Our goal is competency-based training that has a solid business need, sound instructional design based on adult-learning principles, and metrics that can capture, evaluate, and track what we do. We want a blended-learning approach that can be delivered over the Web, on CD-ROM, or on paper.
Each year Training magazine ranks the world's top 100 training organizations. It's an impressive list, headed off by IBM (with an $825 million training budget and a training staff of more than 1,300) and Booz Allen Hamilton (which this past year delivered to employees 32,000 days of training and 9,000 completed self-study courses). Only two pharmaceutical companies made the list this year, Pfizer, at number three, and Wyeth, which continued its steady rise through the rankings—it was number 17 three years ago, 14 last year, and 12 in the 2005 edition.
"It means a lot to us just to be in the top 100," says Ed Yavuz, Wyeth's vice president of sales training and management development. "It means that in the world of training—be it pharmaceuticals, hotel management, or companies like IBM or Verizon—we're really doing the cutting-edge things we're supposed to be doing to ensure that our employees have all the tools necessary to do the job."
Yavuz heads a team of professionals, ranging from an instructional design team to classroom trainers and virtual classroom trainers. The cross-functional unit serves as a shared resource for training and development for marketing and sales worldwide, and it takes a cross-functional approach that includes sales training, management development, marketing development, and career advancement and development, as well as compliance training.
Pharm Exec Senior Editor Sibyl Shalo recently talked with Yavuz about Wyeth's learning strategy, the company's core curriculum for both reps and managers, and the relationship between training and retention of key employees. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation.
We have four equally-important key objectives this year. First and foremost is developing people. We have a dual obligation: We develop people in the organization through our courses. But we also have a dynamic organization and training that is really dedicated to teaching them to train others. We rotate a lot of people through our training organization, and it becomes a development ground for future talent in the organization.
Our second goal is increasing productivity. Whatever we do, the litmus test should be: Does it improve productivity? If not, we shouldn't be doing it. Training should always have a bottom-line result.
Our third objective is reducing costs. We constantly look to reduce costs, not just in how we do training, but across the organization.
The fourth objective is ensuring compliance. We are the training and certification arm of the commercial compliance committee. We do the training, certifications, tracking, and all the other things necessary to ensure that all of our marketing and sales employees are compliant with Wyeth and industry policies.
Over the years, you have been developing your programs into a world-leading, competitive force, and you have won awards for this. How can other companies use your strategy as a model?
There must be an unbending commitment to quality and a discipline for proper learning. A lot of sales training organizations are made up of salespeople who do training. But in recent years, many companies, not just Wyeth, have been looking at sound instructional design. We've brought teachers and educators into the organization to advance our training outcomes.
Today, we have a group of dedicated individuals who have really helped shape the product that comes out of our training organization. Not only do they have sales and marketing experience, but they also have backgrounds in education, instructional design, and the new field of learning technology.
This team has developed a Wyeth learning strategy that we have employed globally for marketing and sales. The strategy is a mixture of competency-based training and a solid technology infrastructure—because you need technology to drive the courses, capture the results, and so forth. We have developed competency profiles for the individuals we train; we know the things they need to be competent in, and we have developed a curriculum to improve their skills in those areas.
Our goal is competency-based training that has a solid business need, sound instructional design based on adult-learning principles, with success metrics that are able to capture, evaluate, and track our training. And it has to be delivered in a number of different ways—a blended-learning approach that can be delivered over the Web or on CD-ROMs, in the classroom, or even paper-based.
Everything is built around our Wyeth global learning strategy. We try to follow it in everything we do, from the materials we send out before classroom sessions, to the workshops we do in the classroom, to the follow-up programs we employ after classroom training, to our virtual classes.
Like a lot of other pharmaceutical companies, we have a large sales force. With the abundance of reps these days, we need to provide our field force with a competitive edge. We need to show that they are on top of their game for product knowledge, fully understand their customers, understand the environment they are working in, and have the proper selling skills.
We employ a program called "Customer-Focused Selling," which has been translated into every language and is the common selling language we use at Wyeth. It is delivered on a routine basis in the classroom for new representatives and existing reps.
We bring new hires on board with a distance program called "FieldSTART," which consists of self-paced e-tutorials and work in the field with their district managers and colleagues to gain an understanding of what the job is all about. New reps have to prepare a number of assignments before they come to the classroom. And once they are in the classroom, we use workshops and role playing to ensure they not only understand the material, but can convey it to physicians and other healthcare professionals.
Do you think that the current environment of intense scrutiny has changed sales force training? Will it drive what the sales rep of the future looks like?
Let me answer your question in a bigger fashion: Because there is an abundance of salespeople getting less time with physicians, they get to say fewer things. They can forget some of the fundamentals of selling. They can forget about providing customers with the information they need. They may go into monologue mode and come out with a 30-second selling presentation regardless of what the customers' needs are. In the current environment, time with the customer is very limited.
But what a sales rep needs hasn't really changed over the years. You have to have solid product knowledge about your products and your competitors' in order to engage in a good discussion with your doctors. The need for selling skills is always there, but it is even more important now, given today's level of competition and the OIG's regulations about fair balance.
