As the world’s third-largest pharmaceutical company, Sanofi-Aventis continues to make advancements in the development of new medications in the areas of oncology, the central nervous system, the cardiovascular system, diabetes and internal medicine. With a vast portfolio of pharmaceutical products that include leading drugs Ambien and Allegra, Sanofi-Aventis continues to develop its workforce with the same vigor and dedication that it commits to product research and development.
Headquartered in Bridgewater, N.J., the company’s U.S. affiliate employs approximately 16,000 employees. Of those, 8,000 are field sales and medical affairs representatives. With half of its workforce scattered across 14 locations nationwide, Sanofi-Aventis’ training and leadership development team faces an industry challenge: continually delivering quality learning from a distance.
According to Patrick Barry, vice president of training and development for Sanofi-Aventis, his team holds between 8,000 and 12,000 training interventions annually. Some employees must go through training more than once a year to meet the demands of the company’s ever-changing product portfolio and to reach set business goals. Because the company regularly introduces new products and updates, education is vital to the overall success of the organization. To achieve success, the company went through an extensive process to align its learning and training initiatives with organizational goals. “As a leadership team, our goals are to make sure that our learning and development and our training and development initiatives are 100 percent synced with our business objectives,” Barry said. “Our mission purpose is to support the drive for best-in-class performance with strategically relevant learning and development solutions that maximize business results, help our customers and their patients, and energize our professionals to exceed, learn and grow.”
Much of that energizing occurs when individuals first join the organization. All new Sanofi-Aventis employees—whether in sales, field management or on the managed care team, field medical team or marketing team—go through a foundational training program. The foundational training program lays the groundwork for transition into the company’s continuous learning program. “For each functional area, our goal is to provide a foundational program. But once they transition into their new role, we transition them into a continuous improvement strategy,” Barry said. “Our goal is to have offerings across the pharmaceutical operation that really empower the individual and his or her leader—whether a marketing leader or a sales leader—to work together to put together a training plan that best meets their needs.”
The training and leadership development team manages its continuous learning program through an annual credit requirement. The annual credit requirement encompasses mandatory training based on the organization’s changes and products and an elective component. The elective component credits are geared toward improving identified skills gaps. Although most of the annual credits are fulfilled by mandatory skills, the electives help employees develop skills that they and their supervisors feel need improvement.
“The annual credit requirement is similar to other professions like our physician customers. They are accountable for a continued medical education credit on an annual basis, and they need to maintain it in order to maintain their license,” said Michael Capaldi, senior director of sales training for Sanofi-Aventis. “We really take that same approach internally. We set credits according to training that is required by the organization as well as components that are elected by the individuals. But our annual credit number holds people accountable to the annual learning.”
Nevertheless, meeting an annual credit requirement for more than 16,000 employees is not an easy task. “It is challenging to offer the right training through various modes of delivery for an ongoing continuous improvement curriculum,” Barry said. “But we try to align with our organization’s leaders and make sure that what we are offering in terms of the elective curriculum and the continuous improvement curriculum is strategically aligned to what the overriding needs and business initiatives are for that given year.”
Sanofi-Aventis’ training and leadership development team accomplishes this alignment by working with the pharmaceutical leadership team. One way that Barry and his team ensure alignment is by involving organizational leaders in the learning process. “We tap into the leadership of our pharmaceutical operations not only to get them involved because it shows them that the curriculum is aligned to the business needs, but also because it shows participants that this training is important and worthwhile,” Barry explained.
Because roughly half of the organization’s workforce is spread across the country, the company uses a blended learning approach. “We aggressively pursue distance learning, and we do our best to utilize a blended approach to learning because we realized that not everything can be instructor-led. So we have to do things through our online learning vehicle as well as other distance learning modes like CD-ROMs, books and tapes,” Capaldi said. “With a field-based organization, the challenge is to mix it up so that we are offering them relevant learning but in multiple learning modes.”
Sanofi-Aventis delivers training at its New Jersey headquarters as well as on the road because it is critical that the workforce’s time away from their customers is minimal. But no matter where the training is held, it is interactive, application-based and realistic. “We try to be very application-based so that it is not just a lecture format. Training is intended to be interactive,” Barry said. “(It’s) a lot of what we call ‘real-playing’ rather than role-playing. We try to provide as much of a realistic performance environment inside the headquarters so that they are getting training that is not only realistic, but relevant to what they are going to be asked to do the very next day out in the marketplace.”
According to Capaldi, with all instructor-led courses some pre-work is necessary. When learners enter the classroom, they are prepared to learn and, most importantly, ready to get involved. “For instance, if we were doing a workshop around situational leadership, we would send out case studies on a CD-ROM and ask the managers to go through those case studies before the workshop begins,” Barry said. “This pre-work establishes a baseline of knowledge so that when the learners come to the session, they can take a deeper dive into the content.”
To keep track of both foundational training and continuous improvement training, Sanofi-Aventis has an organization-wide learning management system in place to track each employee’s progress. However, to ensure that employees are trained to the set standards, the training and leadership team also performs product knowledge examinations. “With courses like product-related training, we have certification levels that include product knowledge assessments as well as performance certification—especially for new-hire training,” Capaldi said. “And certification ensures that people are prepared and ready to perform out in the marketplace.”
According to Barry, his team also works with various leadership and management teams and HR executives to ensure that the training and learning development curricula are linked to the organization’s performance management process. “The best litmus test for us is working with each of the organization’s leadership teams to make sure that they feel like our people are progressing and moving forward,” Barry said. “So if we are not progressing people well enough or quick enough, we know because we work with our leadership teams and our HR colleagues to make sure that we are developing future leaders down the line and that they are ready to go when they are needed.”
For Sanofi-Aventis, the efforts of continuous improvement will be ongoing. “We will continue our pursuit of being best-in-class,” Barry said. “Our customers appreciate that we are going to continue to pursue that, and we have gotten some wonderful feedback this year, but we will continue to try to challenge ourselves to get better because we have to do that.
“Our goals as a training and leadership team are to continue to focus on being a strategic partner for our pharmaceutical leadership, to be a model of continuous improvement, to make sure that we are challenging ourselves to make a significant impact on the success of our organization and to support industry-leading business results. Our focus is not only on being strong in the area of foundational development, but we want to carry excellence across the organization. And the way we do that is to be committed to ongoing training throughout people’s careers.”
–Cari McLean, email@example.com