Work culture is the collective behavior we rely on to drive performance across an organization. Culture, including interactions and perceptions about what it’s like to work somewhere, is extremely important for both current and prospective employees. Recent surveys on work culture indicate nearly 90% view a healthy, positive work culture as vital for success. (1) Culture impacts both the attraction and retention of talent. When thinking about work culture, consider some of these questions:
- Are employees proud to be part of your organization?
- Are you losing truly amazing talent that you want to keep?
- Do employees leave before two years?
- Do employees feel they can thrive in the current environment?
- Do employees truly make an impact in their roles? Is there a strong sense of purpose?
Building a positive work culture improves engagement, productivity, and retention and enhances hiring practices. Creating a corporate environment where employees can see the workplace as a destination, not just a stepping stone in their career path, is surely a goal of most companies. A key to creating a positive work culture is having authentic vision and mission statements that employees can relate to; the vision says where you want to go and the mission indicates how your company will get there with a purpose. Values underscore the vision and mission; a critical component of success is to define the organizational values as a cornerstone for how decisions are made and what are the organization’s leadership tenets. Knowing and believing in the mission allows one to hire optimal talent that can help the organization reach its goals and achieve success.
Build a culture with a clear sense of direction. Consider doing a periodic survey to understand what employees love and what they want more of to build a strong connection to the organization. Leadership is at the heart of all these endeavors; to have a positive culture where people want to work, leaders set the tone from the top. Great companies realize that people are an organization’s greatest asset. The best leadership teams protect, encourage and develop people to achieve their overall success and they do so together. People will model what they see leaders saying and most importantly doing. Employees should be expected to and rewarded for incorporating or “living” the company’s values. Leaders truly are the “glue” that keeps everything together, in working order, and moving cohesively toward how a company can achieve its mission and goals.
Syneos Health Medical Affairs leadership led a workshop at the annual MSL Society conference in September 2022 to elevate the discussion about how to create a culture of excellence within a field medical affairs team.
- Discuss how MSLs and MSL Managers can create a culture of excellence that will drive future success for Field Medical teams
- Learn how individual development, career planning, and ongoing training impact team culture
- Discuss novel approaches that demonstrate a true commitment to and appreciation for culture within field medical teams
The workshop session included 47 individuals in various roles all related to field medical affairs. The facilitators opened the session with a brief survey among participants regarding what they believe are essential elements of a great corporate culture. Attendees including both field medical affairs leaders and individual contributors were asked the question and allowed to independently write a response that they placed on a flip chart. Their responses are graphed below.
Leadership topped the list of responses with just more than a third pointing to leadership as the key driver of a great corporate culture. Discussion with the participants noted that people make the culture. Nearly a quarter of the attendees indicated that it’s the people within the organization that drive a great corporate culture. These responses were trailed by 21% who view wellness as a focal point for a great culture, followed by 13% who seek investment in development, and 9% noting that recognition is key to a great work culture. It is interesting and surprising for the authors that there is not a focus on pay or other compensation as a driver of a great work culture. In summary, when you combine the people and the leadership domains, you clearly see that 57% of the responses indicate these two areas are the most important drivers of a great work culture.
Comments from workshop participants related to these key themes about elements of a great work culture are noted below:
People / Leadership
- Foster community/diversity and inclusion
- Open to ideas
- Transparency in communication
- Make space for wellness at work and in your personal life
- Mandated shutdown time (such as 30-60 min breaks)
- Ask the team what causes stress and how it impacts them
- Challenging assignments
- Offer growth opportunities to all
- Invest in development
- Know career pathways
- Assistance to develop weak areas
- Recognize others; show employees are valued
- Celebrate strengths
- Escalate recognition
- Celebrate success
A great culture drives employee engagement and high performance!
What causes people to leave their positions? STRESS is the #1 reason! (2)
According to Academy to Innovate HR (AIHR), the authors have noted the various reasons employees depart positions. They report that a work culture that creates stress is not diverse and inclusive, has poor leadership, tolerates bad behaviors, and diminishes satisfaction is the polar opposite of a culture of excellence. Knowing what a negative work culture embodies, one can begin to focus on elevating positive drivers that retain employees and encourage growth. As noted by our workshop attendees, by the time someone leaves, they’ve already been planning on departing or “checked out” for about 3-6 months. Additionally, experts estimate that it costs nearly 30% of a typical departed person’s salary to replace recruiting, onboarding, and training to bring a team member to the high functioning level needed for success in their role. (4)
Discussions during the MSL Society session noted that in order to combat fatigue and stress, there was a strong sentiment expressed for short breaks for employees, such as introducing 30-minute breaks up to 2-3 times a week to unplug from demanding workloads and allowing the person to decompress. As an added component for accountability, leaders suggest having their employees share colleagues’ tactics about how they are unplugging and taking breaks to ensure they do not burn out.
