Can a Stronger Learning Strategy Help You Outperform Your Competition?

In the ultra-competitive world of Pharma, Bristol-Meyers Squibb bets on L&D

Erick Barnes

“We know that organizations with a strong learning culture significantly outperform their peers,” said Sonia Hardaway. “A stronger learning strategy, aligned to our business goals, would help us outperform our peers.”

The Chief Learning Officer at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Hardaway oversees training and development for a global workforce of more than 25,000 employees who develop and produce pharmaceuticals designed to extend human life by combatting everything from cancer and cardiovascular disease to diabetes and psychiatric disorders.

The world of Pharma rests for no one — each day brings new regulations, fresh research and the launch of rival products.

“The competitive environment for the Biopharmaceutical industry called for change in how we develop our employees, managers and executives,” said Hardaway.

A 16-year veteran of Bristol-Myers Squibb, Hardaway was a featured speaker at IQPC’s Chief Learning Officer Exchange earlier this year, where she talked about how the pharmaceutical giant is responding to rapid industry change by investing in new technology for personalized L&D. The goal is to transform continuous employee training into a business critical function that offers 24/7, on-demand, customized learning.


Personalized Medicine Means Personalized Learning

“Think about how personalized medicine has become,” said Hardaway. “We talked to our employees and what we consistently heard was their passion for our patients. We know that we learn as individuals, and we look at our patients as individuals. So, how do we connect our learners to our patients?”

Hardaway said BMS applied the “Four ‘I’s” – individualized, immediate, interactive and integrated – in designing their training strategy. Her advice:

     • Individual learners want individualized training. That is the foundation.

     • We live in a “24/7” world. We’re online. We don’t want to wait because we don’t need to wait. We can train when we have the time, which can be at any time. We also make sure all of our training is short, sharp and relevant.

     • Learners want training to be interactive. Most of us use multiple devices every day: smart phones, tablets, laptops, fitness trackers. So, we make training accessible on the learner’s devices.

     • Curate the information down to what matters and matches your culture and priorities. It’s no longer acceptable to send people to an open database with thousands of pieces of learning opportunities. People will turn off. If we want our learners to know something about our business, in context, and right now, then curate it down and present only what we need them to know.

     • Track learning and use the data. BMS sees multiple generations in the workplace using learning tools differently. Through digital options, people are also personalizing their learning. We can see what we need to invest in now, and plan for the future.

Leadership Program Accelerates Career Paths of High-Performing Individuals

Hardaway said BMS has aligned its L&D strategy with the Chief Executive Officer’s overall People Strategy. Giovanni Caforio, M.D., has defined the strategy and supported its implementation over time so that it has gained traction. Successful personnel development starts at the top.

“We want to build our talent – make sure we have that strong bench – and we want to make sure we’re creating an energizing work place,” said Hardaway. “Our goal is to make sure our environment is diverse and inclusive enough to be able to represent our patients and customers.”

Lead, Engage, Accelerate and Develop (LEAD) is a unique program BMS designed, in conjunction with Columbia University, to accelerate the leadership potential of high performing individuals.

“It is a multi-lever, multi-month leadership development program that has everything you would expect: pure coaching, executive coaching, assessment, classroom and virtual training. These components are common,” said Hardaway. “What’s really cool is what we’re doing in our manager learning track.”

To avoid the potential pitfall of employees losing positive momentum after completing the program, they created a lighter, manager-specific track that mirrors their team members going through the program.

“What we found through this approach is that our participants feel incredibly engaged, managers and participants have a shared language, and the manager’s appreciation for the investment is high,” she said. “If we put the effort and resources into this, we need to sustain the momentum.”

BMS is tracking the movement and retention of those who have gone through the program and are seeing incredibly low turnover, and the majority of participants are receiving promotions or moving into larger roles.

Hardaway added that they also expect future technology to provide solutions and options that will help evolve their Learning Management System and improve their L&D programs.

“We believe that building a learning culture means creating opportunities for growth in every interaction and every relationship,” said Hardaway. “To keep pace with a rapidly changing environment, we are building a transformed learning experience. We believe that when we transform learning, we will change patients’ lives.”

The CLO Exchanges are the industry's leading events for Human Resources professionals leading Learning and Development efforts for their companies in the U.S. Find out more about upcoming events here.

Casey Sanchez, HR Exchange Event Producer, contributed to this article.