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I’ve had two client discussions this week that are leading me to write this blog post as a public service to all my professional training colleagues.

lockPlease beware of getting locked into proprietary software platforms!

I have a long history with technology-fueled training, and I understand the appropriate place for software development. Many new systems had to be developed from scratch over the past 20 years, and I enjoyed being a part of that evolution when working with Pedagogue Solutions back in the day.

However – the software world has matured now, and when it comes to training applications and delivery platforms, if you have a fairly complex need, such as learning management, content management, on-line video training, event management, HQ-to-field information exchange – there are very likely some commercially-built solutions that you can license.

In the vast majority of cases, you do NOT want to have a custom shop (or internal IT people) re-invent the wheel for you.

One of my clients had some modules developed a couple years back into some kind of proprietary eReader software. Now, when it comes time to update it, what happens? They’re either stuck with the original supplier (with a very high price tag), or they essentially have to extract the content and have the modules re-developed using a commercially-available authoring tool so that it can be maintained and updated in the future by anyone they choose.

Another client told me about a pretty complex platform that cost an arm and a leg to develop from the ground up. After consuming all kinds of time and effort, it never really got off the ground in its intended form – while there were other commercially-available platforms that could have been quickly deployed, and would have been supported in an ongoing way.

Some thoughts, based on many years of experience in the industry:

  1. Developing new, complex platforms and applications is extraordinarily difficult and time-consuming. It should be left to companies that specialize in platform design and support. License what already exists!
  2. Training development companies that happen to also do some digital stuff are absolutely NOT the companies you want to take on the creation of an ambitious complex-system platform. They won’t have the resources to do it right, or to support it. I am especially thinking about overly-ambitious marketing/advertising agencies, who like to say that they can do anything.
  3. Every sophisticated software platform takes 2-3 times as long, and costs 2-3 times as much, as you and your development partner initially think. Trust me on this.
  4. Supporting a sophisticated software system custom-created for one client is enormously expensive. On the other hand, when a commercial software shop – say, a Learning Management System vendor – is spreading ongoing development and support costs across a larger number of clients, then it becomes a viable business model.
  5. It’s not just about the immediate need. You must think about sustainability.

One other thing: whatever software platform you choose to use for whatever purpose, make sure that it is written into the contract that you always have full access to all of your content and data, in a usable and industry-standard format, including the ability to completely remove your “stuff” and migrate it to another system.

I don’t want to tell you how many times I’ve seen this lesson learned the hard way. And I’d like for you to avoid costly mistakes. So here is my offer, for any of my life sciences colleagues who are considering training software applications and platforms: feel free to reach out to me ahead of time and let’s brainstorm a bit. I’m quite serious about this. I don’t charge you anything for this kind of advice, and I want you to succeed.

Just send me a note: AskSteve@impactiviti.com. I’m glad to chat with you.

Fifteen minutes could save you…well, you know the rest of the ad!

15 minutes

 

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What is the Impactiviti network? It is where Steve Woodruff helps life sciences training professionals get clear on their outsource needs, and get connected to optimal vendor-partners.

This unique “matchmaking” network works so well because Steve also helps training vendors get clear on their message, and get connected to new training clients.

Steve is the eHarmony of the Life Sciences Training community, saving everyone from wasted time and effort.

Working on new training initiatives? Whatever you need, ask Steve!

Our training consultations are free – just ask Steve at steve@stevewoodruff.com.

 

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Since I’m asking the question, you can probably guess my answer: Yes. Here’s why I think so…

With some exceptions, commercial training departments in biopharma companies tend to be thought of as “order-takers” for the more high-profile Sales and Marketing departments. “We need this done – toss it over the fence to training.” Ever seen that sort of approach to the training department before?

Deservedly or not, training tends to be viewed as a place for tactical execution. Add to this fact that many of the roles in commercial training tend to be rotational (successful sales people moving through the training department toward roles in marketing or sales leadership) and it’s easy to see why the default identity for training might devolve to “merely” a support function.

Hence the need to pro-actively create and reinforce a clear value-adding identity for the training department – a “brand,” if you will.

One of my most interesting assignments last year was to work with one training department on establishing a brand identity, including key principles and practices demonstrating the value (to the organization) of the training group. In an upcoming LTEN webinar, Jason Zeman (Director of Sales L&D of Valeant) and I will outline how we developed a brand identity with the department, and how that brand shapes the vision, leadership, and practices of the training staff.