Throughout this article, the authors include useful resources to complement the thoughtful knowledge gleaned from commentary during the conference session.
Wellbeing Comes from One Place – A Positive Culture
More than Seeking Balance…. Wellness is Work-Life-Harmony
An article in HBR identified the essential characteristics of a positive workplace and suggested steps to foster wellness set forth below: (3)
- Caring for, being interested in, and maintaining responsibility for colleagues as friends
- Providing support for one another, including offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling
- Avoiding blame and forgiving mistakes
- Inspiring one another at work
- Emphasizing the meaningfulness of work
- Treating each other with trust, gratitude, respect, and integrity
Here are four steps to foster wellness with your colleagues:
- Foster social connections
- Show empathy
- Go out of your way to help
- Encourage people to talk to you – especially about their problems
Having Wellness Tips – Useful to Share Periodically with Employees
Understanding how vital wellness is for work culture, the leaders of the conference workshop opted to share a “Wellness” tip sheet with members of the audience as the session ended. In addition to the company wellness program field, employees receive a brief, one-page wellness newsletter monthly.
Diversity is a Key to Building a Culture of Excellence
Workshop attendees underscored the need to foster community in their work environments with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). It is important to build diversity in the work culture to embrace many perspectives that contribute to success.
The authors note that their employer, Syneos Health®, has identified three DE&I pillars – People, Customers, and Community – to support the intentional and thoughtful way we make a difference in patients’ lives. The authors discussed how people, customers, and the community are ways to drive employee engagement. Examples of what the employees have considered were below:
- People: Develop a strategic plan to increase diversity at senior levels within the organization.
- Customers: Advance our integrated approach to drive greater patient diversity in clinical trials through education, grounded in a conscious call to action within our industry, and customer engagement.
- Community: Identify organizations to partner with to help address key needs – with a focus on diverse communities – through volunteering, charitable giving, and pro bono work.
Education and Training
In order to make DE&I part of our core DNA, the authors provide perspective on how their employer has identified certain training areas for our teams. The authors note that they have seen the benefits of introductory awareness classes for all and have woven DE&I into our competency curriculum for first- and second-line management as they start their career journey. Additional activities include a structured mentoring program specifically for DE&I, including DE&I Manager toolkits.
Recall how important leadership is to develop a culture of excellence as noted by workshop attendees. Our leadership development program is tied into our “Great Leader Profile Behaviors; ”and our training and development offerings are aligned to this model which encompasses competencies tied to each of these behaviors. These are major muscle groups that we are building, with DE&I implicit in developing these muscles.
DE&I is critical to the continued success of our organization and embodies a culture of excellence we strive for. We are being thoughtful and structured in integrating this into the organization and creating a competence of excellence around this in all roles, levels, and geographies within our business, with a view to this being seamless and just part of doing business at Syneos Health.
After considering what elements make a positive work culture including a focus on DE&I, wellness, the needs of people, the importance of leadership, and how we recognize and reward employees, let’s continue the journey to explore how to create a culture of excellence.
This workshop focused on engaging employees in key questions that might enhance the focus on culture and components that Medical Affairs can work on. Workshop participants were asked to focus on key questions during group breakout discussions:
- How do you define a culture of excellence? Key elements of this?
- How do you balance the drive for excellence with the importance of self-care?
- What gives you a strong sense of purpose/value in your role? Motivators to stay (besides money)?
- What is your current work environment is causing stress and impacting wellness?
- What has led to a cohesive team environment at your company?
- What is your company providing you to help you in that sense of value/purpose?
- What are your companies doing to support MSL professional growth?
- What motivates people to show up with excellence? What have companies done?
Participants were asked to work in small groups at their tables to discuss the questions noted above; they were allowed to select any of the questions to review together and discuss them in any order. This approach allowed the participants to prioritize areas of focus in the workshop. A graphic summary of the small group output is displayed for each question answered within these small working groups.
Commentary from Workshop Small Group Discussions:
Question: How do you balance the drive for excellence with the importance of self-care? – MSL Leader Participants
Quote from Workshop Group: “Culture eats strategy for lunch!”
Question: What gives you a strong sense of purpose/value in your role? Motivators to stay (besides money)? – MSL Leader Participants
Quote from Working Group: Don’t shortchange self-reflection. Take the time to reflect on the following: do I have the necessary skills, and if not, how do I get them? Don’t always think that VERTICAL growth is the only way forward; allow interest and skills to guide. Support self-development EVEN IF you’re afraid of losing people.
