The MSL, as other field-based roles in the pharmaceutical industry, is one of those on which the COVID-19 pandemic had the strongest impact. The past 24 months have shown us what is required and possible in terms of adaptation. Not only in relation to the role, but also for the individual MSL. That makes it even more important moving forward that every MSL receives as much support as possible.
Flexibility and (self)development are unavoidable at this stage and the support of coaching and/or mentoring is required to aid in challenging times. Data show, in addition to an increased ability to adapt to changes and new challenges and increased self-awareness, such support can also enhance job and life satisfaction1. A long-term study by Harvard Business Review showed that effective coaching is directly proportional to the level of employee engagement3. And we know mentees perform better, are more competent, quit less often, are more self-confident, more satisfied, and more stress-resistant.2,3,4 This will in turn raise engagement and engagement has a greater impact on performance than corporate policies and perks (incentives)5!
What kind of support for personal development should you apply in which situation? To answer this question, we first need to differentiate mentoring and coaching from training (sometimes also referred to as coaching) and managing (see table 1).
While both mentoring and training depend on the industry expertise and knowledge of the mentor/trainer there is a distinct difference. The mentor will share his/her experience for the mentee to listen, learn and apply to their own situation. Whereas a trainer will provide a strict structure of Training and exercises the trainee has to go through in order to gain specific expertise or ability.
E.g., a trainer will give you a methodology on how to prepare and execute a successful negotiation. The mentor will share how he/she has successfully implemented the method, include additional nuances, and how this can help in achieving your specific goal.
In coaching the expertise and knowledge come from within the coachee brought to light by the questions asked from the coach. This is an “I help you to help yourself” tapping into the coachee’s own resources: “’What do you think you need to consider to make this negotiation successful?”. Whereas managing means providing clear instructions on the expected outcome and pointing out negotiation as an appropriate way to achieve this goal. In managing, you are defining tasks and required skills in accordance with the company strategy and values thereby also developing and supporting the individual to grow in their role.
Stands for advising
Stands for asking
Stands for training
Stands for telling
|Purpose||Supports a person’s development||Supports a person’s development||Supports a person’s development||Supports a person’s development in line with company values and strategies|
|Setting||Mainly 1:1||Mainly 1:1||Can be 1:1 or group||Can be 1:1 or group|
|Format||Typically involve a series of meetings, over several months||Typically involve a series of meetings, over several months||Typically involve a series of meetings, over several months||Typically involves regular meetings, on an ongoing and continuous basis|
|Focus||Mentoring tends to focus on longer-term topics e.g., career progression though a Mentor can also support someone in their current role||Coaching is more likely to address immediate topics related to skills and performance in the current role||Trainer coaching is more likely to address immediate topics related to skills and performance in the current role||Managing is more likely to address immediate topics related to skills and performance in the current role|
|Process||Mentors already have experience in the field their mentees are working in. Mentoring is all about sharing knowledge, experience and expertise||Coaches are not required to have experience in the field the coachees are working in as coaching is all about asking the right questions||Trainer coaching is about applying own experience and expertise to develop a structured, standardized process focused on imparting specific knowledge or skills||Managing is about giving directives, day to day support, measuring progress, and working toward effective project delivery|
|Background||Mentors are more likely to be from within the industry, but can be external||Coaches can be external||Trainer coaches are more likely to be from within the business or industry||Managers are from within the business|
|Value||Help you through experience sharing and providing knowledge and ideas||Help you to help yourself||Remember and practice||Help you to become better by providing solutions and implementing company values|
|Ownership||Mentee drives meetings||Coach drives meetings||Trainer Coach drives meetings||Manager drives meetings|
Table 1: Differentiation between Mentoring, Coaching, Trainer Coaching, and Managing 7,8,9,10
For the purpose of this article, I will focus on mentoring and coaching only:
A mentor draws from his/her experience, expertise, and a network that is relevant to the development of the mentee. In this relationship, the mentor is the one with the knowledge/wisdom.
