In an industry that's both competitive and of the utmost importance (we're talking about medicine here, not trendy sweaters or flashy electronic devices, after all), it's not enough to have an effective training program. For Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, learning and development means ensuring its systems and controls for delivering quality medications and health products are foolproof. There can't be any glitches—from manufacturing plant procedure to the sales representative giving her presentation to a physician—that might endanger the health of one of the millions of people who rely on the company's products. In 2008, Wyeth's training team continued doing what it does best—delivering quality products by successfully preparing its workforce to meet the needs of the public while demonstrating market leadership on the business side of its operations. This last year also was a milestone in the company's disaster planning as it marked the now-provable success of a training program designed to ensure continuity of its operations no matter the calamity. Better trained than sorry, you might say.
Realizing the critical impact its business has on public health, two years ago the company doubled its efforts to guarantee its operations continue without interruption during any crisis with the launch of its Business Continuity Program. "It's intended as a train-the-trainer so people can go back to their work sites and implement a business continuity program," says Associate Director, Business Continuity Program Roberta LaRocca. "They do a business impact analysis to determine what impact on the business at large losing a mission-critical component of their site would have." In addition, those trained to lead continuity efforts at their work site are taught how to write, implement, and sustain plans that would address the impact of the disaster. Many companies have disaster recovery training in place, but to successfully teach its work site leaders these skills, Wyeth took a slightly different approach. "Typically, vendors certify individuals to do business continuity planning," says LaRocca, "and we went through the training, but we thought we could do a better job internally in terms of the content and how it relates to Wyeth."
The company also decided to tie the program it designed to Ursinus College, a locally based liberal arts college, which vetted the program, and now issues a certification to those who successfully complete it. During the two-and-a-half-day course, learners participate in a classroom experience that involves a theoretical lecture about disaster planning, along with presentations from Wyeth employees who have planned and implemented a continuity plan for their work site. They receive training online about the software they will use to plan and roll out their continuity plan before beginning the course. In class, in addition to listening to the lecture and case studies, they complete an off-line simulation about implementing a continuity plan during a pandemic. This is followed by an assessment learners must pass before receiving their certification.
Wyeth now considers the program a verifiable success. Thanks to the company's ability to run reports on the software system employees are required to log their plans into, Wyeth knows there are now nearly 300 completed continuity plans. The company periodically reviews each of these plans to ensure it's as reliable and comprehensive as possible. Learners from across the globe travel to Collegeville, PA, to Wyeth Pharmaceutical headquarters, to participate in the continuity training. Since its launch in 2007, 95 employees have been certified, and have successfully completed disaster planning for their work sites in countries such as Canada, the UK, Italy, Belgium, and Japan. Says LaRocca, "They've implemented it in a way that's meaningful to them, their culture, their business, and their locale."
Communities of Practice
Formal learning opportunities such as Wyeth's continuity training are invaluable, but the company has learned over the years that less structured learning support also is essential. To that end, it has built up its communities of practice (COPs) to 11 ongoing learning groups across the worldwide organization, says Assistant Vice President of Organizational Learning, Technical Operations and Product Supply (TO&PS) Judy Vollmer. The COPs focus on areas of the business such as maintenance, organizational learning, and shop floor excellence, allowing employees to "share best practices; learn from one another; and improve business processes," Vollmer points out. Wyeth's COPs have been around for a few years, but now the success stories made possible by these COPs are starting to rack up. Wyeth's automation community used its COP to share automation codes and standard operating procedures for a new bioreactor control system, thereby allowing one work site's success to serve as a template for another site. "They were able to adopt the same system without going through all the work the first site had to," says Vollmer. "That deferred roughly $400,000 in contractor resources."
Wyeth's maintenance community, meanwhile, used its COP to deliver more than 600 hours of training on new technology and maintenance methodology. "As a result, equipment reliability is yielding much higher productivity," says Vollmer. In one plant, there was a piece of equipment that went from approximately 72 percent utilization up to 92 percent utilization.
The company is ensuring COPs underway are well nurtured, and it continues to look for new technology enhancements to enable ever more efficient information sharing.