The key question we worked with during our brand session was, “How does the Learning and Development group uniquely add value to our organization?” You’ll discover how “Developing Value” became a key mantra in the Valeant training brand.

Developing Value

Join us on Friday, March 4th (12:30 ET) as we discuss with you how branding goes beyond just a logo and a catch phrase, and explain the practical impact of a department identity that demonstrates ongoing value. Register for the webinar here.

 

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In my discussions with dozens of training clients over the past year, one theme that came up regularly was the difficulty of finding long-term vendor/partners for POA meetings.

Here are the kinds of concerns I’ve heard:

“A training vendor will start off well, but then things get stale after a few quarters, and we move on to someone else.”

“Our partners do great with modules and workshops, but the POA training is often a mixed bag.”

“We’re not seeing much creativity.”

I’ve wondered about this problem/opportunity for quite some time, and while I think there are probably multiple factors at play, here is one thing that may be at the root: fundamentally, POA training is driven by last-minute scrambling.

Most of our training projects, which involve long cycles of design (including instructional design), review, and implementation, require a set of skills and practices that are more systematic and long-term-ish. But POA meetings are often marketing-driven, and marketers are used to a different agency type of relationship that regularly involves rapid change and quick turn-around. And a lot of stuff is going down in the couple weeks before a very hard deadline.

Are training vendors equipped for that? I think many are not.

Marketing agency relationships (retained AOR) and training vendor relationships (project-driven) run on very different business models. I wonder if this isn’t why it’s difficult for vendors to succeed with POA training.

Maybe there are some other reasons as well. What are your thoughts? What are you doing to make your POA training effective?

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So, what’s it like to run a professional network to share resources and recommendations in a business vertical?

Well, it’s immensely rewarding, for one thing. What could be more gratifying that connecting clients with outsource partners, job opportunities, and each other?

Let me describe 4 recent opportunities here at Impactiviti – just so you know what goes on behind the curtain here at our middle Tennessee HQ. All of these interactions revolve around the commercial life sciences industry:

  1. A client e-mailed with a need for a vendor that would do a creative job with some product learning modules. This client did a great job describing what he was and wasn’t looking for, so I knew immediately which vendor he needed to contact for a discussion. Connection made – done! Of course, it’s not always that easy….
  2. Another client described a need for some live role-play training at an upcoming sales meeting. Since I’ve had less demand for this type of supplier, I only knew of one such company – so I turned to my client network for input and recommendations. This led me to new relationships with two dynamite, well-established suppliers that had been quite under the radar. I love finding these niche companies!
  3. A high-level training professional in career transition had gone through some clarity coaching, and now had a solid direction – but how to expand exposure? What about recruiters? That question led me to turn to my network for recommended recruiters (why I hadn’t done this before, I simply don’t know…duh!) to better understand how they can help with job transitions and openings. This led to productive collaborations with three outfits that I can now recommend*, with potential to work with them on promoting THEIR open opportunities to my network. A fruitful network expansion that I didn’t see coming…
  4. A very small pharma company had an obscure need, not in training, but in marketing. I barely grasped the nature of the need (getting drugs listed in on-line platforms), and had no knowledge of potential suppliers, but I reached into one corner of my network – pharma marketing folks – and asked for input. I confess that I had very little anticipation of results. Within a couple hours, I had multiple helpful responses that I was able to pass along – turns out those marketing folks are quite happy to share their knowledge, too.

valueadd

Here’s the point: Impactiviti succeeds because of YOU.

A network of great people is a huge value-add to my business (and my clients). Not only do I get to make recommendations, my clients and partners give input and make connections for me, and everyone benefits in the process. Yes, it’s labor-intensive to build and maintain these relationships over time, but the reward is exponential.

I tell people that I certainly don’t know everyone or everything, but my network pretty much does – so let me reach out and find what you need (email: AskSteve@impactiviti.com).

And that, friends, is why I love my job!

*if you’re a pharma/biotech/med device training professional, let me know if you’d like to have the list of recommended recruiters and I’ll forward it to you.

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You want to hire the right provider for the job. Some mis-matches are obvious – you don’t hire a plumber to represent you in court; nor do you contract with a fast-food trainee to fly a jumbo jet.

(those aren’t decisions so much as DUH-cisions!)