What gives you a strong sense of purpose/value in your role? Motivators to stay (besides money)? – MSLs / Aspiring MSL Participants
Question: What are your companies doing to support MSL professional growth?’
MSL Leader Participants
MSLs / Aspiring MSL Participants
Quotes from Workgroup participants: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” and “You have to GIVE to GAIN.”
Question: What in your current work environment is causing stress and impacting wellness?’ – MSL/Aspiring MSL Participants
Quote from work group participants: “Consultative leadership instead of directive leadership is key. We’re all smart, teaching isn’t always as necessary as listening for management. Ultimately, management determines whether people stay or leave. We need to expect the team to be self-accountable, which leads to a culture of partnership.”
Everyone owns the mission and drives goals with accountability. Culture isn’t just words to read on a website; it lives with the people who embody culture within the company. When building positive work culture:
- Consider doing a pre-mortem: what does success look like 2-3 years from now?
- What is holding us back? What obstacles do we need to clear on the path to success?
- What can I control, especially in uncertain times?
Reflecting on these questions is a useful guide for defining the culture one aspires to create.
Everyone can play a contributing and critical role in developing a culture of excellence. This article explores several key facets of a great work culture that were highlighted by participants and leaders at the MSL Society 2022 annual conference in an interactive workshop. Key cultural themes emerged in the responses provided by 47 attendees: Leadership, People, Wellness, Development, and Recognition.
The workshop aimed to understand how MSLs and MSL Managers can create a culture of excellence that will drive future success for Field Medical teams; learn how individual development, career planning, and ongoing training enhance team culture, and explore novel approaches that demonstrate a true commitment to and appreciation for culture within field medical teams. Areas to focus on when examining and building a culture of excellence include reducing stress such as the use of breaks and balancing workloads, ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion across teams and organizations, investing in employee development and growth, modeling leadership styles that show employees the way forward with open communication and support as well as rewarding and recognizing the work we do to drive at business objectives for success. There are many areas worthy of focus for cultural excellence and it is well worth the time and energy to forge an environment where employees not only want to stay but also want to bring others along for the journey.
A positive culture inspires employees to rise to meet challenges. Culture is only as effective as the leaders who show up to model behavior that we aspire to see in all our employees. As culture was initially defined, these collective behaviors drive a higher level of performance within the organization and propel everyone to achieve the mission. Know and embrace the company vision; our vision is to accelerate the impact of life-changing therapies worldwide. Values represent the behaviors needed to achieve the vision. Our values are:
- Challenge the status quo
- Collaborate to deliver solutions
- Passionate to change lives
Take steps forward each day to ensure the vision and values are embedded within your activities to breathe vital life into the culture of excellence you are helping to create within your organization.
- Company Culture Statistics: Leadership and Engagement in 2022 https://teamstage.io/company-culture-statistics Feb 21 2023.
- AIHR Causes of Job Dissatisfaction and How to Combat it. https://www.aihr.com/blog/job-dissatisfaction/ Feb 21 2023
- Seppala, E. and Cameron, K., 2015. Proof that positive work cultures are more productive. Harvard Business Review, 12(1), pp.44-50.
- Borysenko, K. What was management thinking? The high cost of employee turnover. 2015. https://www.tlnt.com/what-was-leadership-thinking-the-shockingly-high-cost-of-employee-turnover
Randy Miller, PharmD
Randy is an SVP, Field Medical Affairs and Clinical Educators at Syneos Health, supporting the deployment of the MSL and Clinical Educator teams. His passion is medical excellence, employee growth and development, and driving operational effectiveness. Holds pharmacy licensure in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Prior Employers: CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens Pharmacy, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals
Previous TA experience: Leading MSL teams in respiratory/CV/metabolism and orphan/rare disease
Born and raised in the Boston area. Currently reside in Connecticut with my wife Shana, 2 sons Zachary and Brayden, and his mini-Goldendoodle, Cisco. Hobbies include running, skiing, cycling, travel, and cooking…., especially at the barbeque! Big sports fan, especially the Boston Celtics and Boston Red Sox. Go, Sox!
Khalil Ahmed is responsible for Syneos Health Deployment Solutions Medical Affairs strategy and operations with a particular focus on driving quality and excellence among Field Medical Teams for its clients in all stages of the product life cycle. He possesses extensive experience in supporting clinical development, new product launch excellence, patient journey, product and brand management, integrated commercial model design, and operational excellence, who has been working with products in different stages of their life cycle in a broad range of therapeutic areas including Immunology, Oncology, CNS, Rare Diseases, Renal, Cardiovascular, Infectious Diseases, Urology, Diabetes, Vaccines among others.
