The Covid-19 pandemic has forced life sciences companies to take a fresh look at how they do business. But as they reinvent their operations, companies often overlook a critical function: their learning and development (L&D) programs.
If companies take a closer look, however, they may see room for dramatic improvement, particularly as they lean on L&D programs as a strategic driver, according to Steven Angelo-Eadie, head of learning services for Emergn, a digital business services firm with headquarters in Boston and London.
A well-structured L&D program can not only enhance business outcomes, but also bolster retention and upskilling at a time when skilled workers are in short supply. “Covid definitely accelerated people’s understanding that they have a choice as to where they work and how they work,” Angelo-Eadie said. “And learning and development has a role to play in that, to connect people to great careers, great opportunities and a better skill set.”
“The challenge for companies begins with setting aside their traditional metrics for tracking learning and development, and better gauging its purpose,” Angelo-Eadie said. “L&D for so long has been seen as this very strange part of an organization. We know we need it, but we are not always sure why.” For life sciences companies this holds additional challenges as they work in highly regulated environments.
As a result, companies typically focus on the number of people who go through training. But that is not always an indicator that people are actually paying attention. Employees may simply hit play and wiggle their mouses a few times rather than sitting and watching an annual compliance video, for example. An experienced employee may already know enough to answer the questions blind and still receive a passing grade on the test at the end.
The struggle to get employees to pay attention to learning is not new. But it has become more acute following current events like the pandemic, the Great Resignation and market uncertainty.
For better results, companies should start by weighing the purpose of the training. “If we understand the real ‘why,’ we can connect employees to the right outcome and the right learning that will get them to that outcome.”
The purpose often connects to an underlying problem, especially when the training needed serves business goals beyond compliance. For example, a life sciences company may be struggling to bring products to market. If a company decides training is the solution, it should look at whether the training improves speed to market or results in greater market share.
Companies can apply a similar approach to compliance training, an area of critical importance in the life sciences. By considering the needs of employees and how best to achieve the compliance outcome, companies could develop a more streamlined and purposeful approach to the training.
Experienced employees may just need to know what has changed from year to year, while new employees will require more comprehensive training. “We put a lot of content in front of employees. Make sure what you’re putting out there is the important stuff,” Angelo-Eadie said.
Given their highly regulated business, pharma companies may feel they can’t always be so flexible. But if they ask the right questions and come up with the right measurements, they may find they can be more flexible than they realized, said Angelo-Eadie, who acknowledged that change can be difficult.
Instead of counting how many people have watched a video, for example, companies can measure how many times a document was out of place or how much time they are saving on their compliance processes. Finding the right KPIs and measurement will drive behavior, which in turn can more positively impact the business.
He cited a pharma client that said it could not adapt an agile business model due to the numerous steps it was taking to ensure compliance. A closer look, prodded by questions from Emergn, yielded a more efficient process that eliminated duplication of effort.
Companies don’t have to launch a wholesale transformation of their learning and development programs. Angelo-Eadie recommends that companies take a small portion and run an experiment to gauge the impact of a new approach.
The feedback can inform a company-wide roll-out. But the test has to be rooted in something measurable that the company is trying to accomplish, Angelo-Eadie said. “Tests have got to be small enough to be quick, but they have to be meaningful enough to drive a new decision or learning.”
A fresh look at learning and development can lead to more than smarter processes, however. It can also help connect employees more clearly with the reasons behind the process and to the overall goals of the company.
“I think sometimes the reason gets lost, because these programs are just handed out as, ‘You must do dictates’ versus ‘Hey, last time, this happened; these are the problems that occurred, etc.,’” Angelo-Eadie said. “L&D needs to be more reactive to the real world, which means they need to be more connected to organizational goals, and with much more listening to what people really need to achieve those goals.”