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Centralization: Nurturing an Innovative Mindset in Clinical Research

Did you know 70% of the variance in team engagement is attributed to an employee’s direct manager? This means the focus must not only be on the clinical trial associates (CTAs), but on the one driving their performance and engagement: their manager. The organizational shift to CTA centralization provides the ideal momentum and focus: invest first in those who lead your entry-level CTAs in their capability as people managers as opposed to being technical experts.

Enrich existing one-on-ones by preparing CTA managers for check-ins going beyond progress reporting. This is an already-existing time on both the CTA’s and their manager’s calendars, but too often these regularly scheduled moments are not fully leveraged. While most one-on-ones address the CTA’s work status, inserting a quarterly one-on-one reserved for understanding what is going on with the CTA – the person – can result in an enlightening conversation. Asking questions such as what motivates the CTA or how they would like to learn and grow can go a long way in these one-on-ones.

For example, the benchmarking exercise on CTAs uncovered an interesting trend, moving away from requiring specific experience in a therapeutic area, and focusing more around minimizing administrative activities and increasing broad cross-functional and cross-therapeutic area experience.

How can we leverage this trend to inquire about CTA interests beyond the clinical studies they are currently working with? We must seek first to understand their motivations, and eventually, broaden their experience on what matters: cross-therapeutic areas, study phase, endpoints, and patient populations.

This may seem foreign since there are so many niches within life sciences, however, it’s important to think about breadth versus depth early in a CTA’s career. As their career progresses, they can choose which path is best suited for them.

Managers need to prepare before these quarterly one-on-ones and gain the appropriate support from organizational leadership. Without it, managers may shy away from these conversations, assuming their direct report will bring it up. There is plenty the manager can say or do. They must recognize employees’ desire to learn and grow and their need to feel their manager is invested in their growth and development.

A direct manager’s role cannot be overstated. They can provide a variety of ways to build a CTA’s skills such as:

All strategies are typically within a manager’s sphere of influence. This is perhaps one of the fastest ways for a quick win with CTA managers and CTAs.

Supporting a Culture of Cross-functional Collaboration

A recent Advarra client engagement revealed cross-functional collaboration was prioritized as the behavioral competency required for clinical study team members, where matrixed teams cut across functions to influence, negotiate, accelerate, and manage clinical studies from design to completion.

The solution to enhance cross-functional collaboration is well-researched, but not well-advertised: it is precisely about creating internal mobility across functions. Fostering collaboration and innovation are specifically called out as a strategic purpose in the Conference Board’s Report.

Total talent mobility is an important lever, helping to expose employees to new perspectives, learn and adapt, build their networks across the organization to strengthen collaboration, and break down organizational silos.

The perfect environment to foster such mobility beyond traditional linear advancement typically requires high volume, early-in-career roles, which you have with CTAs (and other roles such as clinical research associates [CRAs]). This critical mass of CTAs along with your front-line CRA staff populations is the ideal place to introduce greater internal cross-functional mobility.

Sideways moves no longer sideline talent. Instead, lateral moves can lead to bigger and better opportunities.  People who can fulfill multiple roles build resilience and position themselves as valuable resources in a changing environment –Up is not the Only Way, Beverly Kaye

While this strategy is not complicated to understand, it requires steadfast commitment to implement well, and will not happen overnight. There are three common barriers to address and insights to gain traction in creating “zigzag” internal mobility:

Barrier Gain Traction By: 
Talent hoarding: Leaders’ resistance to releasing talent to another team Prepare your clinical leaders to fully understand exporting their team internally is part of their responsibilities and a strategic priority essential to organizational success. After all, if they don’t embrace exporting internally, they stand a real chance of losing them externally.
Compensation: Small percentage increases which have traditionally signaled advancement Partner with human resources to review the essential “zigzag” moves to remove negative impact or incentivize movement. Create exceptions to protect grade and salary as needed, eventually making exceptions to the rule. Create innovation such as inserting “development” increases within the grade.
Narrative: Being promoted is the only way to advance Create a new narrative for leaders and staff to drive readiness and adoption of a mindset shift. “Our company also values the breadth of experience; career progression is no longer purely vertical or a function of time in the role.”

Create a new narrative for leaders and staff to drive readiness and adoption of a mindset shift. “Our company also values the breadth of experience; career progression is no longer purely vertical or a function of time in the role.”
Those who are interested in enhancing cross-functional perspective and experience may differentiate themselves to compete for future opportunities”

Wholistically aligning each lever will enable organizations to simultaneously achieve desired change and address existing barriers.

A tight talent market, heavy attrition, headcount constraints, and a pandemic facilitating global moves without physical relocation all point to a unique moment to maximize internal mobility. Just a few years from now, your organization could have a pipeline full of highly qualified study team leaders with a deep understanding across multiple functions, who have built strong networks and partnerships, and who demonstrate collaborative excellence.

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