nowledge and skills testing is nothing new for the Pharmaceutical and Biotech industries. But all too often, the process is plagued by intense manual processing, lack of actionable development feedback, and an inability to use the information in real-time. Here's how one progressive training team set out to overcome these obstacles and make online assessment a critical, turn-key component of employee development.
Nearing the end of 2001, Sanofi~Synthelabo's training organization knew they faced a challenging road ahead. The company had just announced its intention to drastically increase the size of the US sales force to support the sales of three primary drugs: Ambien, Plavix, and Avapro. The plan called for growing the existing sales force by 1000 Sales Professionals in only a 100-day period! Plans also called for a second-wave of hiring to support the sale of Sanofi~Synthelabo's newest drugs: Arixtra, Eloxatin, and Eligard.
In light of the upcoming growth, the training team was becoming aware of the limitations of their existing knowledge and skills assessment process—a process critical to ensuring Sales Professionals are knowledgeable and confident when interacting with physicians. Sales professionals were asked to complete paper and pencil tests and fax answer sheets to their Sales Managers for manual scoring—a process that was resulting in more aggravation than value. Because of the time and effort involved in scoring, reporting, and tracking these assessments, Sales Managers rarely used assessment results as a way to further develop their employees. While attempts were made to introduce "bubble-sheet" scoring as a method of addressing some of these issues, it didn't address the company's bigger issue ... easily delivering, processing, and providing feedback on assessments.
At a higher level, Sanofi~Synthelabo was not collecting and storing field assessment data in a central database. This made it extremely difficult for the training team to track compliance, analyze group knowledge and skill levels, or track performance trends over time. Bottom line ... the existing process was limited in effectiveness and was not easily scalable to support the rapid growth of the company's sales force.
The wish list...
Before making any major adjustments to the existing process, the training team took time to consider the "ideal" assessment process for the future. Six key elements were identified.
- Before making any major adjustments to the existing process, the training team took time to consider the "ideal" assessment process for the future. Six key elements were identified.
- The solution needed to be entirely web-based, allowing sales professionals access to the system from any computer on a 24/7 basis.
- The solution needed to offer complete flexibility in terms of supporting the company's unique organizational structure and branding, assessment content and scoring, and scheduling.
- The solution needed to do more than just assess. It needed to increase learning by providing practical and immediate feedback to Sales Professionals. It also needed to assist Sales Managers in their coaching and development process by providing real-time data.
- Configuration and setup needed to take days, rather than months.
- The solution needed to be full-service in two respects:
- Avoiding the requirement of the training department's internal resources to be "software experts" in order to have knowledge tests posted and delivered to the field
- Reducing the overall time required for the training staff to manage the assessment process and the technology
- The solution needed to be cost effective and scalable.
Armed with a "wish list" outlining the ideal assessment system, the company set out to consider the options. Among them included:
- using internal IT resources to develop the system
- significantly enhancing the capabilities of a learning management system to support their specific knowledge and skill assessment needs
- integrating the assessment process into a custom-developed e-learning curriculum
- locating a web-based tool flexible enough to handle the company's demands for delivery, scoring, and reporting of assessments.
As we began evaluating potential solutions, one thing became obvious. To obtain the functionality and flexibility needed within the time and cost parameters desired, a build-from-scratch or a custom-programming strategy would not work. Instead, the solution was to partner with an outside provider who offered a flexible technology to deliver, score, and track web-based assessments. The provider would also need to posses a solid customer support infrastructure in order to handle Sanofi~Synthelabo's large number of users and high-volume of testing, stated Barry Rogers, Director of Training at Sanofi~Synthelabo.
In the end, Rogers' team selected Censeo Corporation (a Maitland, FL based firm focused on technology-based employee assessment) as their partners in implementing the new web-enabled system. The decision to use Censeo Corporation as a vendor was largely based on their full-service approach and proven technology. "The partnership allows our team to stay focused on our core competencies of training and development, while Censeo handles all the details around implementation, posting assessments, customer service, and maintaining the technology platform," says Rogers.
Entirely web-based, Censeo's technology allows Sanofi~Synthelabo to deliver a host of assessments including product knowledge tests, multi-rater feedback surveys, and various skill "checklists." Data collected during the assessments are then stored in a central database and made available to Training Administrators, Sales Managers, and Marketing Staff through a powerful reporting engine.
For individual Sales Professionals, this means taking knowledge and skill assessments and receiving immediate feedback, outlining specific areas for development and actionable steps for improving performance in the future. For Sales Managers, it means having access to a host of individual and group reports that identify specific areas that need development. The reports have become the basis for constructive coaching sessions between Sales Professionals and Sales Managers ... something that was not occurring consistently before the implementation of the new system.
One unanticipated outcome of the new process is the value it provides to Sanofi~Synthelabo's marketing unit. The ability to "slice and dice" the data gives them a unique view into whether their strategic measures have been successful, and what changes may need to occur in the future. For example, questions such as, "Do Sales Professionals understand the initiatives?" and "Are the strategic measures being properly executed in the field?" are now more easily answered.
And last ... as for the company's training team, they now have real-time information at their fingertips. Rogers states, "Through the extensive reporting capabilities of Censeo's system, we are beginning to gain a very clear picture of the organization's knowledge and skill base for the first time. Questions that, in the past, were answered only by gut feel, are now answered by the data."
- How effective was the initial home-study for new-hire Sales Professionals?
- How prepared are new-hires for on-site training?
- What topic areas do we need to reinforce during follow-up training?
- Are Sales Professionals learning more over time, or is knowledge retention an issue?
- Are Sales Professionals effectively applying the knowledge and skills in the field?
While there is a big difference between Sanofi~Sythelabo's assessment process today versus a two years ago, the team realizes this is only the beginning. Going forward, the focus will be on leveraging the strengths of the new assessment process to better support ongoing learning and development, both in the classroom and in the field.
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Censeo Corporation is a human resource-consulting firm offering unique, technology based products and services. The company's mission is to help clients maximize their investment in people by collecting, and then strategically using, accurate and valid information about competencies and work preferences. That information is used to select the best people, increase retention, and strengthen the talent pool of their client organizations.
For additional information on Censeo's online assessments including 360-degree feedback, knowledge testing, employee opinion surveys, and skills evaluation checklists, visit censeocorp.com, call Jim Higgins at 407-645-1600 x150 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.