Building a Body of Connected Knowledge: The Organization’s Strategic Role in Training

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View on Training Building a Body of Connected Knowledge The Organization’s Strategic Role in Training The way people work isn’t the same today as it was 10 years ago, just as it won’t be the same 10 years from now. Rapid changes in technology, the regulatory environment, and the skills that new workers bring to the job market are making training integral to the work environment. Debra Newton, President of NewtonEdge, Pennington, N.J., a learning and development agency that partners with clients to create strategic, integrated learning by using the right mix of media, content, and technology, discusses why it’s more important than ever to provide the right type of training to employees in the life-sciences industry. Employees rely on their companies to provide training opportunities to facilitate the evolution of their continuum of knowledge and skills into highly developed abilities that align with company goals and objectives. July 2005 When managers take an active role in the design and administration of training, they build a companywide body of knowledge that is critical to the success and to the bottom line of their business. When they don’t receive that support, their desire to continue learning and improving often falls by the wayside. For companies that specialize in healthcare, the need for training is becoming even more pronounced because of the vast array of computer technologies, research and development technologies, and new products, as well as stricter regulatory guidelines. “But graduating from school doesn’t mean we’ve left behind our desire and need to learn,” says Debra Newton, president of NewtonEdge. “More than ever before, employees are attracted to companies that provide opportunities for continuous learning. And when there isn’t sufficient opportunity, people seek ways to learn, often turning to professional development courses, advanced degrees, and community education programs as well as reading journals and books, watching the news, and speaking with friends, family, and colleagues. In fact, we’re all learning all the time — whether we know it or not.” Life experience enhances the continuous learning process and much of the way adults perform in their jobs comes from informal learning. “As adults, we have the ability to sort through all the information that comes our way, select the information that is important to us, and then silo that important information,” Ms. Newton says. “Employees rely on their companies to provide training opportunities to facilitate the evolution of their continuum of knowledge and skills into highly developed abilities that align with company goals and objectives. When they don’t receive that support, their desire to continue learning and improving often falls by the wayside.” Ms. Newton cites comments from Gregory Sapnar, associate director of metrics and adaptation with learning and development at Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., to illustrate her point. “The challenge that we face more and more is that we live in such an information-saturated world that we have to be very selective of the training and development opportunities that provide the greatest value,” Mr. Sapnar says. “Companies are in the unique position to identify learning opportunities and to help their workers strategically filter information to fulfill the continuous learning process and improve job performance. Organizations have a tremendous influence on their employees, especially from a motivational aspect. Training is a way to make their work meaningful and help them see how they’re contributing to the mission of the organization.” Just as in school, though, building skills and being able to apply them takes time. “Most of us didn’t begin with algebra; we first needed to learn how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide,” Ms. Newton says. “Even when those basics skills were learned, there were interim steps to teach us how to combine them to solve more complex problems.” Corporate training is no different. “Take, for example, the extensive experience a seasoned sales representative of cardiovascular products may have,” she says. “Now change the drug to a treatment for oncology. What happens? The rep retains the sales techniques but lacks the subject knowledge. Similarly, a bench scientist may have a Ph.D. in molecular biology, but works only at the bench without receiving managerial experience.” Keeping training Relevant Employee training must be specific to the company and the job function. As such, the company must dictate the content of training programs, the process to convey that information, and how that information should be applied on the job. “In situations where training is not available, people gain their practical experience on the job through trial and error,” Ms. Newton says. “But, when people are constantly reprimanded for failing, they are unlikely to feel supported and will become discouraged from continuing to put forth their best effort. It’s easy to see why the learning-on–the-job approach is frustrating to the worker and also leads to costly errors.” In the end, an effective training program will help minimize this margin of error because employees will be prepared with the skills they need and ways to effectively apply them. “It should be pointed out that training is not a race to the finish nor should it be so simplistic that anyone can pass a test, especially when the skills being taught are integral to job performance,” Ms. Newton cautions. “A continuous learning program supports the learner during and after the active training phase to make sure the information is retained and used.” Instructional Design Critical for Engaging Programs Instructional design is the foundation of such engaging, successful programs. Solid instructional design drives performance by first identifying the knowledge gaps and, second, designing a training program only around what the individual needs to know. Ms. Newton cites Eisai Inc. as one company that provides opportunities for continuous feedback from its learners. According to Steven Spencer, director of training, development, and operations at Eisai, to make sure the training is on target, the company frequently sends surveys into the field to its salesforce to assess whether the training is useful. This also allows the company to identify ways it can provide strategic training in the future. According to Ms. Newton, understanding the information, retaining it, and using it can only be accomplished if the training features an interactive component that engages the learner. Interactivity may take the form of in-class exercises or e-learning. Follow-up opportunities also are supportive activities that will increase retention and use of the information and these may include on-the-job assessment, post-training evaluation, and continuous active training. Because skills cannot be built overnight, a continuous approach will make training effective. “When employees are given the right tools to improve their knowledge to succeed on the job, they will feel empowered,” Ms. Newton says. “In turn, pharmaceutical companies will experience a decrease in turnover and an increase in job performance. When managers take an active role in the design and administration of training, they build a companywide body of knowledge that is critical to the success and to the bottom line of their business.” For more information about NewtonEdge, visit newtonedge.com. PharmaVOICE welcomes comments about this article. E-mail us at feedback@pharmavoice.com.

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