A week in the life of a modern pharma pro


Pf Award winner Raheel Mirza takes us on a week-long tour of life in modern pharma.

What is a week in pharma? According to Raheel Mirza, it’s the opportunity to get something done, to change the game and to make the future a better, brighter place. Raheel takes us through five days of seed-to-fruition action in the life of the modern pharma professional.

Monday:  Train times

It’s the beginning of the week and the perfect time to reflect on conversations from the past few weeks and to establish what initiatives will take priority this week. Today, I am meeting with our regional business managers and some of their team members to gain more insight into what their training needs are and how they can ‘sharpen their swords’.

As it’s Monday I also repeat, out loud, the words that have become my mantra: “If we’re not engaging, we’re not retaining.” This seems to be even more pertinent in the ‘modern pharma age’ and it is my learning and development (L&D) equivalent of ‘if we’re not seeing, we’re not selling’, which is, of course, the call to medical representatives to engage impactfully with their key customers.

So how do I help each individual achieve that and become the best they can be? Well one thing is for certain, in this modern age the outlook of ‘millennials’ towards career progression is very different compared to what I encountered when I joined the industry 20 years ago.

This next generation needs development and they need it now. I start to hatch plans, and this is where the excitement starts.

Tuesday:  Passion roots

On Tuesday my focus shifts to engaging with other parts of the business. The solution is a consistent framework that people can relate to, understand and work with – owning their development is the key.

All I can do is give them the tools to do this – engagement is ongoing, not just one moment in time. Being transparent about what they can achieve and how they can get there is vital, but I must underpin it with the most important question: What do they actually aspire to do?

I meet with members of the Senior Leadership Team from some of the other business divisions to try to understand their motivations, and how I can ensure a consistent company-wide framework – one they can all relate to in order to develop their careers.

Although this will be different for everyone, I can coach them to identify what they want. With that direction of travel established, they can proactively self-critique.

Wednesday:  Millennials rise

There has been a significant change in the past two decades with regards to how the NHS and its employees approach their work, and the pressures that have been placed on them.

This has brought a weighty change in how the NHS engages with the pharmaceutical industry over that period, which has made things somewhat more challenging but, then again, what have we done to provide innovative solutions to enhance that engagement?

Midweek is a good time to focus on this conundrum. It is an ongoing challenge for me as an L&D professional. Not only do I have to upskill our team members on generic selling and other soft skills, but I also have to consider how I upskill them in other ways.

The telephone has always been important for sales people – allowing a multichannel approach to engaging with our customers. Utilising the internet as a platform for digital interactions is also key and inevitably this will increasingly become part of my role.

The web has been around now for just under 30 years but, as an industry, we’re only just finding ways to harness the digital space. People want things faster because that is what they are used to.

This gets me thinking about how savvy we can become in our offerings to the NHS.

We have many touchpoints we could utilise with our customers, but we don’t always do that. The internet and social media provide us with that platform. So, I get a focus group together and put some plans into action – now I’m engaging with those millennials who completely understand the digital space.

Thursday:  Engagement party

If you ask most people whether they feel valued and looked after then they will show you loyalty as an employee. Not everyone can get the promotion they are after, and some don’t necessarily want it; they are happy doing what they are doing, in which case we need to ensure they are fulfilled in their roles and feel valued in other ways.

Towards the end of the week I work on creating a solid training plan for the year, with input from the team. It’s about getting them involved in training sessions and workshops, as well as sharing their successes and best practice. This is starting to create an environment of mutual recognition and people trying new things to further their business as well as their development.

The cross-functional team working is progressing well, and individuals are demonstrating behaviours that show genuine engagement.

I want them to be recognised, not just within our organisation but from people outside, who will see what a great place this is to work. We have Pf Awards coming up soon – I’ll do all I can to ensure our candidates are ready to perform to their best abilities. They’ve all done great jobs all year  so deserve the recognition they get.

Friday:  Time is now

It’s been a busy week and the theme has been about growth, potential and embracing change. Friday is a good time to look at the bigger picture.

I want to continue growing the L&D team, so we can start to offer more in the way of development and training for the wider organisation.

This will provide an opportunity for people who aspire to operate in an L&D role to get vital insights into what it is all about from the other side of the fence, while realising the possibility of creating some field training roles.

If we can retain people within the business, then those opportunities will arise for them. Engaging them from day one is the key, and that’s what I aim to do.

There are a lot of things to juggle and always new ideas to bring to the table, so let’s see how it goes. After all, if we’re not engaging, then we’re not retaining, and that applies Monday to Friday.

At the end of the day, this still feels like the greatest industry on the planet. We’re going places.

Raheel Mirza is Head of Learning & Development at Thornton & Ross and winner of the Pf Awards 2016 Learning and Development Initiative.