Avoiding POA Chaos, Part I

By Sue Iannone

According to Dictionary.com, “chaos” is defined as “a state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order.” Any L&D professional who’s been involved in planning a pharmaceutical company Plan of Action (POA) meeting knows about chaos first-hand.  In fairness, “chaos” is probably too strong a term for describing the POA experience.  But, most L&D people will agree that it’s not entirely inappropriate, either.  When I reflect on my collective POA experiences during my 27-year career, I have memories of both extremes—the awesome POA successes, and the POA disasters I’d like to forget.

In this 3-part series, we’ll explore a framework for taking the chaos out of POA planning and implementation.  We’ll cover ideas and best practices related to

  1. POA Governance Process
  2. Planning Best Practices
  3. Execution Best Practices

Today, we’ll outline the overall challenge and cover POA governance.

The Problem with POA Meetings

Pharmaceutical companies typically hold POA meetings once or twice per year.  They offer the best opportunities for Marketing and company leaders to get face-time with the field selling teams.  They’re the primary vehicle for rolling out new strategies, messages, data, selling tools, and training programs to the field forces.

They’re also extremely expensive.  Time out of the field is costly in two ways.  First, there are the direct operational costs such as airfare, hotel bills, food costs, entertainment expenses, and so on.  Then, there are the less-obvious indirect costs of the customer-facing teams not being in front of their customers selling, educating, or solving reimbursement problems.  Both types of costs are significant to the organization.  As such, it’s clear that a company needs to realize the maximum return from those significant investments.

Unfortunately, the ROI of POAs often suffers due to poor planning and governance.  The worst of the challenge often falls on L&D.

Think about this:  For a typical POA meeting, the L&D team is often tasked with developing training around new messages, selling tools, or any other tactics critical to brand or portfolio strategy.  However, L&D can’t develop that training until Marketing (or whoever) develops the core materials.  Marketing will often experience delays (it happens to the best of us) and create core materials much later than originally intended.  Add to that the need to clear Medical, Regulatory, and Legal (MRL) review, and the delays are compounded.

Because non-L&D people often underestimate the time and effort required to create good training, L&D is often left having to scramble at the last minute to get things done.  Too many times, L&D comes in “just under the wire.”

This is akin to a baton race.  The way to win is to ensure that your team’s runner is ready, launches off the blocks at the right time, holds on tight to the baton, and delivers a smooth handoff to the next runner.  If all goes well, the team wins the race.  If the first runner gets a slow start, drops the baton, or if any runners on the team stumble, the team loses valuable time and puts winning  (or placing) at risk.

L&D is often the last runner on the last leg of the baton race.  Time lost by any of the other runners can negatively impact training effectiveness.  This can harm business results, as well as L&D team morale.  It doesn’t have to be this way!  In fact, the L&D team can set in motion changes that can dramatically improve the whole POA process.

Good Governance is Critical

In our experience, the state of affairs described above is worse in companies that don’t have a good POA governance process.  A good governance process helps ensure that all stakeholder groups are on the same page, understand what’s expected of them and when, and have established processes for conflict resolution.  These stakeholders usually include:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Market Access
  • Sales Operations
  • Medical Affairs
  • Legal / Regulatory
  • L&D
  • Meeting Planning

L&D typically doesn’t have the authority to establish and “enforce” a POA governance process, but it can act as the catalyst in helping to establish one.  Below are a few pointers in making that happen.  L&D should do these things as a dedicated initiative, not just in advance of a specific POA meeting.  Fixing a “broken” process deserves some dedicated time and attention:

  1. Speak with Individual Stakeholders – L&D should sit down individually with the leaders of key stakeholder groups. Call on them to learn what they want to accomplish via POA meetings in general and ask them to define success from their point of view. Get their input on how the POA planning process could go more smoothly.
  2. Establish a Governance Committee – L&D can advocate for the idea of a POA Governance Committee. This would be a group of senior leaders from the stakeholder groups listed earlier.  The committee is not supposed to get “down in the weeds.”  However, it will need to help determine the overall business objectives for individual POA meetings, set guiding principles for POA planning, establish dispute resolution processes, designate people to serve on the POA team (below), and so on.
  3. Establish a POA Team – This team will include “doers” who get into the details. For any given POA meeting, this cross-functional team must outline the POA plan:  Objectives, deliverables, responsible/accountable personnel, deadlines, and so on.  A RACI matrix is often used for capturing all this.

A strong governance process is critical for aligning expectations and resources.  Basically, it helps get everyone pulling in the same direction at the same time.  In the next installment, we’ll cover some best practices for POA planning.

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