L&D Best Practices Strategies for Success (July/August 2017)

Training magazine taps 2017 Training Top 125 winners and Top 10 Hall of Famers to provide their learning and development best practices in each issue. Here, we look at PAREXEL International Corporation’s clinical research career paths; Penn Station East Coast Subs’ feedback model; and Signature Consultants’ recruiter training programs.


By Dagmar McCaughey, Global Head, PAREXEL Academy; Anke Nissen, Senior Manager Learning & Development PAREXEL International; and Julia Woko, Marketing Specialist, PAREXEL Academy

PAREXEL International Corporation is a leading global biopharmaceutical services company, providing a broad range of expertise-based clinical research, consulting, medical communications, and technology solutions and services to the worldwide pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device industries.

Clinical research in humans is strongly regulated to ensure the safety of trial participants. Given the complexity of tasks performed in a clinical trial, professionals in this industry are required to be highly trained in order to qualify sufficiently for their job. While PAREXEL is part of a globally evolving market with many potential business opportunities, well-skilled staff members who can manage clinical trials are a scarce resource.

To overcome this challenge, in 2001 PAREXEL founded the PAREXEL Academy in Berlin, Germany, with the purpose of training scientists from different backgrounds such as biology, pharmacology, medicine, or chemistry to find their path toward a career in the clinical research industry.

Program Details

The PAREXEL Academy launched the successful “Clinical Monitor | Clinical Trial Management” postgraduate certificate program for science graduates. The program aims to prepare academically qualified newcomers with a solid clinical research knowledge basis to qualify them for career options in the biopharmaceutical and clinical research industry.

The key to the program’s success is a combination of three months of live classroom learning and three months of practical project work in various PAREXEL departments.

The classroom learning covers a broad spectrum of topics, taught by industry experts who are also experienced instructors, which prepares and enables participants to proactively contribute to real project work in the last three months of their program. Topics include:

  • Introduction to the different areas of clinical research, including medicine and pharmacology foundations, clinical monitoring, data management, and clinical trial logistics. Introductions to these areas also include real-life case studies and problem-solving exercises
  • Business, legal, and pharmaceutical English
  • Soft skills training in interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, and effective collaboration, as well as on-the-job coaching

The uniqueness and strength of this program lies in the rigor of the program design, as well as the selection and deployment of the most qualified participants and trainers:

  • To join the program, participants undergo a vigorous selection and assessment process. Before selection for admission to the program, candidates are assessed on their depth of technical knowledge, as well as basic work skills, such as attention to detail.
  • PAREXEL Academy trainers are recognized clinical research experts and effective facilitators. They bring first-hand professional industry experience to the classroom and are able to demonstrate how the latest industry knowledge taught can be applied in the work setting. Instructors are expected to demonstrate their effectiveness in communicating their expertise, as well as in engaging the participants to learn the skills and knowledge they will need.
  • Due to the rigorous and selective nature to become qualified as a PAREXEL Academy trainer, instructors often feel a sense of satisfaction and pride, in addition to advancing their career and personal aspirations.


Academy graduates are a continuous source of well-trained employees who are qualified and prepared to join the PAREXEL workforce or other companies in the clinical research sector. The employment rate of course graduates has been exceptionally high over the last 15 years, with approximately 90 percent of program participants employed within the first three months of graduation. A training impact study performed with PAREXEL Academy graduates who have been employed at PAREXEL also has shown the following achievements:

  • Graduates accomplish a faster ramp-up to required “billability” (about three months earlier than the comparison group). Additionally, graduates are able to sustain their high “billability” level long term, generating cost efficiencies for their department.
  • Graduates have a retention rate that is at least 15 percent higher than staff in comparable positions.
  • Graduates advance their career development quicker, with 4 percent more promotions during the initial five years of their tenure.

The PAREXEL Academy“ Clinical Monitor | Clinical Trial Management” postgraduate certificate program quickly has become a success story for PAREXEL, with nearly 1,000 graduates worldwide since its inception in 2001.

Today, the PAREXEL Academy collaborates with internationally renowned universities such as National University of Singapore (NUSAGE), Salem State University in the United States, and Kyoto Pharmaceutical University in Japan.


By Lance Vaught, Vice President of Operations, Penn Station East Coast Subs (www.penn-station.com)

Communication is an important component for any relationship to be successful. It’s especially critical for businesses. Most managers who struggle with their business’ performance or profitability know what they need to do to improve, but do a poor job communicating that vision to their employees. To successfully train talented new employees and retain good ones, managers need to be able to lay out clear expectations.

Creating a feedback model specific to your business can help managers effectively get their message across. To set a culture of communication, the feedback model must be followed at all stages of management. For example, at Penn Station East Coast Subs, a fast-casual franchise with more than 310 locations in 15 states, the feedback model is incorporated into the first level of management in the My Penn Path training program, so that even crew leaders are learning to give effective feedback.

Being effective in offering both positive and negative feedback is important. The most effective managers don’t only talk to their employees when something is wrong. In fact, 90 percent of what managers say should be positive. Managers should constantly be talking to their employees, even if it is mostly short, one-minute conversations that reinforce positive behavior and forward movement.

When offering constructive criticism or negative feedback, managers should be as timely as possible. Waiting weeks or months, or worse, until the year-end evaluation does the employee and the company a disservice. If you want to correct bad behavior or improve an employee’s work performance, make the suggestions and offer the feedback as close to the event as practical.