You get 30 seconds with a doctor. If you do things right, you can stretch that to a number of productive minutes, because you are engaging the customer with information that they want and need. That is really our intent—to fully understand the customer in his or her environment, know the product, know how to provide solutions that improve patients' lives, stay within policy as far as getting in front of the customers, and make it a professional, one-on-one exchange of information. Tactics like delivering food don't pay off in the long run. If you deliver value when you are with that customer, you are going to be invited back.
Those are the kinds of things we try to do with our reps. Before they come to class, they have to be prepared. We have lots of things that they need to complete between each classroom experience. There are lots of distance programs. We do virtual classrooms and WebEx programs.
We also do some distance application training, using a program we call "Telephone Role Play," where representatives actually role-play situations over the telephone with professionally trained coaches, outside of a classroom. We also provide continuing education for the reps. We constantly give them bite size-chunks of information in our series called "Knowledge Is Power." In the series, we send out information and ask the reps to take a short quiz to make sure that they digest the information.
We do all of that on our Wyeth TRAINet technology platform: deliver the training, capture the experiences, certify with tests or quizzes. We track those who may not comply, and we follow up and make sure they do the things we ask them to do.
It's all important. But nothing is more important than what the district managers do with the reps after they leave the classroom. We talk about "leaders leading learning." We want our leaders to be as well equipped with product knowledge and selling skills as our sales representatives. And then we teach our district managers coaching skills.
We have a nice relationship with our management team in that process. We have field activity reports that district managers use when they are working with reps; they are all competency-based so we can identify the competency that a rep may need additional help on so we can address the issue head-on.
One of the biggest areas is selling skills—engaging the physician, asking the right questions, getting the physician to want to have the discussion, rather than just listening.
You have to understand your environment. You have to make sure you are doing the right thing. There are privacy laws and those kinds of things you have to be careful of. District managers zero in on five or six key areas when they are working with their reps and develop mini-training courses around them. They constantly practice with them to make sure those things are handled correctly.
What about management training?
For the most part, we treat managers the same way. When you become a manager in our organization, we send you a distance-learning kit called "LeadSTART." It is pretty much the same principle as FieldSTART for the sales reps—a training kit of pre-work for the new district manager to go through in order to come to the first training class. Again, we engage the supervisor from day one.
We have a number of different training classes for our district managers—hiring skills, interviewing skills, civil treatment programs, and so forth. We also cover performance management, proper discipline techniques, motivational techniques, how to run district meetings, coaching. We spend a lot of time on how to properly coach your representatives.
Then, over a five-, six-, or seven-year period, we move them through a variety of courses, ranging from Exceptional Management Practices (EMP) to three different leadership courses to a number of courses on retaining talent and managing the careers of their representatives. All of that is done with a supervisor working with the district manager the same way the district manager works with the reps.
We have 360-degree feedback instruments so district managers can understand how they have been coaching their representatives. Reps fill out forms and say, "Here is how my boss coaches me." We compile that into an anonymous report so the district managers can understand what they are doing well and what they need help on.
The district manager is our first line sales manager. But as people move up from there to second-line to third-line field management, they both participate in the training we do for the people they supervise and they go through their own coursework as well. The higher up you go, the more leadership training there is.
Our basic leadership course is "Leadership I"—a two and a half day course that includes both training and a review of your proficiency. We use a 360-degree instrument, in which district managers are evaluated on a number of different leadership competencies. Based on that, we come up with an individual training program for each district manager. We train Area Business Directors, as well, as they move up in the ranks.
Managers come back for "Leadership II," where we will do some didactic training, as well as a second 360-degree feedback instrument that talks about strengths and improvement areas.
Then we take them to "Leadership III," which is our course on retaining talent. It talks about how to make sure that you are providing meaningful work for your representatives. We use a "Retention Action Planner," where you want to maintain your solid performers. You have to pay attention to each individual person who works for you and help them get to where they want to go. Subsequently you get to where you want to go.
These are simple concepts obviously, but I think the beauty is that with the feedback instrument and competency-based training, we are able to pinpoint exactly what each individual needs. We use a variety of people to help us. We have some vendors, but we are also blessed with a group of internal trainers in the management ranks that is one of the best in the industry, as far as I'm concerned.
We constantly get a flow of good new managers moving through our organization. We bring them through the training department and maybe move them into marketing from there or back into sales management. We have a nice mixture of experienced trainers as well as successful people moving through our organization. The common ground is sound instructional design.
What do you think the impact of all of this is on retaining good people? Do you think it adds to their interest in staying with the company?
Absolutely. That is something that we strive to do. But first of all we strive to practice what we preach. In the training department, the people we bring in are all highly motivated, successful people. We try to get them to where they want to go. And that opens up the doors for new people coming in.
We try to employ the same thought process out in the field as well, where district managers are working with their reps or field managers, or Area Business Directors are working with their district managers, helping them to obtain their goals. They are going to constantly attract more and more good people to their organization.
