FEATURE STORY – By Kelly Rebmann and Christine Creter
Sanofi Pasteur: Development Planning to Drive Success
Sanofi Pasteur Medical Affairs has experienced major expansion in the past few years, but managed to capture great success with a focused and strategic effort on learning and development.
In the past five years, the Sanofi Pasteur Medical team has dramatically increased in size, with most of that expansion coming from the field-based medical (FBM) or medical science liaison (MSL) team. In 2015, the MSL team was 15 people in one country. Today, the FBM team stands at nearly 139 people in 39 countries.
In addition, some research suggests that their Net Promoter Scores (NPS) – the willingness of key opinion leaders to recommend engaging with an MSL to another colleague – are the highest amongst global vaccine manufacturers. Sanofi Pasteur has created, and continues to create, a best-in-class medical team.
This is how we have done it.
Finding the Right Focus
In healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, the standard training focus for decades had been on Sales teams since they typically interacted with customers. Over time, other customer-facing roles were created in functions like Medical, Market Access and Public Affairs. These roles were invented out of necessity and the people hired into these roles were viewed as subject-matter experts – not in need of training in the same way salespeople might have been in need.
Over the years, these “secondary” customer facing roles have become integral to the fabric of the customer experience. However, their training has been lacking in a variety of ways. Perhaps their training was cobbled together from programs and classes originally created for other roles. Or there was some attempt to customize existing training, but the effort was dependent on a proportionally narrow number of skilled trainers to serve these audiences.
Another limiting factor has been the perception that there wasn’t a need for soft and
leadership-skill development for those in Medical Affairs. Ten years ago, pharmaceutical companies hired doctors, Ph.D.s and pharmacists, and they were simply supposed to excel at science and medicine.
However, the industry and organizational expectations have changed. Content and subject-matter expertise isn’t enough anymore. These same hires are expected to excel at science and medicine as well as possess strong communication skills and business acumen. Those hired as medical leaders must also excel at coaching and performance development and team-building, as well as showcase high emotional intelligence, strategic thinking and vision-building. Their schooling hasn’t changed, so what many organizations have on their corporate “hands” are great scientists with a list of required proficiencies that must be taught.
Rarely is there a carefully designed competency matrix, curriculum strategy or carefully curated path for employee development for these non-sales roles. Seldom is there a proper blend of learning modalities, as there may be a lack of a strategic approach to training these roles. In addition, in many organizations these roles span the globe, requiring both harmonization and regional customization. Finding the time, the budget and the resources to support the effort is challenging.
The Importance of Upskilling
Sanofi Pasteur recognized the importance of upskilling its medical teams and, over the past four years, has made a strong and dedicated effort to do so. The chief medical office of Sanofi – the parent company – set a vision for the total Sanofi medical team to become industry best-in-class leaders.
Sanofi Pasteur Medical set a goal to become a strong, strategic partner versus just a supportive function to the commercial team. Those visions came together to ignite a fire for global training and development. The Medical Effectiveness Department (MED) was created to (among other things) create training programs to strengthen the capabilities of Medical Affairs to deliver strong medical and business results.
We also modified some training to eLearning to allow self-directed learning. Later, we adopted the use of virtual meeting and virtual classroom platforms, switched to a more interactive platform and invested in training a wider audience in effective virtual classroom delivery. This reduced travel and logistics costs for the organization, as well as time out of role for training participants.
In addition, after an extensive vetting process, we adopted a virtual application/ practice tool from Instructure called “Practice,” used to engage learners in virtual learning programs when verbal engagement is critical. It promotes spaced-learning, continuous improvement, along with measurement and globalization in a way the Medical team has never experienced. It has significantly reduced the travel costs and burden on the global L&D team and improved continuous learning.
Simultaneously, long-term objectives aimed at answering key questions were initiated:
- What should we be good at?
- How good do we need to be at these things?
- How good are we at these things today?
- How do we get better at these things?
To answer the questions, projects were designed to:
- Define Medical competencies.
- Identify the level of proficiency necessary for each competency.
- Evaluate existing proficiency levels.
- Design a comprehensive, cohesive, competency-based training curriculum and plan.
The training curriculum set behavioral objectives for each competency and then crafted a detailed curriculum plan for each role at each level (for example, MSL and senior MSL). This competency-based effort sets a clear path for learning and development to grow within the Medical organization and is the first of its kind within the total Sanofi organization.
Overall, the growth and success of the Sanofi Pasteur Medical teams underscores the impact skills training can have on any function, but in particular for a “secondary” function that has not had the benefit of such attention in the past. Cultivating and curating a strong skills development program is worthy of time and attention.
The Sanofi Pasteur Medical learning strategy, design, structure and tools, paired with a strong culture of continuous improvement and coaching, have set the company apart in the industry in preparing and developing Medical teams.
Kelly Rebmann is global head of vaccines medical capabilities for Sanofi Pasteur. Email Kelly at Kelly.Rebmann@sanofi.com. Christine Creter is principal learning strategist for Creter Group. Email Christine at firstname.lastname@example.org.