Creating a Feedback Model

A feedback model should be created to be used for both positive and negative conversations. Each company should create a model unique to its business and culture, using things learned from personal experience and reading about others’ best practices. At Penn Station East Coast Subs, our feedback model for outcome-based communication uses the STEAKS acronym:

  • Set up the conversation. From the moment the conversation starts, both parties should know what the topic and goal is. When a manager is clear about the purpose of the conversation, the employee will know what to expect.
  • Take turns evaluating behavior. Ask the employee for his or her opinion first. Most of the time, the employee will have a similar impression of his or her work performance. If it isn’t great, letting the employee acknowledge that first means the manager doesn’t have to say it directly, preventing the employee from getting defensive. This creates a collaborative conversation instead of a potential conflict.
  • Effect of the performance. Whether it’s negative or positive feedback, make sure the employee knows how his or her success or challenge affects the customers, other employees, and the business as a whole.
  • Align with the standard. Always reiterate the standard policy and explain why the policy is in place. If necessary, explain the difference between the employee’s performance and the standard procedure.
  • Key behaviors to change. Give a specific checklist of improvements and next steps to ensure better results.
  • Summarize and support. Go back over the conversation, making sure both parties agree on what was discussed, what needs to change, and what will happen next. After providing feedback, following up on the message is essential. If the feedback was negative and the employee has improved his or her performance, the employee will be waiting for his or her efforts to meet company standards to be acknowledged. If not, the manager needs to go over the employee’s additional challenges.

Communicating Across Generations

In today’s business environment, many managers are dealing with Millennial employees for the first time. As with any generation, Millennials communicate differently, requiring managers from previous generations to adapt. It’s much easier to change yourself than your staff of 15 or more people. For example, Millennials tend to take any type of correction as intense criticism. Using a feedback model such as the STEAKS model above helps Millennials understand feedback without taking it personally.

A feedback model also can help managers with more seasoned employees, especially if they are prideful. Some employees hear a challenging message and assume they aren’t valued as an employee. A feedback model can help craft the message so it’s clear the feedback is simply an evaluation of the employee’s behavior. When giving feedback, no matter to which generation, always focus on behavior and avoid making a critique personal.

Results from Meaningful Feedback

Obviously, effective communication and meaningful feedback are critical during training, but they also help employees feel connected to their boss and coworkers, which improves employee retention. Consistent communication recalibrates a team and makes sure everyone is moving in the same direction.

Outcome-based communication means every team member knows exactly what he or she is responsible for and is executing their duties to the standard. When this form of communication is executed well, it should lead to increased sales, lower turnover, and increased profitability.

Designed for long-term measure, Penn Station’s STEAKS feedback model is still new (less than a year old), but based on early feedback from franchisees and area representatives, Penn Station already has seen a better connection and communication from employees using the STEAKS feedback model. Promotion from within also has increased when the model has been executed well.

General managers approved of the My Penn Path initiative, in which the STEAKS feedback model is incorporated, by 85 percent, meaning 8.5 out of 10 found it to be beneficial in 2016.

Franchisees said they appreciate the model as it greatly improves consistency from one location to the next. General manager turnover is down approximately 6 percent in the last four consecutive quarters, but that is likely not a direct correlation.

Tips for Creating a Policy

Creating a strategy for providing feedback must start with the company’s culture. Identify what outcome you are trying to achieve before putting together a model or training people for outcome-based communication.

Once the model is created, it must become standard operating procedure, not just a philosophy. The trickle-down method is particularly important in communication because people mimic people they think are excellent communicators. If your higher levels of managers become better trainers, they’ll develop better middle managers. For example, when Penn Station hourly employees and crew leaders see the general manager regularly having direct, successful behavior-based communications with the assistant manager, it reinforces the behavior and makes it easier for the assistant manager to implement the method with his employees.

Communication takes talent and hard work, and creating and following a specific outcome-based feedback model requires unfailing commitment, effort, and employee buy-in. An effective model, though, can lead to improvement in all areas of business.


By Conrad Charles, Director, Training & Development, Signature Consultants (www.sigconsult.com)

At Signature Consultants, we differentiate our people as being the best in the business on the strength of our relationships and the efficiency of our delivery. To achieve this, everyone at Signature is engaged in a continuous learning cycle—either learning from their mentors and partners, or teaching the next generation. This environment and our culture of “Do the Right Thing” accelerate everyone’s development.

Since 2010, Signature has focused on hiring young professionals and training them to become great performers. Why do we put such a high priority on training? Because we want to establish a place where our Relationship model of recruiting is ingrained in our employees, while building an environment where they can experience success and happiness. We view development as a never-ending pathway that provides employees with guidance and opportunity throughout their careers at Signature.

We believe success in the staffing industry depends on relationships. Our training curricula reinforce that company value to help our recruiters build long-term relationships and “Find the Right Fit” for our consultants and clients—while always living our culture of “Do the Right Thing.” This culture embraces hard work, honesty, integrity, commitment, treating people well, and continuous learning.

Program Details

Signature’s Talent Development department operates two core training curricula for recruiters: the Recruiter Development curriculum and the Recruiter to Sales curriculum. Recruiter Development starts by introducing young professionals to the role of recruiter. As participants progress, they are trained to be fully functioning and independent recruiters. Recruiter to Sales allows the company to grow its sales force organically by taking successful recruiters from Recruiter Development and enabling them to become successful account managers.

Through our philosophy of continuous development, recruiters begin to thoroughly understand Signature’s values, mission, and culture. As their careers grow and they continue to teach and learn, they will be prepared for success as mentors, managers, and leaders for new offices. This is critical to preserving our culture, so we continue to maintain productive relationships with our consultants and clients as we expand our footprint.


Signature has enjoyed 30 percent growth every year since we started our recruiter training programs. More than 80 percent of our recruiters have participated in our award-winning training programs. In addition, we have been recognized by Staffing Industry Analysts—for seven years in a row—as one of the “Best Staffing Firms to Work For.”

Signature is poised to surpass $400 million in annual revenue in 2017. With our development approach, both new hires and seasoned recruiters have the support and training they need to find success and happiness.



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