Avoiding POA Chaos, Part III: Implementation Best Practices

By Sue Iannone

Ah, the plan of action (POA) meeting.  It can be a fantastic tool for making sure the field teams are ready, willing, and able to get the message out.  Unfortunately, it can also be an exhausting and frustrating fire-drill—a mad dash to the finish—particularly for the Learning and Development (L&D) team.  It doesn’t have to be this way!

In parts I and II of this series, we described the need for a POA governance process and we outlined some best practices for POA planning.  In this third and final installment, we offer some tips for implementation success.

Stay Organized

Once your POA plan is in place, staying on top of all the moving parts leading up to the meeting can be a real challenge.  It’s imperative to use your POA plan to create an implementation checklist, covering all key tasks and deliverables that are due by meeting time (and even beyond).

Every POA is different.  However, there are plenty of common elements, and it’s possible to create a generalized POA implementation checklist.  So, that’s what we did.  You can find it here,

This general checklist can serve as a solid foundation for your own.  Feel free to modify it as needed to help manage your own POA implementation efforts.

Create the Right Training for the Right Purpose

The POA meeting is a large investment of time, energy, and dollars.  So, it’s important to maximize the return on that investment.  A big part of doing that is creating learning programs that are

  1. Specifically focused on achieving business, behavioral, and learning objectives
  2. Designed for maximum effectiveness

In a Part I, we discussed item 1 above.  So, let’s focus on item 2.  To help ensure that learning programs are as effective as they can be, it helps to think first of when they’ll be deployed:  Before, during, or after the POA meeting.  A good rule of thumb is to design learning experiences for these stages with the following goals in mind:

  1. Before = Knowledge Acquisition
  2. During = Knowledge / Skill Application
  3. After = Performance Support

Before the POA Meeting

Learning should start during the weeks prior to the POA meeting.  During this time, learning activities should focus on providing learners with the foundational knowledge they’ll need to participate effectively in—and get the most out of—the POA meeting itself.

For example, assume that part of an upcoming POA meeting will center around some new studies that directly compare your company’s product to a competitor’s product.  Furthermore, let’s say that the study data was highly favorable to your product.  During the POA meeting, L&D wants to make sure field reps are well-prepared to communicate this data and some key messages derived from it.

You probably don’t want field reps learning about this data for the first time at the POA meeting.  It will be better to use that time for building their skills in message delivery regarding the new studies.  So, in the weeks leading up to the POA meeting, it would make sense to give them foundational knowledge about the studies and the data they contain.  Some tactics for doing this might include one or more of the following:

  • Abbreviated pre-reading materials that highlight key findings from the studies
  • A short knowledge assessment regarding the information contained in the pre-reading materials
  • A microlearning emodule with interactive exercises or games to highlight key data points and reinforce key learnings
  • An exercise in which learners should think of—and write down—some potential objections or questions that physicians might have regarding the studies

The main points are this:

  1. You want participants to show up to the POA meeting primed, prepared, and ready to learn.
  2. Save your live training time for knowledge or skills application, not knowledge transfer.

During the POA Meeting

The POA meeting is best used to help learners apply knowledge or skills.  Continuing with the example mentioned above, you might consider creating learning experiences like these:

  • Training on a new visual aid that reps can use to communicate the study data and related messages, including role-play exercises in which they practice using the visual aid
  • Objection-handling exercises, in which learners discuss potential objections, then formulate and practice responses

Don’t forget to make it fun and engaging!—themify it, gamify it, hold a competition, or infuse the training with whatever techniques are acceptable (both culturally and compliance-wise) in your organization.

After the POA Meeting

After the POA meeting, learners will return to the field and be expected to deploy their new knowledge and skills in customer interactions.  Post-meeting learning tools and experiences should help them do that.

During the weeks and months after the meeting, the L&D team should work to reinforce what the participants learned.  Some potential tactics might include:

  • A quick reference job aid that contains key messages, data points, and/or key objections (along with potential responses)
  • Feedback loops in which reps can share new questions or objections they hear in the field and formulate potential responses
  • Coaching guides for sales managers to use when helping reps refine their skills

Don’t forget the post-POA meeting performance support!  Research tells us that participants lose most of what they learned at a live meeting if it is not reinforced.  It need not be complicated but it is necessary to drive retention.

Use Microlearning Techniques When It Makes Sense

As you know, “microlearning” refers to educational content that can be consumed quickly.   Microlearning techniques make sense in a lot of situations, particularly when you’re dealing with learners who are very busy, need to learn quickly, and must apply new knowledge and skills in the field, in real-time.

When it comes to POA meetings, you can use microlearning techniques at any point.  However, they are often most useful for the following purposes:

  1. To prepare learners for the POA meeting
  2. As follow-up support after the POA meeting

During the lead-up to the meeting, short pieces of easily-digested content can provide learners with a foundation of knowledge.  That way, they’ll get more out of the meeting itself.  For example, a short video clip on “What’s in it for me?” will help learners see the relevance of the training they’ll receive at the meeting and get them in the right mindset.  Short pre-reads or explainers can provide foundational knowledge.  The possibilities are numerous.

After the POA meeting, many L&D organizations fall short when it comes to performance support or post-event reinforcement.  It’s understandable.  L&D team members are likely to be exhausted after finishing the hectic POA process.

However, neglecting post-event training will hamper results and reduce the ROI of the overall process.  So, don’t ignore this aspect of POA meetings.  Microlearning techniques are well-suited to post-event reinforcement and performance support.  Easily-consumed job aids might provide performance support for field personnel.  Reminder e-mails, short self-reflection exercises, and other techniques can help keep learners on track once they’re back in the field.

Plan for Contingencies

Perhaps I’m dating myself here, but fans of the 80’s television show, The A-Team, might remember Col. John “Hannibal” Smith’s catch-phrase:  “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Well, don’t we all?  But, plans rarely come together exactly as expected.  How many times have you planned an event (like a POA meeting), and had everything go exactly as expected?  That’s what I thought.

Chances are, something will go awry with any big event.  It won’t always be a major issue.  In fact, in most cases, unforeseen changes are minor.  But, you will need to plan for them, to the extent that you can.

Look for the elements in your POA plan that might be a bit “shaky.”  For example, maybe you’re doubtful that Marketing will get a certain piece of content finished and through Medical, Regulatory, and Legal review on time.

If your concerns come to pass, then it pays to have something in your “hip pocket” to replace that on the agenda.  Perhaps it’s some other meaningful training event…or a team-building exercise…or perhaps you just give them the time back.

In any case, think about those potential danger points, and have a “Plan B” if you need it.  I always like to say, “have a Plan A, a Plan B, and probably a Plan C.”  If you only have to use Plan A, then great!  If things fall apart, you’ll be grateful and less stressed if you have those B and C options ready to go.

What about you?  Do you have other best practices when it comes to POA implementation?  If so, let us hear about them in the comments.  Until next time!

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