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CTDO Magazine

Success Opens Many Doors

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A surge of new hires at Gilead Sciences led to an increased focus on the company's comprehensive talent strategy.

When the company you work for comes up with a new product that is a runaway success, that event can set new paths for learning and development. Brian Miller, vice president of learning, development, and inclusion at Gilead Sciences, reviews the journey to date


In 2013, Gilead Sciences won FDA approval for a breakthrough remedy for Hepatitis C, a liver-wasting virus that affects about 3.2 million people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The pill, Sovaldi, and its successor, Harvoni, are drugs that transformed the Hepatitis C treatment experience into a simple, short regimen delivering high cure rates for all patients.

Gilead also develops and commercializes medicines for the treatment of other life-threatening illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, inflammatory and respiratory diseases, and cardiovascular conditions.

The success of its Hepatitis C remedy and the strength of its HIV franchise—more than 70 percent of people treated for HIV in developing countries receive Gilead medicines—led to rapid growth in head count at Gilead, raising concerns about maintaining the company culture while the company was hiring close to 1,000 people a year. Gilead currently has about 9,500 employees in 30 countries, generating more than $30 billion in revenue

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Miller says, "Our goal was to make sure that we provided a strong way to onboard and integrate new talent into our culture. Our call to action was to really figure that out." Subsequently, L&D became a catalyst for employee development, growth, and performance. "Our aspiration is to make Gilead the best place to learn and grow," he adds.

Through it all, Gilead continued to experience increased competition from other companies' hepatitis therapies, and more intense regulatory scrutiny of drug pricing and safety. In January 2016, long-time CEO John Martin became executive chairman of the Gilead Board of Directors, and John Milligan transitioned to CEO.

When growth stabilized, the L&D function increased its attention on retention and engagement. "As growth starts to level off, you really want to make sure that employees still have an opportunity to develop and that they're still highly engaged in their work," Miller explains.

L&D is currently working on two programs, "Being Here Matters" and "You Matter," that Miller says will put energy behind the emotional versus the rational reasons why people really want to be at Gilead.

Technology for reach and richness

Some characteristics of the company's workforce make it important to support learning with the right kind of technology for employees' needs and preferences. "The average age of our employees is around 40. More than half have a master's degree or a PhD, so the way we've been looking at technology may be slightly different from what my peers in other companies are doing. We look at technology purely as a way to provide what we call reach and richness. Our goal is to achieve scale and still provide rich learning."

Miller brings to his approach to technology a background in research he did while at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he graduated with honors and a master's degree in technology in learning. Although his research focused partly on digital collaboration, Miller is cautious about leading Gilead deeply into areas such as social learning. "We have not jumped into huge amounts of social learning. We have to be able to meet our employees where they are," he says.

"We've really been selective and intentional about how we approach technology for learning. The L&D team holds strategy planning sessions every year. [The 2016] theme, 'Reimagine L&D,' includes technology in a targeted and intentional way."

Still, with an employee base spread over 30 countries, the practice of bringing people together with technology is not foreign to L&D at Gilead. Neither is the practice of building social capital within a classroom. "We need to scale, and to make sure we're getting out to the field," Miller explains. "We do a bit of that through e-learning, but I wouldn't put us on the bleeding edge of technology."

The company does use some mobile platforms for learning, mostly on the commercial side of the business. Many people in the field have been issued iPads that they can use to find content, for example, about different disease states or how a certain drug works. L&D also leverages technology to scale its mentoring programs.

"We've done a little bit of social there, and crowdsourced some topics, but we're only dipping our toe in the water and making sure that it meets the overall strategy and the approach of the company," Miller notes.

Using big data to support growth

Miller's group has not held back when it comes to using big data. As he reported to ATD Research in 2014 for the report Big Data, Better Learning?, measurement and analytics are considered critical to the L&D strategy at Gilead, where the learning function provides learning as well as organizational effectiveness solutions for technical and nontechnical employees.

"Every year, my team does a three-year planning session, closely aligning our organizational learning and talent development strategy to the overall business strategy. Supporting that, our current measurement and analytics project pulls a variety of training and org effectiveness data into a one-page dashboard for senior leaders.

"Our aspiration is to uncover data that enables us to make decisions that increase business impact, to really help the business win," says Miller. As the company pursues growth in many countries, there is increased focus on integrating and developing new employees while still retaining the core Gilead culture.

The data being examined by Miller's team are traditional company data and organizational health data. The former include such measures as revenue, profit, expenses, share price, valuation, margin, and products in the pipeline. Organizational health data encompass job levels, titles, development goals, performance goals, awards for employees, and more. The group also examines typical L&D data such as programs completed, employees in leadership development, program participation by employee tenure, when development peaks, and when it drops off.


They also intend to gather data in such areas as expertise, school years on top of job level, succession, talent mapping, personality assessments, and 360-degree feedback. Miller says the analytics project will "up our game by yielding a different view of how learning and org effectiveness impact Gilead."

Gathering and analyzing such quantities of data requires significant technological support and the hiring of data analysts. An HRIS technology transformation project is also under way.

"We have a data warehousing component that houses data and provides access, but we want to make sure the right data is going in and the right connections are made from the data coming out," Miller explains.

"In the end, it will be our ability to tell very good stories with the data to help executives make better decisions and to help personalize the learning experience that will define our success with big data."

Reimagining learning and development

The recent changes affecting L&D at Gilead—stabilization of head count, integration of a multitude of new employees, plus increased shareholder expectations—led Miller's group to undertake a reimagining of L&D. In strategy planning sessions, Miller and his colleagues discuss how to rethink L&D for the future.

"We've always thought this idea of blurring the line between talent management and learning and development was real, and it's already starting to happen with a lot of my peers. So we're thinking of an integrated approach to L&D, bringing together inclusion and diversity, leadership development, cultural agility, and so on. We know that culture really stems from the leadership, and we're trying to figure out how to help architect the culture and bring it to life."

The effort to reimagine L&D at Gilead has led Miller to think about changes he would like to see in the profession itself. He would encourage his professional peers to think about some specific points:

  • Know your business. Be deep in the craft of L&D, but also know the business of the company you work for.
  • Lead courageously. Seize the leadership moments that are available to you through your L&D work. Be the engine for driving culture, for helping shape culture.
  • Create a signature employee experience at your company.

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About the Author

Pat Galagan is the former editor-at-large for ATD. She retired in 2019 after a long career as a writer and editor with the association. She has covered all aspects of talent development and interviewed many business leaders and the CEOs of numerous Fortune 500 companies.

1 Comment
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Excellent article. Many thanks to Pat Galagan and Brian Miller for these superb insights.
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