A mentor advises and guides a mentee by
- Sharing experience of how to be successful in a specific role
- Advising on how to prepare for future roles
- Introducing contacts (internal and external to the business) that may be useful to the mentee
- Providing advice on ‘how to get things done’ (navigating the business)
- Providing the bigger picture (industry trends, business strategy, etc.)
In mentoring, the learning is achieved by sharing experience and expertise and applying it to the mentee’s situation while keeping a holistic, long-term focus.
A coach has the belief that the coachee has the knowledge/wisdom required and knows they can discover solutions for themselves.
- can coach anyone on anything and does not need experience or expertise in the topic of the conversation
- uses skillful questioning, and a structured conversation, to support the coachee’s growth
In coaching, the learning is achieved by the coachee through self-reflection, self-exploration of the options, and thoughtful action.
To understand which of the two approaches are used best in a given situation there are three factors to determine:
Graph 1: Factors for consideration
Self (Mentor/Coach): Do you have experience in the MSL role and working environment and/or do you have experience/interest in the art of coaching? Are you more the “I’d like to share a story with you” kind of person, or are you rather sitting back and asking questions? If you love to share your own experience and stories, mentoring will most likely be your default position when you have to make ad-hoc decisions. In contrast, if you have no experience with the MSL role coaching is your better choice.
Other (Mentee/Coachee): Is the person you are guiding open to learning from your experience? If so, mentoring is a good option to cover short-term, but also long-term aspects. If the person is unlikely to “listen and learn”, but full of golden nuggets, try applying coaching for effective revealing new skills.
Context/Time: Mentoring tends to be more informal. In case you quickly want to solve a situation, go with mentoring, as there is most likely not enough time to discover new approaches and ways of working when in a rush. Also, apply to mentor in a situation where you want the person to invest in their future by providing the bigger picture and options which may apply a bit later in their career.
If you have more time at hand, use the more formal ways of coaching to solve a repetitive topic, use coaching for long-lasting results and increased confidence in the person’s own abilities.
Taking into account these three aspects will help you to identify which approach is most appropriate for the situation you are trying to enhance. Those approaches can also be mixed and, in fact, I have observed MSL leaders doing so. However, it is important to first understand and be able to differentiate the techniques you are working with in order to develop enough expertise and the ability to switch approaches in order to reach your desired outcome.
- Institute of Coaching. https://instituteofcoaching.org/coaching-overview/coaching-benefits
- Eby et al., 2013
- Ramaswami & Dreher, 2007
- Oehlschlegel-Haubrock et al., 2014
- Lockhart-Jones J. https://trainingindustry.com/articles/performance-management/strengthening-employee-engagement-through-coaching
- Zenger J, Folkman J. https://hbr.org/2014/06/finding-the-balance-between-coaching-and-managing
- Adapted from Skillpacks.com
- Adapted from Guider-ai.com
- Customer Service Profiles. https://www.csp.com/know-the-differences-between-employee-training-and-coaching/#.XyBa8Z5KhPZ.
- McManus G. https://venturefizz.com/stories/boston/management-vs-coaching-whats-difference.
Maja Beilmann-Schramm, PhD
Maja Beilmann-Schramm, PhD., Director Global Field Medical Excellence & HCP Exchange at Merck/EMD and owner of MSL-Excellence.de.
Maja holds a Phd. in Biology. She has been working successfully in the pharmaceutical industry for 20 years now, in a variety of positions with extensive experience in Marketing and Sales, Medical and Medical Science Liaison. For more than 10 years she has dedicated her work exclusively to the role of Medical Science Liaison with personal experience as MSL, MSL team lead at country and international level as well as driving MSL excellence on a global corporate level. She is currently holding the position of Global Director of Field Medical & HCP Exchange at Merck/EMD. Maja is the founder and owner of MSL-Excellence.de, where she provides mentoring and consultancy to aspiring MSL, MSLs and MSL Leaders. As a result, she follows the development of the MSL role from a wide variety of perspectives.
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