Flying Under the Radar - Pharmaceutical Executive


Flying Under the Radar
Pharma companies are overlooking the importance of training for regional managers and directors. What they don't realize might hurt them in the long run.

PE Sales Management

Steven Rauschkolb Associate vice president, leadership and management development, Sanofi-Aventis
"I think I am speaking for most pharma companies when I say that RMs are the industry's most neglected group when it comes to training," Otterbein says. "Until recently, we just did a lot of on-the-job training, and that was it. But the landscape is changing. Growth is slowing down. People are no longer being promoted to management after just a few years. Now, we have more time on our side. And that's good because the job is becoming more complex."

Companies are creating programs to meet the development needs of its RMs. TAP recently launched its first regional manager curriculum, called Your Leadership Journey. The program includes a few weeks of RM on-boarding—orienting and training those who are new to their role and/or their company—to ease transition periods. During that orientation process, new RMs work closely with their sales director and regional manager trainer.

The role of RMs or RDs vary from company to company, with some strictly focused on management, while others also take on account management for managed care clients. In general, though, the SPBT benchmark study revealed that most companies' initial training programs for RMs are focused on building leadership coaching and counseling skills; managing reps' performance; and learning how to comply with regulations. Large and medium-sized pharma and biotech companies seem to offer the most extensive training for RMs. For the smaller pharma companies, extensive training tends to be less common and less comprehensive, although it does exist and likely will expand over time.

California-based Amgen formalized its on-boarding process for its RSDs last year. For DMs who've been promoted to RSDs, the company now offers an intensive, four-day workshop built around core competencies. The workshop includes four simulations designed to help new RSDs test the key skills they will need in their new position.

"Training RSDs is one of our most important priorities," says John Nasser, senior director of global commercial operations, training and development for Amgen. "They represent the front line to our customers and must be well-versed on industry knowledge, business acumen, and managing a multifunctional team."

In addition, Amgen uses the RSD position as a way to develop in-house talent by giving rising stars a shot at managing other managers. The company offers a weeklong leadership development program that engages potential leaders in real-life case studies and team-based challenges.

A Need to Succeed
However, in terms of succession planning, formal development programs for high potential leaders are not as prevalent as one might expect. There has been little increase in the percentage of companies offering formal programs in recent years (see "A Need to Succeed").

Technology: Carrot or Stick?

Technology has continued to reshape how L&D departments deliver training. Over the years, Big Pharma has invested in learning management systems (LMS), which often are used to track course completion, house a virtual course library, perform compliance assessments, and facilitate e-learning enrollment. Some companies also are exploring the next step, which means integrating their existing LMS with learning content management systems (LCMS). LCMS allow content to be recycled so trainers can search their databases of existing training courses for content they can use to customize new modules.

"A lot of companies are looking very carefully now at expenditures for large libraries of generic training," says Rauschkolb. "Experience has shown us that without significant internal marketing of those resources, it is very hard to get the return on investment that training departments are looking for."


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