It definitely has an impact when you treat people the way they want to be treated. Not everyone wants to move to headquarters, but everybody has a success point out there—be it in the same territory for 20 or 30 years or moving all the way up the ranks to president of the company. There is something that motivates each individual. We have an entire program around career advancement, career coaching, a number of different programs that help us manage talent.
One of the key success factors for district managers is actually being in the field. How much time are they spending out of the field for this training?
In the scheme of things, not a lot. New reps spend about 19 days in the classroom—down from 30 five years ago. When you look at manager training, you are probably talking about five to 10 classroom days at the most per year.
But we also have employed a lot of techniques that save time. We can do many things at a distance now. Today's learners coming out of college are used to working on the Web. They are coming in prepared for different classrooms.
We have heard managers say, "You cannot take my people of out their territories too often." Personally, I don't think you can take them out often enough. The more they learn from each other in some kind of group setting, the better they are going to be when they go back out in the field.
It is not like we are taking them out 50 percent of the time. It's not like we are even taking them out 5 percent of the time. Yes, we want to protect their time in the field. We try to maximize that. But again, I do not think you can invest enough in training. The payback should be there, so that for every day they invest, they get five days back. Those are some of the things we have looked at over the last five years of becoming more efficient in what we do.
Technology is important. We have a learning management system (LMS) that does a lot of things for us, from providing curricula to transcripts to scheduling classes and taking tests. It helps you organize everything you do.
Is that something that you bought from the outside?
Yes. We bought the software a number of years ago, and we use it as our training platform. Everybody in the organization, from reps to marketing people, knows that it is the place to go to engage in all the aspects of training. Their curriculum is there, the coursework they have taken, the test results they have seen. And not only can they see it, but their management can see it, and we can roll up the information. That has really helped us organize what we do.
And when it comes to delivery, whether it is a Web-based course or even a paper-based course—everything gets organized through the Wyeth TRAINet and gets either mailed out or electronically sent to individuals. If individuals are delinquent in certain areas, there are automatic e-mails that go out to remind them.
The investment in technology, along with adapting to a new world, has helped us. If I look at our training budget over the last five years, we have reduced it by about 30 percent. The cost of new rep training is down 50 percent. Some of that is because they are not in the classroom as much. But a lot is because we have employed better training techniques. Even with budget reductions, we are probably doing 50 percent more than we did five years ago.
What accounts for that reduction?
I think days in the classroom are definitely a big part of it. And different training techniques—where people can do training on the other side of a telephone line or on the other side of the computer—are definitely a little cheaper. We have production costs obviously, but we have been able to maximize what we do.
All that has come together over the last three, four, or five years. Companies learn from each other. The pharma companies will share a lot of information with each other. The Society of Pharmaceutical and Biotech Trainers (SPBT) is a forum for sharing information. Training magazine offers a large training conference, as well as the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD). There are lots of venues for trainers to get together, not just in our industry, but across industries. And there are a number of good vendors that have helped us.
I have noticed when I have been to SPBT conferences that trainers are much more interested in sharing information than any other discipline in the pharma industry. Why is that?
I don't know. Ever since I joined the industry about 27 years ago, even within our own district there was always sharing among our sales group. Fellow sales reps would compete with each other for awards, but we were always sharing information, even within our district. To this day, we do the same thing at Wyeth. It is a sharing organization.
I think pharma, over the years, has been known for that. I think it is because we are in a professional situation where we are one-on-one with doctors. To a degree, we are selling. But we are also giving information and knowledge to a physician and providing fair balance. There are some professional courtesies among sales reps that you won't see in other industries at all.
What about the fear of creating antitrust issues or of inadvertently sharing competitive information?
Obviously there is proprietary information. We are always aware of that. That probably stops a lot of the discussion. But I know in other industries, sales reps definitely will not talk to each other or even acknowledge each other, the competition. That has never been the way it is in pharmaceuticals.
Within our organizations—and I will use Wyeth as an example here—our marketing teams collaborate well across business units. There is a lot of sharing of ideas within our team.
There used to be an understanding that a lot of product managers and brand team people grew up through the sales force. Is that still true?
At Wyeth, yes. Even though we have some individuals who come up through different ranks, I think if you looked at the majority of our people that have moved on to product management, they started out carrying the bag. They have become district managers and then come into the home office and started in product management and moved on from there.
Obviously there are exceptions, a lot of bright people, who come from different areas. And we have had different individuals from the medical departments, from pharmacy, from regulatory affairs and those kinds of things, who have definitely risen up through the ranks.
But I think the majority of people still have come up through sales. That is kind of the career path that we still try to employ. The reps who are successful are the ones who want to move on and do other things. They are encouraged to spend time in the home office in a variety of different jobs, one being marketing, and to spend time in the field as a manager. Once you have done those three areas, I think you are open to moving up in the organization. Most individuals still start with sales.
It definitely is a different world today. Who knows what the future is going to bring? We are trying to stay in touch with what we think is going to happen. All you can do is keep training them right and meeting the customer needs. If you do that, you bring value to prescribers, patients, and shareholders.
Ed Yavuz, Wyeth's vice president of sales training and management development, describes the elementsof a successful training department and offers his own as a model for others to follow.