Why training in pharma needs to change behaviours to impact performance

Ashish Rishi


When you meet someone at a party, what is one of the first questions that you are typically asked? “So, what do you do then?” Work is fast becoming the way in which we define ourselves. It is now answering some of the traditional questions: “Who am I?” and “How do I find meaning and purpose?” Work is no longer just about finance, it’s about identity. Since the beginning of time, people had many sources of identity: religion, class, nationality, political affiliation, family roots, geographical and cultural origins and many more. Today, many of these, if not all, have been superseded by “what you do”.

Work is where we get to employ most of our talents. It’s where we experience some of our greatest triumphs and failures. It’s also the basis for our standard of living. All of this means that, when work is not working for us, we become unproductive and unfulfilled.


“Work is no longer just about finance, it’s about identity.”


Lancaster University and Manchester Business School performed a study in 2005 involving 250,000 employees, which found that low happiness at work is a risk factor for mental health problems, including emotional burn-out, low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. The report warned that just a small drop in job satisfaction could lead to burnout of considerable clinical importance. Mental stress symptoms like the ones found in the study also increase the risk of physical health issues including ulcers, heart problems and a weakened immune system. So where does this leave pharma and their respective workforce?

Pharma, like most industries, are struggling these days to identify what it will take to be successful in a rapidly changing sales environment in a recession-hit era. Therefore for pharma, it is essential that the skill sets of the workforce are sufficient for the job and that training is made integral to any sales plans.

Currently in the financial climate, training budgets are being slashed due to the reasoning that training is a “nice to have” rather than a must. However, what can pharma do to ensure that pharma sales and marketing stay effective in this most challenging of business environments?

Primarily pharma needs to ensure that the cuts do not affect the ability of the workforce to deliver outcomes, training is still required to give the workforce the skills and competencies to remain motivated. This means that training that is delivered must be delivered correctly the first time.


“…for pharma, it is essential that the skill sets of the workforce are sufficient for the job and that training is made integral to any sales plans.”


There is also a clear need to provide scientific, regulatory and business skills to employees, so they are able to take advantage of all opportunities that are presented to them.

To ensure that employees take advantage of their opportunities, pharma companies should develop solutions that fit, not only with the business needs, but also with the culture of the company that are practical, up-to-date, flexible, sustainable and measurable. There needs to be a variety in the training, the formats need to also be exciting as attention levels are on the decrease. Good employee attraction and retention needs to be kept in mind, while developing these training programmes.

Training needs to truly change behaviours and impact performance, for example the traditional approach to training sales representatives needs to undergo significant changes. To meet the challenges of today’s market, there must be a greater emphasis on the transfer of learning to ensure application of new skills in the field. Sales leaders and the training professionals who support them must create learning journeys and environments that build on extended learning platforms. Such platforms provide a continuous learning experience that includes frequent face-to-face and virtual touch points, classroom sessions, and applicable tools, all delivered as part of an ongoing learning system. Sales managers must be involved at all points along the way, providing the coaching and reinforcement needed to ensure the new tools and learning are having an impact on results.

An experiential view on training

1. The most effective learning happens when training engages the heart as well as the head.

2. Creativity is a requisite for great training.

3. The workforce learns by doing. Training strategies should simulate real performance conditions.

4. All training should be measured.

5. Training should always be relevant for the audience and business goals. This ensures ?knowledge transfer to the workplace is increased.

6. A motivated and inspired workforce learns more quickly.

“Having a good quality training programme continues to pay back over the years.”

7. Senior management commitment is a key success factor in training.

8. Training must be sustainable.

9. Attention spans are shorter now – so training should consider incremental and self paced solutions.

10. Interactivity is a must. Interactivity means people play an active role in their personal development.

Having a good quality training programme continues to pay back over the years. Finding the right training package is exactly like finding the right pair of jeans, balancing the need to find the perfect fit with the cost element and something that looks inviting.


About the author:

Ashish Rishi, B.Sc., M.Sc. is Owner, Director of Cetas Kinetic, a healthcare training consultancy providing leadership, coaching and advisory consultancy to pharma, HCPs and medcomms agencies.

How can training be improved within the pharma industry?