But when considering a training vendor, it’s often not so clear-cut. What I’ve seen over the years is that there are several distinct types of projects, which require different kinds of vendors (though with some overlap). I’ll make an attempt to classify these different types of projects with one of my patented Ugly Graphics

Project4

That sea of boxes is about as clear as mud, so let me explain. Let’s start with the bottom level, Short-term/Single-focus projects:

Project1

Most training departments undertake a number of smaller, more focused projects each year. Examples include:

  • Smaller training modules
  • Selling workshops
  • Compliance courses
  • Facilitation training

Many boutique vendors specialize in such areas and do a great job with these more limited-scope/limited-focus endeavors. Choosing among them can be a challenge because there are so many providers, and some of them overlap.

These point solutions definitely play an important role in the outsourcing of training. These projects can range from a few thousand dollars on up to six figures, but they typically retain a fairly narrow focus and, often, a short timeline.

It’s important to bear in mind, however, that not all boutique vendors have the scale to tackle the next level of project, the Major Initiative.

Project2

Some training projects take a number of months to execute, with lots of moving parts, and a more complex rollout. This will require a vendor with a more diverse set of in-house (and contract) resources and solid expertise in customer-focused project management. Examples include:

  • Product launch meetings (and full learning systems)
  • Technology rollouts
  • Curriculum re-design
  • Major eLearning conversions

These vendors may still be “boutique” in their focus, but they’re well beyond the two-people-in-a-garage phase of business growth. Most of these projects will be budgeted at the upper five figures (at the low end), into six figures.

Often, these vendor partners may also do short-term projects for you; however, their sweet spot is handling your larger, multi-faceted headaches. When successful, these can become productive long-term partnerships involving multiple initiatives over the long haul.

There is one higher-level provider – that rare breed of Consulting/business process/organizational design partner. These larger entities specialize in multi-year change management blueprints (and execution), helping a training organization to properly configure itself for present and projected future needs. They may also provide staffing services and major project outsourcing:

Project3

These types of organization-wide efforts are generally not initiated at the department level – they are typically spearheaded by executives who oversee the entire commercial training function. And the vendor/partners that provide this level of service are not boutique providers – they undertake 6 and 7-figure projects that touch every aspect of the training function.

(Let me note here that Impactiviti, as a client-vendor matchmaking service, has best-in-class partners hand-selected for you at all of these levels).

OK, now let’s remove, for the time being, that final rarefied strata of organizational design because those projects are less common. There are still a couple of other types of vendor/providers we want to consider whose services flow into, and out of, the other types of projects:

Partner4

On the one side – what we might call “setting the compass” – are those firms that provide high-level strategic direction for the department. These services can include:

  • Benchmarking studies
  • Process design
  • Curriculum design
  • Branding and identity for the department*

The main offering here is high-level expertise to help training directors map out plans and structures that others (internal and external resources) will typically implement. These boutique providers range in size from individual consultants to larger life sciences consulting firms.

*(this, by the way, is a niche consulting service Impactiviti provides directly)

A growing emphasis on outcomes leads to a growing emphasis on metrics and measurement, so one emerging area is the more technical area of assessment and analytics. Some providers of other services will provide some level of outcome-analytics, as will some of the consulting firms. This will certainly be woven into any organizational-design level initiative. Expect this practice to increase in importance, as it is becoming more central in all of healthcare.

I hope that this classification helps – over many years, I’ve seen projects fall roughly into these categories, and it helps greatly when selecting the proper vendor to keep in mind what is the scale and nature of the project. You can contact Impactiviti at any time (AskSteve@impactiviti.com) for targeted vendor recommendations for any of your projects.

What do you think – did I miss anything with these diagrams?

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Leaders need to continually develop new skills (and improve on current ones). But there is one skill that, hands down, is more vital than the rest.

The ability to communicate clearly and effectively.

In sales, management, training, marketing, and executive leadership – in every career role – nothing matters more than communicating effectively with others.

That’s why I spent so much time writing about Clarity. And, that is also why I have a partnership with a company that specializes in communications training.

Led by a published author with a PhD, who lectures at Wharton Business School AND who has many years of experience in the life sciences industry, this partner does workshops (and keynotes) nationwide.

Squirrel_Standing

SQUIRREL!!

As we all know, attention spans are getting shorter and shorter….

SQUIRREL!!

…so it is up to us to train our colleagues in the whole range of communication skills (including facilitation, slide design, writing, and interpersonal collaboration).

If you’re interested in learning more, contact me (AskSteve@impactiviti.com; 973-947-7429) and I’ll connect you up!

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