Burried Treasure

April 1, 2006

Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-04-01-2006, Volume 0, Issue 0

To avoid duplication of programs, executives need to ask the training department how its capital investments are being allocated.

Here's an all-too-familiar story. A big pharmaceutical company decides to fund an initiative to develop women and minorities for sales management and other leadership positions. Over the next 12 months, regional managers design a series of exciting one-off conferences and workshops. And though everyone is thrilled with the individual programs, somehow, the company can't get the long-term national strategy off the ground: The plan looked promising, but the ongoing effort to implement changes stalls. Women and minorities fail to get a boost up the career ladder, and in the process, the company wastes time and money.

Medical Sales LiaIsons: On the forefront of medical education

Training executives need to make sure this scenario does not play out at their organizations. To prevent that from happening, pharma and biotech companies must align the development and planning stages with a long-term commitment to curriculum. Investing in materials, leadership training, executive presence, and outside partnerships is crucial to building a successful program. And executives had better learn the company's history of diversity programs to avoid repeating mistakes in the future.

Executive Presence

To make an impact with your training program, start at the top. Senior leaders can help put training and development initiatives on the corporate agenda, even if they don't have time to attend every new rollout or pilot program. This buy-in ensures that executives know what programs are included in the sales and leadership curriculum. Management needs to know what training is affecting people down the line, and how it should be applied to meet business goals. If executives are aware of what trainers are teaching employees, they can reinforce learning in casual conversations and other forums that test and reinforce staff members' new learning.

Tracking changes in managed care training

A pharma company leader recently demonstrated these skills when reviewing a new sales training pilot. He invited managers to interact with key company representatives—sales-analysis leaders, and sales-support and customer-marketing team members—so that they could understand the roles and responsibilities of the other departments. He worked with the trainer to create an agenda and previewed the content to become familiar with the information the sales reps would be covering the next day. His executive presence and leadership before, during, and after the pilot ensured successful evaluation for a program that was later used as a core curriculum for the sales organization.

Program Duplication

In addition to a host of other factors, executive buy-in is important to prevent needless duplication of efforts when it comes to creating training materials.

For example: A couple of years ago, a major pharma company asked a training company to develop a workshop to spotlight the top-12 leaders in one of its key business areas. The training company focused a program on these key players and created a curriculum that would help the rest of the company learn directly from them. A year later, another division from the same company called the same training partner and requested a proposal for a custom-designed program with similar specifications. Clearly this second division was unaware that the company had purchased a similar program already. The training company informed the division leader that the company, in fact, already owned the same system, which could be used again. The division director was delighted she could save the company thousands of dollars, but wondered why she did not know that her company already ran a similar program.

To avoid needless duplication of programs, executives need to ask how the training department's capital investments are allocated. Here are some starting points:

1. What happens to the purchase of custom training designs by various departments?

2. Is there a resource center for electronic training materials that maintains copies of all learning and program content paid for by the company?

3. How are these training and development resources leveraged for other internal end users to avoid creating similar programs again from scratch?

4. What stipulations does the legal department require of custom-designed products? How are the final custom program content and materials delivered to the corporation?

In many progressive organizations, the chief learning officer is responsible for integrating the learning and development resources into the corporate culture. Because the problem with custom-program duplication is not just a problem within company divisions—it can create issues for the whole company as well—a centralized approach may be the answer for many organizations.

One medium-sized healthcare association wanted to expand operations after 20 years to include regional franchises. The expansion proved to be difficult for the organization, mostly because its operational systems had never been put onto templates and dispersed. Since the vendor retained ownership of the programs, inconsistent practices created problems across the company's new franchises.

Executives need to ask questions about the prior development of systems, marketing materials, and learning resources. Can they be used in the future and transferred to others within the organization? This will not only ensure an accurate transfer of knowledge, but also reduce redundant capital expenditures on customized work.

