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Impact Interview – Small Company Training

Impactiviti recently interviewed Cynthia Canup, recently Director of Training at Connetics. Prior to her time at Connetics, Cindy was Director of Sales Training at Chiron, and also served as Associate Director of Management Training and Development, Novartis. The topic of this Impact Interview is Small Company Training – a perspective that Cindy can uniquely address, having worked with both large and emerging pharmaceutical companies.

Q1: What are the positive aspects of directing training at a smaller pharmaceutical company?

There are many! One of the prime benefits is having the opportunity to know most or all of the individuals on the sales teams, as well as the surrounding support staff. Similarly, the entire management team (inside & field) works closely in selection of field managers and management development candidates. In a larger pharmaceutical company, you can only get to know a relatively small percentage of the people, and therefore it is more difficult to lead with in-depth awareness. Also, Sales, Marketing, and Training tend to work more closely together, often having offices in the same building or even on the same floor. Communication is much more streamlined in such an environment.

Another advantage of working in a small company is the ability to “turn on a dime” – make changes rapidly in the face of changing conditions. Finally, being part of a smaller training teams means wearing more hats, and gaining broader experience in a variety of roles.

Q2: Sounds really nice…but what are some of the drawbacks?

Most everyone in this type of position will point to the relative lack of resources compared to a “Big Pharma” environment. Often, infrastructure and processes (such as eLearning platforms and practices) are not yet in place; budgets are smaller, and cost of training per person is huge…there are no real economies of scale. For instance, if you spend $180,000 on a training program, for a sales force of 1,200 that comes to $150/person. For a sales force of 80 it’s $2,250/person. Leading training in a smaller specialty pharma or biotech company is not a “behind-the-scenes” position – it’s definitely a “roll-up-your-shirtsleeves” environment.

Q3: What is the biggest mistake a training manager or director can make coming from “Big Pharma” into a smaller-company environment?

Simply put: holding on to wrong assumptions. What worked in a large company may not be effective at the new company. Importing those perspectives and practices can easily alienate field management and the field sales teams. If possible, sit in on training as it has been done before making any changes. Perform a needs assessment and gap analysis. Ask for field management input. And then assess how to make changes while maintaining buy-in and respecting the current culture.

Q4: From a budget perspective, how do you do more with less?

First, when working with vendors, create an information sheet describing your training needs, the state of your field force, and your expectations. Be careful about working with vendors who have only serviced large pharma companies – their pricing model may not adapt well. Build your network of other trainers in similar companies and seek referrals and advice. And reach out to trainers in other divisions of the company, seeing if there are shared resources that can be leveraged.

Q5: How should management development be practiced effectively in a smaller-company environment?

One important method is to seek out, or have developed, courses for reps that have a manager training component. Current Directors, VPs, and Managers should be utilized as much as possible for delivering training and mentoring, so that internal leaders can have a bird’s-eye view of emerging management talent. Expansions can sometimes be dramatic in the emerging company, so pro-active management development is crucial in order to have a good talent pool from which to draw when the opportunity arrives for expanded roles and responsibilities.


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