Novartis is also committed to innovation in its learning, using simulation technology to train its sales managers. According to Jon Morgan, strategic account executive at DigitalThink, Novartis uses DigitalThink to develop interactive training for its sales and marketing audiences, including business simulations for first-line managers. Each first-line manager is responsible for a district that typically includes 10 reps with three or more products in their portfolio for which they drive revenue and sales. These managers must make all of the strategic decisions about their districts in terms of targeting physicians, time management and resource allocation. Many of these managers start out as sales reps who do not always have the skills and experience to manage their districts effectively. When Novartis wanted its first-line managers around the world to apply more consistent principles, it blended simulations with instructor-led training.
Larry Green, vice president of global marketing and sales learning for Novartis, said the simulation was used to provide a typical scenario of the challenges and issues first-line managers face on a daily basis. “The simulation was built in such a way that they have to make choices as they go through it,” Green said.
The simulation training can be used remotely prior to classroom learning or with teams as a part of classroom learning, depending on the geography of the learners, Green said. “We use this all over the world, so as a result it just depends on their choice of whether travel is an issue and things like that,” he explained.
The simulation allows first-line managers to get risk-free experience in decision-making. “What simulation does is it builds in some longer-term consequences, so if you choose not to work with one of your top reps because other pressing priorities are coming from headquarters, that’s OK—the simulation lets you make that choice,” said Green. But repeatedly making a choice like this leads to consequences—both in the simulation and in real life. “The top rep who you’ve avoided working with…may resign or ask for a transfer away from your business unit. Now, suddenly, you’ve made these seemingly innocent choices as you go along, but the consequences are the real type of consequences that happen in business day to day that a lot of top-performing managers don’t think about until it’s too late.”
The benefits of using a simulation for this type of training are the cost-effectiveness and the speed of learning, Green said. “You can actually achieve a lot more—even if the people are in the classroom doing it as a team—you achieve a lot more very quickly in the sense that they’re making the choices and they go through the simulation fairly rapidly, and there’s this reality,” said Green. “The speed of it is a benefit, and obviously, time is money.”
In addition to time and cost savings, Green said the reality of making choices with consequences leads to a more effective learning experience. “We can set up a lecture and tell people this kind of thing, but there’s something about experiencing it,” said Green. “What happens with simulations is they actually get to make some of those mistakes, but it’s their choices, so from what I’ve seen, they tend to learn it at a much deeper level. It’s experiential, and experiential learning, without the consequences of really hurting people or the business, is a huge benefit.”
Morgan added that because some of the principles being taught were a shift, the simulation helped break down barriers to that change. “The learning is one thing, but actually applying that and understanding the impact that the new behavior has is very valuable,” he said. “It reinforces the probability of that behavior being translated to the job if they can see the outcome.”
Novartis has had such a positive experience with its first simulation that it is now working to develop simulated training for new hires on basic selling skills. “We are firm believers in the use of blended learning, and simulations in particular I find to be a better experience for people versus just e-learning,” said Green. “Even though you can interact with e-learning, there’s something different about creating a simulation that tries to reflect real life as much as possible. And, again, the generation we’re hiring, especially now, seem like they’ve grown up on games and simulations, so there’s a certain part of it that keys into how they like to learn. We’ll continue to use these into the future as much as I can anticipate at this point.”