Shaping Tomorrow: HR Expert Steers Cultural Evolution at Biogen

Carmen Lennon understands the importance of building and maintaining a strong workplace culture. In fact, examining, assessing, and adjusting culture is a big part of what she does at Biogen. With more than 25 years of comprehensive human resources experience, she has expertise as an HR Business Partner, in organizational development and design, talent management, employee experience, and culture transformation. And we’re making good use of her talents. She recently led a year-long project to examine and develop a plan to evolve Biogen’s culture to better achieve excellence for the many people the company serves.

Considering her leadership of this evolution, we thought we’d ask her some questions regarding how she developed her skills, how the updated culture is supporting what we do as a business, and our ability to continue attracting and retaining world-class talent.

Can you tell us about your background in HR, and what drew you to this field?

This is my first role with Biogen, but I have been in human resources for more than 20 years. My career in HR began in the late 1990’s when I worked as the secretary to the CEO at a small entrepreneurial company. A corporate HR leader there saw something in me and said, “You have a way with people and you’re good at solving problems. Have you ever thought of working in HR?”

I started by working in different, specialized areas, including benefits, compensation, and recruitment. And then I became an HR business partner, taking on leadership roles for companies throughout various industries. Over the years, I’ve worked at companies specializing in consulting services, telecommunications, biotech, and leading HR strategy across several business units in the U.S. and internationally.

In the field of biotech, I’ve supported biomedical sciences, biostatistics and data teams, clinical research and operations, including global trial teams across different therapeutic areas. During the past five or six years, I’ve had the opportunity to lead large-scale change-management initiatives as well as organizational design and effectiveness projects.

How did you choose to join Biogen versus all the other HR leadership roles you could have pursued?

I had enjoyed working at Comcast/NBC Universal for many years. That company gave me many opportunities where I was able to navigate the entire organization, and develop life-long friendships, so leaving there was not an easy decision. However, coming out of the pandemic, I was looking for a company with global reach that was headquartered near my home here in the Boston area. My friend mentioned Biogen, which I remembered from my days working with Genzyme. I had always admired Biogen based on their groundbreaking scientific work and the idea of working where I could impact people’s lives in such a meaningful way really spoke to me. I would be able to do what I love, but in a way that’s impacting the greater world. What really solidified my decision was that, while interviewing, I found everyone at Biogen to be real and authentic. I felt like I could immediately be myself here.

Why do you believe culture is so important to an organization and its employees?

I go back to this saying: “What got you here, won’t get you there.” At a former company, I was brought on to support a leadership team that had driven results and performance quite successfully for many years. However, when I came in, the function was experiencing very high levels of attrition and we needed to stem the tide. Something was off. Basically, the market had shifted, and the organizational culture wasn’t evolving as quickly as needed, to address changing employee needs and the competitive landscape. I helped the leadership team develop intentional plans to evolve their culture and meet employees where they were. I believe people and organizations should examine themselves regularly. Culture is a powerful element of success.

Why was it time for the Biogen culture to be re-examined?

After I joined Biogen in October 2021, we were starting to experience changes and our new CEO, Chrisopher Viehbacher, joined the company a year later. I believe this time was an inflection point for the company. It was a good time to consider if what made Biogen great for forty-plus years needed to be examined. As the leadership team started discussions on how to evolve the business, Chris asked my manager about assessing our culture. He wanted to know more about our core strengths and establish a process where all employees could help inform what possible changes or shifts would be needed. It was the right time to survey and meet with employees to ask: Would the culture that existed be the one that would drive the company into the future? What challenges existed? And what did we need to be successful? 

How did you go about starting this work? Can you explain the process you went through?

First, we deployed a culture survey to get broad employee feedback and ran focus groups to identify and understand our strengths and any potential areas for improvement. Hearing the employees’ experiences and aspirations helped us set up the process. The next step was to engage with our leaders, share these initial results, and ask where they saw the organization going. 

With sponsorship from our CHRO and Chief Communications Officer, we then pulled together a small project team to build and accelerate the plan to redefine the culture and ensure it aligned with Biogen’s business plan. We established two advisory boards where members were instrumental in defining and shaping the culture narrative—messages we would bring back to the organization. They pressure tested our evolution every step of the way. We even held a crowdsourcing event where employees were invited to offer their feedback and input on the direction of our work. This process took the majority of 2023. Finally, in January, we launched our evolved culture across all levels of the organization. A culture that we call the Biogen Way.

Can you tell us about The Biogen Way?

We kept the best of the best and what everyone felt would strongly serve us, refining and simplifying where it made sense to do so. However, I don’t see the Biogen Way, as completely new. We honored our past, our great history and how we connect to that and found inspiration that would lead us in our mission by using crisp and simple words geared toward a future of results and innovation. With this change, we now refer to our values as “essentials” because they’re essential to our success as a business. We kept our strengths of Pioneer, Inclusive, and Ethical and we added Think Broadly and Drive Results. With the two additions, we needed to reinforce behaviors that supported a culture of high performance. Of course, our goal is to positively impact patients and change lives, but we can only do that if we deliver as a business, can reinvest in ourselves and be sustainable.

What kinds of reactions have you received from Biogen employees and leaders?

We are in a very early stage of the evolution, but what we are learning from our culture ambassadors—a group of employees who have volunteered their time to work closely with leaders and employees on integration efforts and activities— is that it’s resonating well. The ambassadors have told us many employees feel the evolution honors our past but is clear about where we need to evolve for future success. For this culture refresh to stick, and for employees to really connect with it, they must live it themselves and uncover what resonates for them. That in itself, is a shift in our culture; it’s not typically how we’ve done this type of work before. Thus far, word-of-mouth feedback has been positive, and we also recognize it is still evolving, which makes us excited and hopeful. I don’t think this culture will be “new” for very long. There’s so much momentum. That makes me so proud. To think that we’ll be a part of the history of this company, and we’ll be primed to do great things for the future.

Why will this new culture be of interest to jobseekers considering Biogen as a place of employment?

I believe it’s an exciting time to be here. I joined because I wanted to be a part of something that was iconic and big and impactful in people’s lives.  I’ve been given this opportunity to help shape the future of an organization, doing so alongside talented and committed people that want to see Biogen grow, and I couldn’t be more humbled by that. Anyone joining us now will experience an era of opportunity, which will help us grow, support patients around the world, and with that, have a great future. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Can you tell us about yourself outside of Biogen?

Outside of work, I’m all about home life – I love landscaping our yard, diving into renovation projects, and spending quality time with my family. I share my home with my husband of 24 years, our recent college-graduate daughter, my mother, and two lively Australian labradoodles. My son and two adorable granddaughters live in Seattle. When I’m not at home, you’ll find me dancing, walking mountain trails, or soaking up the sun at the beach!