Employees of Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals (BI), a family-owned global biopharmaceutical company, are a highly educated and curious bunch. They know the value of learning, and keeping up with new research and health trends. It’s not uncommon for BI scientists and functional leaders to have multiple advanced degrees.

But when it comes to learning how to lead, it’s up to the company’s leadership and development team to steer the way.

“Boehringer Ingelheim has a very strong emphasis on employee development and learning. It’s a business imperative to ensure our employees are learning and growing to help meet the needs of our patients,” said Michael Murphy, associate director of leadership and development for BI.

“Our job is to make sure employees can identify what they need to learn, provide the right resources, and make learning accessible and relevant,” Murphy added.

With the right elements in place, BI taps into the cultural disposition for learning and applies it to leadership and management development.

All formal learning systems align with the company’s global leadership competencies: set direction, lead people, lead and manage change, lead innovation, and drive results. At the same time, Murphy and his team try to tailor learning to individual context and need. Four formal leadership development efforts reflect that blend of core and customized learning:

  • Managing@BI, for first-time managers, is designed to build the core leadership skills and establish precedence for learning with and from colleagues. The program is a 12-month process that combines classroom time, online courses, and webinars, as well as quarterly “leader checkpoints” to discuss the learning experience, challenges, and successes.
  • Management Professional Series, for managers with 3-to-5 years of experience, premiered in 2015. The series includes a library of e-courses and video learning on topics such as decision making, team creation, delegating, and negotiating — packaged and presented through Harvard Business Publishing.
  • ACCELERATION, for high-potential leaders, is developed and delivered in partnership with the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®). Participants are nominated by managers and HR leaders. The program spans 9 months and includes classroom components with individual and team learning in between. ACCELERATION is also the company’s only division-spanning development initiative in North America, bringing together experienced managers from the Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals business, plus BI’s animal health and biosimilars divisions in the United States, as well as from BI-Mexico and BI-Canada. ACCELERATION aligns with additional Boehringer Ingelheim global programs that build capabilities at the executive level, focused on the same set of leadership competencies.

“Very intentionally, we have involved managers from all North American sites, as these are people who are likely to end up in a different division, have an assignment in another country, or take a role in a global company function like finance or I.T.,” Murphy explained. “ACCELERATION builds their network and their perspective, along with providing specific experiences and teaching key skills.”

  • Hot Topics in Leadership, for all levels and roles, also premiered in 2015. Murphy and his team present monthly webinars on important topics. It may be something flagged internally as an area of interest or improvement, or it may be fueled by cultural or business trends. Anyone can call in and get a bit of insight or a new tactic to try.

The company is also clear to factor in on-the-job, experience-driven learning. CCL concepts around “Learning Transfer” — such as clarifying and working on a key leadership challenge and identifying accountability partners — and the importance of sharing goals, asking for help, and giving help to others are woven into BI’s approach.

The leadership & development team has mapped out development needs and goals to specific resources. They provide various ways for employees to assess and understand where they are. They’ve created more flexible, just-in-time learning opportunities. Plus, all the elements tie into the formal performance management process, which is largely forward-looking and development-based.

Finally, Murphy and his team are serious about marketing leadership and development to employees and their managers. And they are happy to tout leadership development — and learning — to employees, anytime, anywhere.

“Our group does a lot of multi-channel marketing so people know what is available — and so they know there are also lots of ways you can develop,” Murphy said. “We want to be clear there are no-cost, low-cost, and built-in ways to learn, from mentors to stretch projects to external organizations.

“We don’t mandate a series or specific course,” he added. “Employees are accountable for their learning, but we need to let them know the many ways they can take on this part of their learning and growth.”

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