Basic Training: Trends in Learning & Development Departments

Educating employees has put big companies like GE and AT&T into leadership roles—and padded the bottom line. What is pharma doing to get the training wheels off its potential?
Feb 01, 2008

Michael Capaldi, Sanofi-Aventis
Outside of pharma, the titans in information systems, consulting, and other industries have earned their "street cred" by collecting and publishing data that shows how training employees can drive performance as well as the organization's overall business strategies. So why hasn't a pharmaceutical company achieved the learning-giant status of an IBM or a GE? Despite multimillion-dollar budgets and some of the best technology money can buy, the pharma industry has yet to propel its own superstar into the limelight. The problem could be that pharma companies still haven't concentrated on measuring—and publicizing—their success.

But that might be changing. Training departments are starting to take a high-profile role at many pharma, biotech, and medical device organizations.

The Society of Pharmaceutical and Biotech Trainers (SPBT) and Health Strategies Group worked together to create a 2007 benchmark study of 47 companies' learning-development practices. The participants represent more than 1,600 full-time employees in training, 83,000 salespeople, and more than $200 billion in 2006 US revenues (see "Methodology of the Study,"). The organizations' joint venture uncovered the training trends found throughout the industry.

Trend 1: More Development for More People

Sales training continues to be the bread and butter for many pharma and biotech learning and development (L&D) departments. Yet in recent years, upper management has halted the arms race in the field. Training departments are no longer churning out class after class of young sales recruits. Instead, heads of training are being asked to develop programs that make representatives better businesspeople, armed with negotiation skills and financial knowledge.

Trend in Linking Training to Competency Models
"The pendulum is swinging away from quantity back to quality of sales professionals and their interactions with customers," says Michael Capaldi, associate vice president, sales training and management development, Sanofi-Aventis. "Couple this with the need for field professionals to have more broad business acumen, and organizations are seeing training and development as a key driver for this change."

In concert with this trend, training departments have developed more formalized development programs for their senior sales management staff and regional and district managers. Marketing training, too, has become an area of focus. In 2005, only 14 percent of organizations offered training for brand managers. Today, 43 percent provide that training—with another 7 percent planning to add this offering in the next year. Genentech's commercial training and development organization—which comprises the marketing and sales groups—recently built a targeted curriculum for managers, marketers, account managers, and thought leader liaisons. One area of focus is compliance training. Genentech trainers worked with their company's healthcare-compliance office to develop comprehensive course content for training within the commercial organization. "Training is about being able to translate strategy into execution through skills development," says Carol Wells, senior director, commercial training and development, at Genentech. "Outside of the clinical and sales training that is typically provided by companies, Genentech also provides the support for several functional skills—including compliance, management development, selling and account excellence, marketing, and thought leader liaison training—which we believe will enhance the success of all our clinical specialists."

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