Customer Service Training Soars
Ongoing performance support tools such as COPs, of course, are only truly valuable if the improvements they allow end up benefiting Wyeth's customers and the public. The company never forgets that, and it has a customer service initiative, launched at the end of 2007, to point to as proof of its commitment to providing ever better service through training. "It's about enhancing the level of service and customer partnerships we have with Wyeth Consumer Healthcare's top retailers," says Senior Director, Wyeth Consumer Healthcare, Commercial Training Steve Sitek. The company's related goals included better aligning itself and its retailer customers on common goals and sales metrics, increasing mutual trust and information sharing, and improving communication and collaboration. To do this, the company began by focusing on its top accounts, meaning those seven or eight accounts that generate 70 to 80 percent of Wyeth Consumer Healthcare's revenue.
Training team members who work directly with Wyeth Consumer Healthcare partnered with subject matter experts on topics such as retailer distribution, replenishment, merchandising, accounting, and logistics. They then brought in Wyeth Consumer Healthcare's sales business development managers and customer support leads to begin training. The program began with a kick-off orientation in which these participants met to discuss the basic methodology to enhancing customer service. "We got them to start developing implementation plans to figure out how they were going to align their areas of focus and resources to their particular accounts," says Sitek. "This was followed up by separate working sessions by account, with a coach assigned to each main account." That coach—the account's customer service lead—then consulted with the retailer's customer service lead to identify specific business issues and related metrics that both the retailer and Wyeth needed to pay attention to. The third phase of the learning process was "lessons learned" follow-up sessions to review key points.
Wyeth gauged the effectiveness of the program through continuous feedback, Sitek explains. This included feedback on the impact of the program from account teams working under the sales business development managers and customer support leads. These exchanges prove the program—which will be expanded next year—worked. "On one major account, the replenishment metric increased by nearly 10 points compared to a year earlier," says Sitek of the metric that refers to how fast Wyeth products are replenished in stores, and how often it has the right amount of inventory on shelf when the retailer wants it. The efficacy of the program also could be seen at another retailer Wyeth works with that publishes an internal ranking of suppliers. Before training, Wyeth was ranked in the high teens. "Four to six months later," Sitek notes, "we had moved up to No. 3. That was a direct result of this training process and collaboration."
On Tap for '09
This year, Wyeth manufacturing plants will continue work to operate more efficiently while delivering quality products to customers, says Vollmer. The plants are concentrating on transforming their operations in accordance with Lean Manufacturing standards and Wyeth's own "operational excellence" markers. "We're in the process of rolling out coach development and train-the-trainer sessions," says Vollmer. "These efforts will occur early in the new year and the plants will be spreading the learning to continue to transform their operations."
This internal push toward enhancing operational excellence in manufacturing includes training on changing mind-sets and behaviors. Plant leadership and supervisors will participate in this training, says Vollmer, which also includes quality manufacturing methods that are used to improve the performance of operations, as well as make performance indicators visible to employees. An example is the use of visual management boards "so they're able to make key performance indicators well known to their entire group, while continuously providing them with data and feedback."
On the sales side of Wyeth's business, 2009 will see an increase in the use of the virtual classroom in training, says Director, Distance Learning & Training Operations Mack Thompson. This will be accomplished through the use of WebEx Training Center software. Trainers who work with the sales divisions are undergoing training to use these virtual tools to teach new sales reps during the onboarding process and initial product and skills training. "We have a full-blown certification process," says Thompson, "so our trainers can take the skills they use in the physical classroom and move those to an online forum where they can engage our students to move through the material, even though our students will be scattered across the country." Webcams, for instance, will be used for learners participating in sales role-play exercises.
Also in the sales training and management development division is an effort to roll out a transformational coaching program to improve sales leader coaching ability, says Senior Director, Management Development, Sales Training and Management Development (STMD) Kevin Brown. In 2009, the company will do a re-survey of its 360-degree feedback among sales team leaders, and then will conduct another, separate survey of sales reps to see if they noticed an improvement in their supervisors' coaching abilities. Such initiatives will be overseen this year by Wyeth's new learning council, says Senior Director, Pharma & Vaccines, STMD Steve Wells. "We've identified not only a learning council, but a steering committee that could give us the executive support we need," says Wells. "We also now will be able to communicate better among trainers and training groups, so we'll be much more efficient in how we use our time and resources."
The economy no doubt will continue to be a challenge in 2009, as it is for most other companies, but Wyeth has no intention of sacrificing its training, says Vice President of Commercial Operations and Learning Development David Jenkins. "Continuous learning isn't going away," he says. "Whether it's a job function, compliance, or a corporate program, we're going to continue doing those things we think are important so we take care of the patient—our ultimate concern—along with customers and our employees."