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How Companies Can Improve Their Learning and Development Strategy and Why it is Essential in the Life Sciences Space

Some specific topics that should be prioritized at all levels

In the dynamic realm of life sciences, learning and development (L&D) is an essential strategy for the growth of employees in this space – specifically in developing their knowledge, skills and management and leadership abilities. Because in the end, every company wants to uplevel the skills of their employees and increase their sense of development opportunities and engagement in the organization.

However, there are some key issues. 75% of 1,500 managers surveyed from across 50 organizations were dissatisfied with their company’s L&D function and 70% of employees reported they don’t have mastery of the skills needed to do their jobs. The problem is, training programs in organizations are often ineffective and unstructured. Furthermore, as it pertains to this topic, there are also critical gaps in life science-specific learning. Life sciences can be very technical in many areas and yet most employees have only one area of specialization through their academic studies. Also, companies often don’t measure the impact of their training. McKinsey research finds that only 50 percent of organizations even bother to keep track of participants’ feedback about training programs, let alone do something with the feedback. The effectiveness of the training must be evaluated and actioned in some way to continuously improve the content and methodology to meet the learners needs.

How best to deliver effective L&D programming? Address a broad array of cross-functional capabilities that life sciences organizations and leaders need to be successful. Also, create an engaging and immersive learning experience that inspires employees to embrace a growth mindset. Additionally, cultivate a culture of curiosity and continuous learning, where mistakes are considered opportunities for growth and feedback is seen as a valuable tool for improvement.

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Technical areas requiring attention

There are many technical areas that require education related to the life sciences space. Increasing understanding in these areas is beneficial to any company’s progression and advancement of their product pipeline and overall business. However, finding learning solutions in this technical space is often a challenging to impossible feat, and can also be very costly. Some examples of specific topics that should be prioritized among life sciences employees, at all levels, include:

  • Clinical operations: Imagine you work for a biotech or pharmaceutical company, and you don’t understand the fundamentals of clinical operations, such as the management of clinical trials. This is a critical area for every employee working in life sciences to comprehend, specifically, insights around the full cycle of this function and its role in designing and executing on clinical studies to successful conclusion.
  • Drug development 101: If you are not in a science or development role, helping employees understand the broader context of life sciences’ drug discovery and development is important because it provides a critical overview of the primary function of the business.
  • Preparing for an Investigational New Drug (IND): Learning the fundamental requirements for a successful IND, including best practices as well as common challenges, is an essential area to understand, as without an IND, many life sciences organizations (depending on their particular product strategy), cannot work toward commercialization until this critical milestone occurs.
  • Ramping up to phase 1, 2 & 3: It’s difficult to work for a biopharma company without grasping how to transition from a Phase 1 to Phase 2 clinical trial – including what’s typically required to be successful and common pitfalls. The same goes for Phase 3 clinical trials, which bring with it a myriad of challenges and learning opportunities. Gaining knowledge about Phase 3 also introduces a variety of other considerations beyond clinical development, such as preparing the rest of the business and organization for a potential product launch.
  • Preparing for commercialization: Whether you’re in medical affairs or on the marketing side of the business, it’s important to understand key strategies and steps biopharma organizations need to take in preparation for commercialization/reimbursement strategies/marketing/sales of biopharma products. Even if your organization is several years away from commercializing a product, an understanding regarding what the future may hold and require can help you and your organization make proactive plans.

Additionally, it’s important for companies to prioritize management and leadership development. For example, delivering a successful presentation is often challenging, particularly when the topic is complex and contains a lot of data. Presentation skills training can help not only an individual advance their poise, presence and exposure, but also enhance their organizational knowledge – improving clarity around how best to shape and deliver compelling content and get buy-in from senior leadership. Investing time and energy in this key area continues to prove to be incredibly beneficial – not only to the teams and organizations on the receiving end of this training, but also for positive, strategic, financial and operational bottom-line impact.

In the end, it’s essential that an organization harnesses and maximizes its talent. Outcomes are best achieved when business leaders participate in the design and delivery of training programs and connect them to new ways of working. Life sciences companies must have a strong L&D strategy that keeps their employees competitive, competent and engaged. Ultimately, the key to success lies in creating the right mindset and environment for learning and development to thrive.

Photo: CASEZY, Getty Images

Gisela A. Paulsen, MPharm, is a strategic and transformational Global Life Sciences Executive. With a deep focus in both business and science, her vast background includes operations, P&L, commercialization as well as clinical development experience – centered around building, transforming, and growing resilient businesses, from startups to large companies. As for her extensive leadership skills, while at Genentech/Roche as Senior Vice President/Global Head of Clinical Operations, Gisela led a team responsible for 400+ clinical trials with 100k+ patients in 60+ countries.

Kathryn Matz is a senior partner at Hands On, which she and her partners created as an alternative to ‘big consulting’ focused on learning & organizational development. She is an experienced People & Culture leader with a strong mix of both corporate and consulting expertise, delivering best-in-class solutions that help organizations harness, optimize and retain their talent. Kathryn specializes in leadership development, capability development and internal talent mobility across industries including Life Sciences, Technology, Consumer Goods, Financial Services, Retail and more.