What’s in it for me? How to engage, motivate and support staff with internal training

Written by Briony Frost, on Wednesday 25th November 2020

If the heart of the medical affairs industry is ultimately improving patient outcomes, internal training is the regenerative liver. Med affairs professionals need to regularly update their scientific knowledge and competencies to confidently contribute to providing safe, effective, high-quality healthcare. They need to engage in training.

Ongoing learning and development programmes are a powerful investment for pharmaceutical companies. Timely, efficient, and effective internal training helps sustain existing employees’ performance and growth, re-calibrates their competencies with business objectives, and enables them to remain valued partners to healthcare professionals. It also facilitates new talent recruitment and retention, supports newcomers in meeting company expectations, and fast-tracks their journey from on-boarding to being productive members of the workforce. Great internal training has several hallmarks – it should ultimately prioritise patient outcomes, be learner-centric, high-quality, clinically relevant, and bespoke – but in terms of impact it is often only as successful as it is engaging.

In our previous blog post, OPEN Health outlined some key things to look for to identify the right training approach for your company. In this post, we take a deep-dive into how to engage, motivate, and support staff with their internal training.

Engaging and Motivating Employees

Analyse need

Learners are stakeholders in their own training and well-placed to identify gaps in their own development. Start as you mean to go on by involving them before training has even begun, using a needs analysis to find out what they need and want from their training programmes. Cross-checking their responses against the leadership team’s will help establish priorities and ensure all needs can be met at the outset.

Listening to your learners also gives them a sense of agency, helping them feel as though they will be doing training rather than having it done to them. Learners may additionally help identify what delivery methods are best suited to when, where, and how they train, giving you a head start with designing a bespoke programme that your learners want to undertake.

Design it in

Truly engaging training programmes integrate learner motivation in the design phase. Use your needs analysis to establish:

  • Succinct, clear, and measurable intended learning outcomes, which are shared with your learners so that the end goal is always in sight
  • Sufficient authentic assessments that allow learners to check they are meeting expected standards, practice applying their new knowledge and competencies, and boost their confidence
  • Content priorities – distinguish between need to know and nice to know, allowing learners to choose which areas to explore further
  • Personalised learner journeys that recognise everyone comes to training from a different career point and with different prior experience of their role, industry, and learning. While you don’t need a different programme for everyone, building in self-assessment opportunities, different entry points, levels, and routes through materials can help learners direct themselves as best suits their role.

Deliver it

Sustain learner engagement during the training through practical, realistic, and stimulating activities, content, and resources. Look for the following:

  • Bite-sized micro learning that makes it easy for learners to fit training into their busy work lives
  • Strong narratives that contain essential up-to-date, scientifically relevant, and practical content that keeps the patient in mind
  • Combined knowledge, competencies, and confidence development for maximum relevance and efficiency
  • Multi-modal delivery methods to support different preferences and reinforce learning
  • Optional deep-dive sections and supplementary resource banks for further development
  • Regular opportunities to actively engage, such as virtual reality, gamification, workshops, Q&A, discussions, and live polling

When selecting or reviewing a training programme, keep in mind the importance of coherent delivery. Innovation can be a great motivator but too many unfamiliar activities can result in learner disengagement, especially when time is short. Remember too that simple learning activities your learners are confident with can be just as effective.

Seek Feedback

Listening to your learners isn’t just important before training commences. Seek feedback on their experiences during and afterwards too. Ongoing temperature checks provide opportunities to intervene to resolve challenges, correct misunderstandings, and remind your learners that you value their time, effort, and insights. Post-training feedback is also a critical tool for refining existing programmes for future learners and identifying future training needs.

Supporting Staff

Getting staff to engage with internal training goes beyond getting them invested in and inspired by the programme itself. Show your staff that you recognise their wellbeing needs by providing support for them to train in ways that are healthy, fair, and integrated into their role (‘welldoing’).[1]

Make training part of company culture

Help employees prioritise training by enabling them to have dedicated training times in their workday schedules. Expecting employees to take training after working hours communicates a lack of respect for their time. It further disrupts essential divisions between work and personal lives that the pandemic has already eroded and makes it harder for employees to quickly solve training problems that may occur, all of which drives disengagement. Enabling your people to train together or during core hours means interactive activities can take place to enhance engagement, advance development and reinforce learning. Demonstrate a company-wide commitment to learning and development – and keep members of your leadership at the head of their game – by ensuring senior staff and company leads participate in training programmes too.

Make it accessible

Struggling to access training programmes is discouraging. Pick a platform that presents and delivers content intuitively. Steer clear of platforms that require complicated logins or high-speed internet connections.

Equality of access to training is vital. Make sure your training provider is up-to-date on supporting learners with diverse training needs such as sight, hearing, or mobility impairments, and neurodiversity. There are lots of ways training programmes can make their training disability-friendly and usable with assistive technologies so make sure all your learners are able to access your programmes. Some countries, like the UK, have increasingly strict legal requirements for equality and diversity for training programmes so keep an eye on national standards too.


Your learners are also professionals leading busy working lives. Keep training on their priority list by establishing a good communications plan. Event-guide apps are ideal for managing big events. Timely reminder emails and push notifications from a learning platform once or twice a week also helps keep training at the front of learners’ minds and on their week’s to-do list.


While the ultimate goal is always to improve patient outcomes, employees are individuals with additional unique personal motivations. Clear career trajectories and opportunities for advancement are essential for staff satisfaction, so work with HR to formalise links between training, progression, and promotion so that professional development is linked to personal success.

For individual training events, a time-honoured tradition is feeding people. With homeworking an increasingly inevitable facet of daily life, sending out good quality food packages and incorporating time for social networking makes employees feel appreciated. For a fun alternative to providing lunch – when employees might value a chance to step away from their screens – why not run a cake-decorating competition, a chocolate or cheese tasting, or a canape creating session? Keeping hands occupied whilst listening aids concentration, discourages distracting forms of multi-tasking (such as answering emails), and encourages people to connect by turning on cameras to share results or creations. Make sure you check ahead of time for any dietary requirements!

Signpost support

Learners can quickly become demotivated when faced with a training problem they are unable to solve. Whether you’re running a live event, on-demand, or e Learning, ensure you have clear channels of support for when things go wrong. It’s impossible to design out every eventuality, so signpost with whom, and how, your learners should make contact for further guidance or information. Providing good support facilitates positive help-seeking behaviour so your learners can solve training challenges and stay engaged.

[1] A. Osborne and K. Angus-Cole, Well doing, forthcoming 2023.

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