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focus_Branding the Training Department at Valeant

Branding the Training Department at Valeant

By Steve Woodruff and Jason Zeman

The most recognizable pharmaceutical companies are built on brands. We brand our products, we promote our brands to the marketplace; in fact, entire companies take on brand identities. However, branding (the proactive creation and reinforcement of perceptions in the minds of others) is not just an outward-facing exercise. Your department also has a brand inside the corporation. And that creates an opportunity – how can we more effectively demonstrate the value of training and development to the company at large?

Steve Woodruff on the challenge:

When you hear the word, “Cialis”, what pops into your mind? Two people in bathtubs. Performance. Anytime.

Those thoughts and images are there because of branding – effective creation and reinforcement of images, thoughts and feelings in the mind of the audience. Good branding is about driving a positive perception – including aspirational desires – into hearts and minds of people. Coke. Nike. Mercedes. These are names with great value because of great branding efforts.

And then there are the products and companies (and people) saddled with negative, or indifferent, brands. They tend to struggle against the current continuously.

The people within the department will radiate some kind of brand – for better or for worse. If training professionals don’t have a clear perception of the business value of their role, surely that will be the case among others in the organization:

• Field teams (including the next training department hires)

• Brand marketers

• Sales leaders

• Executives

• HR

• Operations

Each of these groups has a lens through which training and development is viewed. A well-respected department will earn a seat at the table, and will attract a bigger budget and better talent.

ere’s the reality: Perceptions about us do exist in every stakeholder mind, and we can actually do something about it. So how can you proactively create a “brand” for your department?

This challenge was recently undertaken at Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Jason Zeman, in his role as director of sales learning and development, inherited a fragmented department that had been patched together from different acquired companies. There was no core identity – instead, there were various trainers, coming from differing cultures, with no singular vision and roadmap forward.

It was a department without a clear brand. An extreme case, perhaps, but one in which people both inside and could not articulate the value proposition of training in the organization. This is a common challenge in our corner of the industry, where training is often a rotational position, and the department is viewed as subordinate in importance to sales or marketing.

Valeant began to tackle this challenge by starting at square one – defining the departmental brand. And this meant digging deep to articulate the business value of sales learning and development to the broader organization.

Through a one-day brainstorming session, what emerged was a current perception of training as, essentially, an order-taker department. Instead of a strategic partner with something uniquely valuable to offer, training was viewed as a functional cul-de-sac for short-term tactical execution. Throw stuff over the wall and let training get it done. There was no articulated unique business value, and certainly nothing aspirational about taking on a training role in the organization.

Sound familiar?

However, what also emerged from the discovery session was the understanding that training could play a very valuable role by fixing a nagging internal problem that most siloed organizations suffer from – the need for consistent, pro-active collaboration.

Regularly, initiatives were being undertaken without sufficient upfront planning. Internal partnering was occurring haphazardly. And when goals and plans were not well-articulated, it was very difficult to measure any kind of success.

Training was perfectly positioned to play the role of consultative instigator, to get things done right.

This led to the establishment of three key principles – each containing an active verb – that would mark the training function and brand at Valeant:

• Plan for Success

• Proactively Partner

• Execute with Excellence

More than meaningless business buzzwords, these strategic activities would be the characteristics that would distinguish the department and its people, replacing the perception of training as get-it-done fire-drill order-takers.

This brand was further distilled into one hashtag – #DevelopingValue – which became the rallying cry of the department. Not merely developing training, but developing business value. This was more than mere messaging, but it became the pivot point of a genuine cultural change.

Jason Zeman on the results:

Once we established the core of our brand, we immediately set out on a course of awareness-building. Every process (from interviewing to onboarding); all of our internal communications; even our apparel - all were transformed to reflect the brand principles. To assess how we were doing, we partnered with TGaS to benchmark the trainer(s) that support the sales learning & development for each business unit. The key behaviors measured were aligned to our brand principles and other critical competencies. The quantitative and qualitative data provided us with insight and ideas from our key stakeholders in sales, marketing, operations and executive leadership.

Our counterparts in other departments began to both hear about and (this is crucial) experience our brand direction, as our training managers began to take a more confident, consultative approach by applying the Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning ("6Ds"). This was not an easy task given the fact that many of our key stakeholders had the mindset that training personnel were order-takers for their ideas and initiatives. When we started having first-level conversations and asking questions to understand the business objectives, or agree on the definition of success, they had this dazed look on their faces. This was our signal to pause and explain the 6Ds process for creating content that was sustainable and that would lead to the desired behavior change.

The brand direction also shaped how I interacted with those I was leading in the department, as we continually brought the focus back to our key principles, by which we could measure our own success. It shaped the expectations of everyone on the team, including holding myself accountable to it. Furthermore, it created opportunities for me to model the way in terms of what it meant to Plan for Success, Proactively Partner and Execute with Excellence.

Implementation of our brand involved recognizing that a key component of #DevelopingValue was deepening the leadership bench strength of the organization, starting with the trainers. This priority dictated that we proactively design and build our own curriculum to onboard and invest in the development of the team. Again, we partnered with TGaS to customize a new program, called Sales Training Excellence Program (STEP). Furthermore, we took advantage of LTEN offerings based on the individual developmental needs of each trainer.

Our trainers have given significant feedback about the helpfulness of the branding framework we now operate with. This particular quote sums up the experience:

“When I first arrived at Valeant to lead the GI training group it was a total rebuild. One of the greatest challenges was merging the Salix and Valeant cultures to create one identity that the training team could own and be to our internal customers. The ‘Developing Value’ branding which focuses on planning for success, Proactively Partnering and Executing with Excellence was the key. It really gave me the framework to successfully create the culture for our team.” -  Peter Dzwonczyk, Director Sales Learning and Development

Because one of our values is to execute with excellence, we decided to commission a survey to see how we were doing a year into the process. The detailed results would be too extensive for this article, but one of the most encouraging revelations was the need to socialize the role of a trainer so everyone has clear expectations of our role, responsibility and approach to #DevelopingValue for the business.


There may well be initial skepticism about undertaking a branding initiative, even among the training staff. It can be challenging work to get past the day-to-day tactical demands and to thoughtfully reset the compass! But once a core set of values is agreed upon, and a roadmap sketched out, consistent execution of the plan will make the skepticism melt away.

Through tangible examples of how the brand value made impact, skeptics will become believers. For instance, in the first year at Valeant, we approached every initiative by first putting a plan in place and gaining alignment on it, no matter how small or big it was. As we started to execute according to the plan, teams began to expect consistent results. Overall, we learned that it takes discipline and courage to follow the process, practice the principles and invest in our craft to become better at what we do.

In closing, branding a department is not just a logo and a tagline. It’s a cultural shift that strengthens the place of training in the organization and produces genuine business value on a daily basis. For Valeant, it is our foundation, from which we derive expectations, and by which we measure success.


Steve Woodruff is president of Impactiviti. Jason Zeman is director of sales learning and development for Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Email Steve at Email Jason at


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