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Clinical Trial Associates and the Future of Pharma

Now more than ever, there is enormous pressure to deliver products to the market faster and cheaper. In the clinical research industry, this means a constant focus on innovative technologies, advanced trial designs, specialized areas of focus, and improved processes.

Millions of dollars are spent on these initiatives and the restructuring of organizations. While these go-to strategies are essential, they may be insufficient. These strategies disproportionally receive top prioritization, enterprise energy, and funding. People and the environment they work in – the culture – are arguably the two most critical organizational strategies to achieve the desired change. However, both are either absent or receive little attention. Decades of research have demonstrated these initiatives will fall short without including a serious investment in people and culture.

Think about your own industry experience, when an initiative did not meet its potential for desired, sustainable change. Was it the process, technology, or structure? Or was something else getting in the way – like a silo mentality, a blaming culture, or another manifestation of the day-to-day work behaviors? 

Let’s take a relevant example. At your organization, compare the resources and attention dedicated to implementing innovative technologies impacting multiple functions to the resources allocated to developing the people skills to work effectively in a complex study team environment.

Why has the clinical research industry been reluctant to focus on people and culture? Are we more comfortable focusing on process and structure? Maybe we just need some guidance on where to begin or how to build on work already started.

This blog series provides an approach to building an agile workforce, becoming resilient to change, and developing an innovative mindset ready to futurize the industry. It begins with a recent trend observed during an industry benchmarking exercise focused on understanding how the clinical trial associate (CTA) role fits within the organization. Specifically, the goal was to obtain industry insights on whether the CTA role was centralized (pooled with functional line managers) or decentralized (reporting to trial managers).

Results from the benchmarking exercise indicated one-third of the companies had an established organizational structure for five years or more, with the remaining companies reorganized within the last five years. For three of the four companies reorganizing in the last year or two, the redesign included CTA centralization.

When asked about the rationale to create a centralized CTA function, companies responded the driving force was to address issues such as:

While these are good reasons to support an organizational change and it’s easy to measure improvement, they cannot stand on their own to achieve the full potential of centralization.

Centralized or not, companies acknowledged two current challenges they face: recruitment and retention. Additionally, they recognized the importance of focusing on engagement and skills. A trend intended primarily for efficiency, the redesign further ignites one of the industry’s leading challenges – attracting and retaining talent. Easy to talk about it, but how can we take the steps towards implementation?

In an industry where disruption and organizational redesign are a constant, investing in CTAs early in their career will result in a resilient workforce ready to take on advanced roles in the organization. This approach is also more likely to provide functional loyalty while also addressing silo mentality challenges. As a bonus, investing in talent creates a critical competitive advantage by mitigating significant challenges with recruitment and increasing colleague engagement and retention.

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