By Judy Carmody, Ph.D., Carmody Quality Solutions, LLC
When he was home for the holidays, my 23-year-old son and I had intense, heated discussions about generational differences. We are still on speaking terms, but it got me thinking about how well we understand and value young people — and if we understand the people who make up our future workforce well enough to adequately train them. That is, are we doing everything we can to create a sustainable future workforce that feels valued and — just as important — is engaged, excited, and efficient (the “3Es”)?
How can we best prepare them for today’s pharma/biotech manufacturing environment so they are successful? Much has been written about millennials — how they think, what motivates them, and their outlook on life. A Washington Post article states one challenge is conflict negotiation and an inability to think for themselves. It notes “helicopter parenting has caused these kids to crash-land,” and “intrusive parenting interferes with the development of autonomy and competence.” And a recent Forbes piece notes “Millennials report suffering more than previous generations, and it’s impacting their abilities to lead and succeed in the workplace. Depression is a leading cause of both absenteeism and presenteeism.”
The bottom line? They are valuable members of our future workforce, and it is vital to understand how to engage them so they can succeed in a work environment that requires not only innovation, but also collaboration and other soft social skills. It is not about changing them (e.g., you can’t just say they should just put their smartphones down). We must learn how to engage a group that, for many reasons, may be less motivated by what engaged my generation when we entered the workforce.
Here are some suggestions that can help achieve the “3Es:”
1. Connect the dots: reinforce how quality and a voluntary QA (VQA) culture is everyone’s job and vital to product development and delivery.
Tell stories about how quality can win the day when everyone plays their part. For example, how an event investigation uncovered something because someone spoke up (and felt safe enough to speak up) early in the process when the fix was easy and inexpensive. Make these stories visual by posting them on the company intranet or strategically around the office for employees to see or through videos that get people talking about their experiences.
2. Know your audience and make them architects of meaningful training programs.
Develop a steering committee of employees from across the company — from rookies to the seasoned “old guard” — so they determine the best way to impart the necessary information. Empower them to research new methods to engage and train employees. Go beyond the lecture approach, which many find challenging to sit through and, more importantly, remain engaged in. Learn what the group has to say about how they want to receive training and new information.
3. Engage trainees in an informal setting.
Let’s face it — quality can be stodgy. We can change that perception by making it more relevant and fun. Involve senior leaders in informal training gatherings to discuss the importance of the company, why it was founded, and why employees matter and to thank them for participating in the training and joining the company. It is also a time to ask questions, such as why they joined the company and what they want from their role. This makes training more of a dialogue than a monotonous monologue.
Another example is to develop a game show theme (“Quality Jeopardy” or “QA Trivial Pursuit”) where people answer questions about specific SOPs or best practices and compete for prizes. Another idea is to develop a “Family Feud” approach and form diverse teams from different departments. This is a great event to hold during a holiday party or company outing.
4. Choose and measure outcomes; communicate them throughout the company.
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” as the saying goes. Develop specific goals and share them. Take a risk and find a goal that makes quality accountable — something lofty like “By the end of the year, let’s lower unplanned deviations by X percent.” Or develop a goal where all employees are trained on universal procedures and practices, such as good documentation practices (GDPs), complaints, reporting serious adverse events, and inspection readiness.
And make a point to regularly communicate your progress toward achieving that goal. This communication can be tied to company objectives of improving training efforts, efficiency, and quality, as well as sharing important milestones.
5. Promote the idea that training is learning — and learning is continual and continuous for all.
A company’s training program must evolve as the company evolves. Educate people that training is about learning, and learning is not a one-time event, but a continuous opportunity to expand their skills and expertise. Find ways to work with department leaders to unite and spread the message that “once is not enough.” For example, work with HR to incorporate language in the employee handbook stating employees will complete learning sessions regularly to ensure ongoing compliance and competency.
Such a mind-set helps people understand where they fit and how they contribute to the growth of the company. This approach can raise the profile of quality, and it allows people to perceive quality as a resource rather than just an enforcer.
6. Begin a process of QMBWA (quality management by walking around).
This approach can yield benefits via informal, off-the-cuff conversations. When people know quality cares about what happens in the trenches, it has a positive and disarming effect. You can learn things and ask more questions in such a nonthreatening setting.
Make QMBWA part of your daily routine by blocking off time as you would for meetings. Dropping in on employees’ workspaces for informal chats allows you to learn more by seeing what is going on when people aren’t prepared for you. Another simple tactic: hold quality meetings in other people’s offices. This forces you into a different environment, and others will feel more comfortable rather than feeling they have been summoned before quality.
Finally, please remember QMBWA is not about “walking a beat” looking for problems. It is an opportunity to learn, ask questions, solicit suggestions, and ask people what could be done differently. Also, recognize good ideas and people doing things that comply.
A former junior colleague who recently started a new job noted how much she loved her new company because she had a conversation with the CEO over lunch. It began with her talking about where she was going to graduate school, and it ended with her discussing what she thought was and wasn’t working at the company. Her takeaway? This CEO cared about what she had to say. She felt valued and heard. What if you made a point of having lunch with different people even just once a week? What might you hear or learn?
Quality is a team sport. It is not something you do; it is something you are. The most successful companies are the ones that make it a core value — a belief instead of a checkbox. If you can find ways to show people they are valued, they will want to be part a winning team. That is half of the compliance battle.
And nobody — from millennials to the most experienced employees — wants to feel like a checkbox.
About The Author
Judy Carmody, Ph.D., is the founder and principal consultant of Carmody Quality Solutions, LLC, based in the Boston area. With 20+ years of expertise in operations, quality assurance, control, systems, validation, and analytical development, she has a reputation as a quality turnaround specialist in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Find her on LinkedIn