Customer Stories, Modern Training

How pharmaceutical brand Merck balances push and pull learning

Posted on: February 8, 2024Updated on: February 9, 2024By: Maliyah Bernard

When everything employees need to learn is a priority, how do L&D leaders balance the delivery of it all?

To learn more about navigating competing—but equally important—workplace priorities, we went to one of the most complex industries: healthcare.

How pharmaceutical brand Merck balances push and pull learning in a highly regulated industry

Take Merck: the manufacturing division of this pharmaceutical brand has sites across the globe. Pair that with a rigorous one-to-many approach to safety incidents and you’ve got a complex challenge.

JD Dillon recently sat down with Daniel Johnson, Director of Employee Learning Experience, and John Parsell, Associate Director, Learning Experience Technology Architect, to learn more about Merck’s approach to push and pull learning.

What is push and pull learning?

Ensuring teams have everything they need to solve problems, meet goals and improve performance is a balancing act. Merck’s L&D team was looking to strike a balance between push and pull learning to split time and budget effectively.

Push: The immediate things employees need to know. Push training has to be completed in the moment to get things done and adhere to regulations (think onboarding, compliance, product updates, stakeholder requests).

Pull: The future skills and knowledge employees should be developing. Pull training helps workforces stay future-focused to succeed tomorrow (think career development, upskilling, reskilling).

“Up until just a couple of years ago, we were 100% a push organization, which developed the wrong skills in our employees,” explains Daniel Johnson, Director of Employee Learning Experience at Merck.

“[We] have been working on the marketing angle, refreshing the technology that we use for the employees, increasing our content catalogs away from that regulatory and compliance type of training—and we’re trying to pull it all together in that balance of push and pull.”

Johnson’s team is working to refine the process for employees further with informative programs that give them both push and pull presented in an aggregated to-do list or learning system (FYI: they use the best platform on the market). And then they pair this digitization with a robust influencer strategy to gain buy-in and build off that success.

“Your early adopters are really important. Find those teams within your organization who are willing to try this, and then take the success you have from that to keep it rolling and help others see the value of pull versus push.”

John Parsell, Associate Director, Learning Experience Technology Architect, Merck

Using push and pull learning for healthcare’s complex regulatory layers

Compliance in healthcare is another heavy burden. 

“One of the things we’ve focused on is putting simulations into our push training to allow the learners to test up, not test out, because they’ve answered the knowledge checks that we need. It then gives them that reinforcement. The reinforcement programs are the most important part of what we try to do from that push aspect. We’ve reduced the in-seat time of our push training as part of this two-year journey that we’ve been on,” he shares.

Another way that Merck is navigating the complexities of healthcare through their push and pull training is through automation. When you have employees across 52 global manufacturing sites who need reinforcement on complex regulatory and compliance topics, the right technology is key. 

“We have automated assignments in Axonify, the platform we use for long-term reinforcement of specific skills and behaviors. It just makes it easier,” says Parsell. “Axonify is great. Five minutes, you take your training, and then you’re good to go. We’re reducing the friction of somebody accessing the training that they need so that they can get in and get it done.”

Leveraging data to optimize push and pull learning

For any push and pull training plan to work, there needs to be a streamlined approach to content, technology and many other moving parts to ensure that the program is optimized to the needs of the workforce it serves. For Merck, optimizing training started with learning more about its employees.

“Who are they? What devices are they using? How are they accessing training? When can they access training?” Parsell asks. 

Another important piece of the puzzle is utilizing the right data. Merck’s team is beginning to collect more data around how their learners are accessing and consuming content, which topics are resonating and more, so they can make more data-driven decisions around what is push training and what is pull training. “We can then put our resources, time, money and effort where it’s going to make the most impact,” says Parsell.

“Time is money, and if I push an hour-long training to a lot of people that could have been pulled, that’s 500 employees, 500 hours of productivity that has just been consumed.”

John Parsell, Associate Director, Learning Experience Technology Architect, Merck

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Merck on approaching push and pull training in highly regulated industries like healthcare? There should be an ongoing discussion between L&D, employees and other stakeholders across the business. And focus on what people actually care about and the outcomes the business is trying to achieve, rather than the training event itself. That’s when the complexities melt away, and training becomes true employee enablement.

This interview is part of In The Know, our bi-weekly LinkedIn Live series that covers one topic in 25 minutes. Register for our next episode here.

Maliyah Bernard

Maliyah Bernard is an academic writer turned content writer. As a former frontline worker, she loves writing about all the ways organizations can support these essential workers smarter.