The Transitional Trainer

To reduce instability in the sales training department, companies need to concentrate on hiring a core group of trainers who will stay long enough to build relationships with internal groups. Too often, highly ambitious individuals come through training's revolving door only to be pushed into becoming the next product manager, district manager, or managed-care manager within one or two years. While trainers are typically delighted to be moving forward so rapidly in their career, it erodes the bonds sales reps form with their trainers. Consequently, career mentoring and motivation are lost.

A core group of trainers will add consistency to a company and forge stronger relationships with the sales reps. These trainers should come with significant experience, including facilitation and management know-how, and provide an anchor in a department that would have a revolving door otherwise.

Improving Training CQ

Once a core group of trainers has been selected, a company needs to determine how well the trainers are trained. Just because senior management "knights" a person as a trainer doesn't mean they're capable of teaching a team of sales reps. The trainer title shouldn't be the only verification of competence within the first few months on the new job. So, the company needs to test their competence quotient (CQ).

The best training departments design a rigorous curriculum that grooms their trainers for skills they will need later when they are assigned to other roles they will hold later within the company. Training curriculums should include ways for trainers to:

  • develop session objectives

  • create meeting or conference content

  • organize the involvement of speakers and internal leaders

  • design or oversee content design

  • lead teams

  • facilitate open discussions

  • build internal client relations

  • communicate the business case of curriculum content and application.

Effectively communicating these points to trainers will help them prepare to train your company's sales force.

Bucking the Trends

Training in today's environment is so different than years past. So while it's important for the industry to stay abreast of the latest tactics and methods, it's also important to realize what works best for your company.

In the late 1990s, e-learning was all the buzz for companies who wanted to minimize the time their employees spent in the classroom. Pharmaceutical companies thought online training tools would reduce travel expenses, keep reps in the field, and enable them to learn at their own pace. It should have been a win-win situation. However, e-learning did not replace classroom training as the preferred learning medium. Many pharma trainers now realize that face-to-face interactions, and the "a-ha!" moments they bring, are hard to replace. True experiential learning happens when sales reps are connected with each other in the rich environment found in classroom training.

"E-learning is obsolete," says Jeff Snipes, CEO and founder of San Francisco-based Ninth House Network. "[At first,] the biggest trends were for employees to build programs online for customers. Although the preferred model is for participants to take sessions online, they would rather do an application session live in a classroom with other learners. Learners like to be reinforced in their knowledge. Therefore, using a variety of training styles and mediums creates the most effective behavioral change and long-term result."

Top Coaches

In addition to supplementary teaching tools, most top pharma training departments call on outside partners for additional support. These external partners can provide outsourced program development, a faculty with specific training expertise, and help meet unrealistic timelines for product launches that just can't be handled with in-house staff members.

When looking for strong training partners, executives should look for companies that know the company and its culture, understand the core areas of the business, and have a well-established track record of performance. With these characteristics, outsourced partners can take on the role of a personal coach, and can augment the personal development that many employees feel are lacking in the fast-paced, high-pressure pharmaceutical environment.

Scott Blanchard, chief operating officer of Ken Blanchard & Co., describes how his customers thrive on using a pool of coaches outside the company that reinforce the training of their direct supervisors.

"Personal coaches are more cost effective than ever," says Blanchard. "When a manager has someone other than the boss to turn to, someone endorsed and trusted by the company who holds the conversation in confidence, that is highly prized by employees." Many external training partners now provide coaching services on the phone and online, in addition to the traditional in-person approach.

Pharmaceutical companies realize that training initiatives are most effective with executive buy-in, stable leaders, and outside vendor partnerships. These initiatives reap the greatest benefits in terms of high retention. Falling down in one of these areas puts the entire training program at risk—just as the failure to push through an intended curriculum results in wasted time, energy, and money. And that's important because it's not only the sales representatives and trainers that lose out, but in the long-term, the company is hurt as well.

Kimberly A. Farrell is CEO of Unlimited Performance Training. She can be reached at kimberly.farrell@uptraining.org