Posted 05 October 2017
By Zachary Brousseau
When about 60 Pfizer employees convened last November at the company’s New York headquarters for a customized on-site, two-day training session, one of the key goals was establishing a common language. Attendees represented several groups with different, but related, roles within the company. Some were part of a pilot program of “core strategists,” a new role combining expertise in regulatory and chemistry, manufacturing and controls (CMC). Another group was made up of Hospira employees who had recently become part of the Pfizer team when Hospira was acquired. A third contingent of trainees were new hires with responsibilities in either regulatory affairs or CMC.
Anna Maria Gambino, senior manager, Pfizer Essential Health Regulatory Affairs, was among those selected for the core strategist pilot. She was tasked with helping develop training to harmonize processes to help ensure everyone is on the same page.
Identifying and Developing the Right Training
After looking at a number of different options, including developing an internal training program from scratch, Gambino and her Pfizer colleagues decided partnering with RAPS for a customized on-site training would be the best fit, and would provide the most value to participants. As a RAPS Enterprise member, Pfizer and many of its regulatory team were already familiar with RAPS resources. “Because of our longstanding relationship with RAPS, we felt that was the optimal choice,” said Gambino.
Gambino worked closely with John McMahon, strategic accounts manager at RAPS, to pinpoint exactly what Pfizer was looking to accomplish from its training, identify the appropriate trainers and develop an agenda. The process began with an initial call to discuss specific needs and goals.
At that point, “we really want to learn as much as we can, from relevant subject matter to cover, to the number of participants and their experience levels, to location and timing of the actual program” said McMahon.
They worked throughout September and October on the agenda for the November event. Gambino involved Pfizer colleagues from a variety of areas to provide their perspectives and input. “I have to say, I really thought it went so well,” she said. “It was such a positive experience working and building this agenda, and I think we did a really good job.”
RAPS helped identify instructors, including Meredith Brown-Tuttle, RAC, FRAPS, an experienced regulatory affairs consultant. “With Meredith, we just liked her from the get-go,” said Gambino. “She understood what we wanted and needed.”
“John did an excellent job of matching up the instructors with what we described as our expectations of this training,” said Lisha Cole, regulatory director and US cluster lead, CNS Pain Therapeutic Area, Pfizer Essential Health, who was involved in identifying the need for the training and overseeing the end result.
McMahon also helped with everything from scheduling calls and creating program materials to evaluating the results through participant surveys. He remained involved in every step.
Adjusting on the Fly
Another advantage of building a completely customized training event is that it can be adjusted as new needs or audiences are identified. That was the case with Pfizer. While the original idea was for the event to be centered around cross-training the core strategists and legacy Hospira people, the need “evolved from a very focused and targeted objective to be a bit broader where we saw it could be of value to others,” said Cole. That’s when they decided to include relevant new hires as participants as well. “It just made sense for the new colleagues being on-boarded to get the same perspective,” said Raymond Regimbal, PhD, director, regulatory strategy, Pfizer Essential Health Global Regulatory Affairs—Brands, whose responsibilities include orienting new employees in the CMC area.
Organizers also decided to supplement the program with internal experts from within the company to address more Pfizer-specific topics and present company case studies. “It was great that we were able to customize,” said Cole, who also presented a module on pediatrics with another colleague. “We don’t often get those opportunities, especially in a face-to-face setting.”
The event itself was well received, with participants and managers both giving it high marks. “I was very pleased with the training,” said participant, Eleanor Panico, MS, regulatory affairs manager, CNS Pain Therapeutic Area, Pfizer Essential Health, one of the new hires. She praised the instructors’ knowledge, experience and skill at keeping people engaged over the two days. Gambino agreed, remarking that she witnessed “a lot of engagement and a lot of interaction.”
The mix of external instructors supplemented by presentations from internal experts seemed to strike the right balance and meet the needs of participants and team leaders alike. Participants benefitted from outside experts who brought years of experience in regulatory affairs and CMC, while also getting to see practical applications at Pfizer from the actual people they would be working with. “I think it was a unique opportunity where we as managers didn’t have to create all the materials for the training sessions, but were able to provide additional information and add some of the nuances of Pfizer,” said Cole.
Instructors covered a lot of ground, laying the foundation for future teamwork and presenting case studies that all participants seemed to find quite valuable. “It’s useful as a stepping stone to the next level, and I don’t think you can really ask much more than that of a two-day session that covers so many topics,” said Regimbal. “If it could be extended to a third day, I would add more case studies,” he added. Panico also commented on the value of the case studies. “It was helpful to me as a new hire to have the participation of the internal instructors,” she said.
The Value of Bringing the Team Together
As pleased as participants and managers were with the instructors, engagement level and case studies, ultimately, the value of gathering the team in one place to interact in person shouldn’t be overlooked. “We are very spread out, and people are everywhere in different locations and countries,” said Cole. “We used this training as an opportunity to bring people together.”
The fact that participants were so highly engaged is testament to the impact of face-to-face dialogue in building positive working relationships. Regimbal, who was responsible for keeping track of time during some sessions, remarked that participants were often so absorbed in discussion, he had to cut them off. “Conversations could have gone on had time not been a factor,” he said.
The opportunity to interact with the other participants was particularly important for new hires like Panico, who said she made an effort to get to know all her “go-to” people, and to develop new insight about her place on the team. “it’s helpful to understand how your actions can influence the bigger picture,” she said.
Response, Results and Next Steps
Overall, the reaction to the training was overwhelmingly positive. “I got a lot of positive feedback, and people were asking me if this was something we would do in the future for new hires,” said Gambino. The participant evaluations bear that out as well. According to McMahon, “94% of participants were either very satisfied or satisfied with the program facilitators, and results for program content and delivery were about the same.”
As far as the process of developing and delivering the training, Gambino praised RAPS, and McMahon in particular. “I enjoyed working with John. I actually miss that we’re not working on a project together,” she said.
Team leaders say the training has resulted in greater team cohesiveness, and that they have used RAPS’ online resources to enable participants to continue to learn and stay engaged.
For more information on RAPS on-site training opportunities and other team development resources, visit RAPS.org/team.