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2021 Best Practices
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TD Magazine

Driving Efficiency in Virtual Learning

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

PPD: 2021 BEST Award Winner, #2

Clockwise from top left:
Jay Dixon, SVP, Quality and Enterprise Learning; James Jinnette, Executive Director, Enterprise Learning; Susan Vacchi, Director, Enterprise Learning; John Hoffer, Director, Enterprise Learning; Maureen Farmer, Sr. Director, Enterprise Learning

With carefully planned, targeted training initiatives, this multinational company is making the best use of employees' time.

PPD, a global contract research organization, had a key advantage when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold last year and disrupted businesses around the world: It already had been delivering about 90 percent of its training programs virtually, so employees and instructors alike had almost no learning curve when it came to talent development in a socially distanced work environment.

Although its training and evaluation methods remained mostly unchanged, the company still had big goals for 2020. It wanted to focus on retaining talent and minimizing turnover, and it was releasing a new electronic trial master file system that would significantly change many core processes. For both development efforts, the goal to minimize disruption to employees' daily routine was at the forefront.

Equipping managers to improve retention

Turnover is typically high in the clinical research industry. To drive retention, PPD invested in developing its people managers, who have an outsized influence on employees' experiences and are stewards of the company's culture.

"Our investment in the development of people managers is one of the most critical ways to improve our service for customers and their important R&D programs," says Sarah Lacy, director of talent development.

The company has more than 3,600 people managers, so giving them the tools to effectively manage, coach, and empower their employees would have ripple effects throughout the organization and, the enterprise learning team hoped, would improve retention.

Fortunately for the talent development team, the company has a clearly defined set of "core people manager expectations," which outline key behaviors associated with successful people managers and ensures a consistent approach to managing employees organization-wide. All training programs designed for people managers are based on those expectations and actively reinforce them. That includes Lead to Succeed, a blended, comprehensive program the enterprise learning team launched last year.

Lead to Succeed features six virtual workshops led by human resources staff and a business leader who exemplifies the core expectations. It also includes access to a multimedia learning platform that houses curated content on management topics. Some of the content is rounded up into a quarterly newsletter aimed at people managers.

In addition, the LEAD certification program teaches people-manager skills to employees at different phases in their careers—whether they are aspiring to become a people manager or are an experienced people manager. The program has been particularly successful: Ninety-seven percent of LEAD graduates reported that they believe the return on investment is beneficial for themselves and the company, and 98 percent said they felt their completion of the LEAD program has had a positive impact on their job.

Lead to Succeed, combined with other targeted efforts like LEAD, helped PPD achieve a historically low voluntary turnover rate of 11 percent in 2020. Only 0.1 percent of voluntary exits last year were people managers, compared to 0.7 percent in 2019.

Tracking lost work time

As employees at organizations around the world can probably attest, virtual training can quickly become a nuisance if it's not immediately relevant to learners. Sitting through module after module of information they don't know how to put to use is a frustrating experience for anyone.

That's why, since 2017, the enterprise learning team has been working to make virtual training more targeted and streamlined. The team relies on feedback from learners on how applicable the training content is to their work, using it to restructure and shorten content where possible.


One key metric the team uses to track its progress is lost work time, which is essentially training hours per learner. The team displays that metric on a dashboard for department heads and leaders to see. Individual departments can view and manage training hours per learner for their department through the dashboard, and the team briefs executives on the results each year.

"Having this data available means that PPD's enterprise learning team can better identify and focus on roles, departments, or courses with higher training hours," says James Jinnette, executive director of enterprise learning. "This data transparency makes it more efficient for the enterprise learning team to collaborate with the impacted departments on ways to reduce training time and identify where reductions would have most benefit."

The transparency helped drive down training hours per learner from 75 to 51 by 2020.

Choosing the right moment for training

That same focus on targeted, efficient training is apparent in the enterprise learning team's approach to rolling out a new electronic trial master file system. Employees across the company would use the system, which makes it easier to manage study documents, and its launch would introduce major changes to employees' workflows. Thus, the enterprise learning team strategically designed training for the system to save time for the largest employee groups that would be using it: those working in clinical studies.

To accommodate employees' schedules, the enterprise learning team created a just-in-time, blended training program with role-specific job aids and virtual demonstrations. Staff took the training only when their studies were in the new system, resulting in relevant training provided at the time of learners' needs.

When employees expected to use the system, they identified the training modules for their role, self-assigned the modules in the learning management system, and then completed the training. Upon completion, they received access to the system.

After all staff had been trained in the system, less than 1 percent of study documents had quality issues, and the time efficiencies gained from employees correctly using the system amounted to $14,500. The number of employees able to apply what they learned in four weeks or less exceeded the enterprise learning team's goal by 7.6 percent.

View the entire list of 2021 BEST Award winners.

About the Author

Stephanie Castellano is a former writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD). She is now a freelance writer based in Gainesville, Florida.

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