A Week Devoted to Training

By Garry Kranz

Jul. 24, 2007

H eather Hatfield is looking forward to EMD Serono Inc.’s inaugural “Week of Learning.” As director of corporate and scientific communications, her job entails taking complex information about the biotech company, such as its various therapeutic products and specialized research, and making it easy to understand.

    The challenge is also to make it engaging and informative, without oversimplifying the material, when talking to colleagues, investors, journalists and members of the business community. So Hatfield jumped at the chance to take a special class, titled “Persuasive Conversation Skills,” during the July 23-27 training event.

    Coupled with an earlier course on how to present complex information, which is offered through EMD Serono’s in-house training university, Hatfield expects to gain new knowledge that will help her improve her job performance.

    “This training is extremely useful by helping me communicate more effectively and to get buy-in from employees. In fact, I can’t think of a situation in my job where it won’t come in handy,” says Hatfield, who is one of more than 200 employees scheduled to participate.

    Despite the name, the Week of Learning isn’t intended as a weeklong cram session. Instead, the goal is to underscore the company’s year-round commitment to growth and development, says Mike Laffin, EMD Serono’s director of learning and organizational development.

    “It’s important for our employees to have training (opportunities) that meet the demands of their jobs,” Laffin says.

    More than 20 specialized training opportunities will be delivered in a variety of formats, including classroom work, virtual classes and e-learning modules. Taking the courses will be researchers, clinical scientists, financial professionals and support staff at the company’s Rockland, Massachusetts, headquarters, near Boston. The company is a subsidiary of pharmaceutical and chemicals giant Merck, which is based in Darmstadt, Germany.

    EMD Serono has hired training vendors to facilitate the classes and publicized the event to employees for about six months through e-mails and meetings. Most of the training is interactive and gives participants a chance to do hands-on activities. Its employees are not required to sign up for training, although participation is strongly encouraged by senior management. Laffin estimates about 60 percent of employees will take at least one course during the week.

    To set an example for their employees, managers also are being requested to participate in course offerings during the week.

    In addition to attending training, employees will be able to participate in various forums, meet individually with program facilitators and gain exposure to the company’s array of training resources. The company expects that the Week of Learning will be an annual event.

    “This proactive employee development and learning focus [should be] a strong marketing approach for EMD Serono in attracting and retaining top talent,” says David Hagerty, regional vice president for BlessingWhite in Skillman, New Jersey, one of several training providers hired for the event.

    Although EMD Serono always has provided training programs, the past few years have brought about a stronger organizational commitment to learning. Biotech companies are in an intense scrimmage for the scarce talent available in the Boston area. Amid the stepped-up competition, top management recognized the tremendous role a highly competent workforce plays in achieving business goals, Laffin says.

    “Our training has always been skewed in favor of results competencies. Now we’re paying equal attention to employee development and competency objectives,” which contribute directly to business results, Laffin says.

    The company has solidified its performance management process as well. Employees are expected to consult with their supervisors to identify development goals and training plans for achieving them. Each individual goal is mapped to the organization’s larger business objectives, which in turn shapes the types of training provided by the company’s in-house university, known as Lead Academy.

    For employees like Hatfield, the weeklong learning event illustrates a more comprehensive effort to prepare employees for greater responsibilities.

    “It shows that our company sees professional development as a priority,” she says.

Garry Kranz is a Workforce contributing editor.

Schedule, engage, and pay your staff in one system with