplace. And we have kind of a related course in our library called Respectful Communications, and we're so passionate about this topic of facilitating conversation and helping people speak with intention. We're actually preparing to release this course to the public, so anybody can take it anywhere, anytime, no questions asked. It's basically if we could just get everyone to take this course all at the same time, maybe we can have a positive impact on those prickly conversations that seem to be happening everywhere. So as we kind of go out with that, are there any thoughts that you have or advice for us as we take this course to the public? 

Shana Fried: Well, let me just say, I think it's awesome that LRN is making this course available to everyone, so kudos too for that. I guess I would say that as I think about our AbbVie Code of Business Conduct, it says that trust is not given, it's earned every day through the actions we take. And I really think that's true. I think through our training, we aim to guide our employees to make the right decisions and demonstrate this through their actions and words. 

So in the Thoughtful Communication course, we end with some basic principles that we hope resonate with all employees. Consider your audience and subject matter. Always proofread prior to sending. Be clear, concise, and factual, using clear, neutral language free from legalese. And if you're not a lawyer, avoid drawing legal conclusions or making connections between facts that don't exist. Avoid any sort of violent or emotionally charged language, and consider whether the message is best delivered in person, especially if the information is confidential. I would also say that it's important to infuse diversity and inclusion into all training material versus a one and done training module so that we demonstrate these values in a wide range of contexts. I think this has been really impactful for our training program, and we've received a lot of positive feedback on how this has helped to enhance our training across the board. 

Jen Üner: I really appreciate some of those basic ideas that you're transmitting in your course, and certainly they align well, and values-wise, right, align well with what we do at LRN. Shana, Marie, it has been such a pleasure speaking with you today about your program at AbbVie and how we can all be a little more considerate and understand the risks of misinterpretation if we're not thoughtful in our communications. 

Shana Fried: Thank you, Jen. This has been really fun. 

Marie Corchado-Stewart: Yeah, thanks so much, Jen. Appreciate the opportunity to be here. 

Jen Üner: Yeah, it's been great to have you. My name is Jen Üner, and I want to thank you all for tuning in to the Principled Podcast by LRN. 

Outro:   We hope you enjoyed this episode. The Principled Podcast is brought to you by LRN. At LRN, our mission is to inspire principle performance in global organizations by helping them foster winning ethical cultures, rooted in sustainable values. Please visit us at LRN.com to learn more. And if you enjoyed this episode, subscribe to our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen. And don't forget to leave us a review.


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