Prior to joining Syneos Health Deployment Solutions, Europe, Khalil worked as Head of Medical Affairs in Syner-Med (PP) Ltd. overseeing Medical and Regulatory Affairs. Previously he served as a strategic lead for Shire Field Based Medicine (FBM) Service RoW (Ex-US) across the product portfolio. Before Shire’s takeover of Viropharma he worked as Medical Science Manager in UK/BeNeLux/Ire responsible for both Medical Affairs strategy & planning and MSL team. Earlier he worked in AstraZeneca for a number of years in the Medical Affairs Department in the UK.
Larry Dollar, PharmD, MS, MSL-BC
Larry Dollar has been a Senior Director and Field Medical Head at Takeda Oncology since 2014. Larry has also served in various MSL and MSL Director roles with Sanofi/Aventis, TAP, and Millennium Pharmaceuticals since 2000. He received his BS in Pharmacy from the University of Kansas, his MS in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Missouri-Kanas City, and his PharmD from Idaho State University. His pharmaceutical career also includes experience in clinical research, medical research, and regulatory affairs. Larry currently lives in Prairie Village, Kansas, and enjoys spending time with his wife and four children.
Mike DeGeorge, PharmD
Mike is currently a Vice President, Medical Affairs at Syneos Health, supporting the deployment of field medical teams in North America. Prior to that, Mike was the Vice President of Medical Affairs for Collegium Pharmaceutical, where he built and led Collegium’s first Medical Affairs team.
Mike has 18 years of industry experience dedicated to Medical Affairs. Prior to joining Collegium, he was the Director of Medical Affairs for Ameritox, where he led a team of field-based scientists and oversaw the research and publication strategy. Prior to Ameritox he held Field Medical Affairs positions of increasing responsibility in the pharmaceutical industry, including positions at King Pharmaceuticals, Archimedes, and Sanofi-Aventis.
He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy from St. John’s University in New York and a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree from the University of Florida. Mike enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters. In his spare time, Mike enjoys paddle boarding and fishing.
Verena Ottley, BSN
Verena has 25+ years of industry experience after graduating as a nurse and serving on an oncology unit in London, UK. In her current role as VP, Medical Affairs she oversees several talented MSL teams in different therapeutic areas. Over the course of her career, Verena has led commercial teams, training and development, marketing, operations, and clinical excellence to ensure there are always solutions to address complex business challenges.
Jessie Scott, PharmD
Jessie Scott is currently the National Director, Medical Affairs with Syneos and brings prior pharma experience in leading successful MSL teams. Jessie has experience in diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Her pharma experience includes launching several diabetes products, leading field medical product workstreams, working closely with US & Global on product strategy, executing new initiatives, and developing MSL medical plans plus putting insight into action. Prior to pharma, Jessie was an Assistant Professor at the University of Utah College of Pharmacy and an Internal Medicine Clinical Pharmacist VA Hospital Salt Lake City. She completed an Internal Medicine Residency in Austin following the U of Texas PharmD program and a BS in Pharmacy from Purdue University.
Amanda Hohman is a Senior Director, Talent Acquisition with Syneos Health. With 20+ years in the Life Science industry, she has spent most of her career recruiting and leading teams. She works with our teams to develop recruitment strategies, keep up with industry trends and ensure the execution of our recruitment practices at a high level with top-quality candidates. She has worked with a number of clients to field medical teams, including several startup companies. Throughout her time at Syneos Health, she has been frequently recognized for her teamwork and leadership abilities. Amanda earned her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Rider University and currently resides in New Jersey.
Donna Elbert is a VP of Human Resources for Syneos Health. She has extensive experience as an HR professional and has worked in a range of HR disciplines globally, primarily within the healthcare sector. She started her HR career as a training and development specialist and transitioned to an employee relations specialist before moving into her generalist business partner role. Prior to working for Syneos, she worked as a business partner for Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Boots UK. As an HR business partner, she works closely with the leaders to find solutions to people-related challenges that drive the business forward. She has an HR professional certification through SHRM.
Cherie Hyder, PharmD, MSL-BC
Cherie Hyder is Syndicated National MSL Director at Syneos Health. In her previous job at Biohaven Pharmaceuticals, she supported a virtual launch of Nurtec ODT for acute migraine. She has been involved in drug development for more than 30 years, working at FDA in CDER and pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer, Lilly, Novartis, Solvay, and Avanir, among others. At the University of Missouri, she received a Doctor of Pharmacy degree with the intention to devote her career to pharmaceutical research. She has multiple adjunct faculty appointments and enjoys teaching opportunities.