Article • January 30, 2023

2023 LTEN Excellence Award – Critical Thinking Academy

This video discusses the Salience Learning / BMS Critical Thinking Academy for first-line leaders. It is a component of the 2023 LTEN Provider-Partnership Excellence Award Nomination.


Article • January 9, 2023

Keeping Motivation High & Turnover Low When Many Team Members Work Remotely

By Dr. Irene T. Boland, Director of Learning Strategy

In mid-2022, Pew Research Center reported that nearly 1 in 5 workers are actively looking for a new job while in their current role, a rate we haven’t seen since the 1970s.

One key reason for leaving?   They feel they have no opportunities for advancement.

With the large increase in remote work, many people feel like they’ve lost their connections to their leaders, the purpose of their work, and their opportunities for growth.

But there is hope!  Here are three integrated strategies for addressing this challenge.

Strategy One:  Make Career Paths Clear

By talking to tenured team members about how they advanced through the organization, you can create a single-page Career Path document for each role.

Career Path documents show current team members their potential paths forward.  The Career Path can also help attract new talent who may be looking to move up, and thinking two or more roles ahead.

Learn more about Career Paths in this video.

Contact us to learn how we can help reinvigorate your teams and reduce turnover.

Strategy Two:  Use a Capability Model to Guide Team Member Development

Well-written job descriptions are pretty good at helping you hire the right person. Job descriptions age rapidly, and are not great at providing guidance about how to do the job well after a person is hired.  

That’s why a Capability Model is so important.  A Capability Model is a concise yet robust statement that describes what a person needs to know and be able to do to excel in their current role, grow into future roles, and meet the demands of a rapidly changing marketplace.

Combined with a Career Path, a Capability Model provides excellent guidance for any team member to develop and advance with confidence.

Lear more about Capability Models in this video.

Contact us

Strategy Three: Put a Capability Model Into Action With a Capability Planner

While the Capability Model outlines what a person in a given role must know and be able to do, a Capability Planner helps each individual assess where his or her skill level is at the present time, clearly identifying areas of strength and areas where more development is needed.  Then, the individual and their leader can create development goals and action plans that support the individual’s career goals and the company’s performance goals.

Regular development conversations between the manager and team member are essential to keeping things on track. To support your leaders in driving meaningful development conversations, we recommend our leadership guide which provides support that deepens conversations and identifies specific actions leaders can take to support their team members.

Learn more about Capability Planners in this video.

Salience Learning’s team of biopharma industry veterans and learning experts is here to help you build a motivated, productive, high-performance team. We help our clients boost performance with concise Career Paths, effective Capability Models, and actionable Capability Planners and Leadership Guides—built for specific teams and roles. We also design engaging and impactful learning experiences that drive development in individuals and teams. We can do the same for you.

Contact us

Article • October 25, 2022

How Capability Development can help biopharma companies navigate the “New Normal”

In this video, Anjani Patel describes the difference between capabilities and skills. She also outlines how “capability development” should be a top priority for biopharma companies, and why it can be critical to individual and organizational success.

Article • October 18, 2022

How has the pandemic affected the biopharma workforce?

In this video, Anjani Patel describes how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the biopharma industry. In particular, it changed the way biopharma companies interact with their customers and it also altered how they attract and retain talent. Anjani also provides some guidance for biopharma companies who must attract, train, develop, and retain top talent in a challenging new environment.

Article • February 8, 2022

Do your learners need “Storytelling Skills”? Not exactly…

By Karen Foster, M.Ed.

Fads and fashions tend to come and go. For a while, a certain thing is all the rage and then, after a time, it tends to fade away, only to be replaced by something else. This is true of clothing, television programs, music, and more. But it’s also true in learning and development. As an L&D professional, you’ve no doubt noticed this.

Well, I don’t know if this is a fad, but my colleagues and I have been noticing something of late. More and more we’re hearing clients say something like, “Our teams need to tell better stories,” or “If only our teams’ storytelling skills were better.” In addition, I’ve also seen learning programs popping up that claim to teach learners how to become top-notch story tellers.

With all this talk about storytelling, it prompted me to think critically about it. Why all the fuss about storytelling? What need is driving it? Is “storytelling” even the right solution? Do learners in the professional workforce really need storytelling skills…or is the real need something else altogether? 

If you’ve thought about storytelling or think your learners might need to build those skills, then read on.  The rest of this article may help you get to the core issue and save you time and resources when it comes to acquiring or developing a learning solution for “storytelling.”

Don’t call it storytelling

First, it’s helpful to define “story.” Oxford Languages dictionary defines a story as: an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment. The skills necessary to create great stories include defining story elements (like characters, settings, conflicts, and resolutions), applying language to express and explain those in an entertaining way, and (as most writers would attest) an immense amount of patience. So, when our clients and other colleagues in the life science industry say they need their teams to tell better stories, is this what they really need? I respectfully disagree.

In most cases I will argue that what clients are really saying is that they want their learners to be able to communicate information to an audience in a way that gets that audience to do something. Professionals are not telling stories for entertainment. They’re telling stories to drive action: action in the sense of physical movement or, as is more often the case in the knowledge economy and life-sciences industry, action in the sense of thinking movement, like changing opinions or conclusions. 

Account Executives communicate information to move a payer’s thinking that a therapy does not have value to the conclusion that it does – and then putting it on formulary. Marketing leaders communicate information to move a corporate leader’s thinking that a certain program isn’t essential to the department’s success to it being essential – and then securing the appropriate budget.  In either case, the information is communicated to generate movement.

If it isn’t storytelling, then what is it?

The solution is NOT to train learners to create interesting characters in unique settings where they resolve conflicts all tied up with a good nail-biting ending. The solution is to improve learners’ abilities to craft an argument: not an argument involving fisticuffs, but “a reason or set of reasons that someone uses to show that something is true or correct,” as defined by Oxford Languages. That something is the desired future state either as a thinking state (“This drug actually does have tremendous value”) or physical state (the drug is placed on formulary).

Being able to craft and deliver an argument requires two foundational capabilities: Critical Thinking and Effective Communication. It also requires Emotional Intelligence and a few others, but we’ll stick with these two first.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is defined as the effortful and continuous analysis of the validity of a conclusion. Think of a five-year-old asking, “Why is the sky blue?” “Why does milk come from cows?” “Why don’t I have a baby brother?”

Before communicating anything to an audience, one needs to ask “Why?” and think it through to identify the reasons an audience should move physically or thinkingly.

First, one would ask questions and gather information:

  1. Who is the audience?
  2. What is the desired future state (what is the “ask”)?
  3. What are their needs and motivations and perspectives?
  4. What are the grounds, causes, rationales or reasons that justify the desired future state? What data, information or evidence supports those statements?
  5. Filter the total population of statements in #4 to identify those that are compelling based on #3.

The output of this thinking process is then crafted into a logical sequence of statements to make the case for the ask. Logical and reasonable sequencing take critical thinking to then continually question the rigor of the step-by-step argument assembled. “Would I move based on this?” “Would this move someone to action? To change their mind?” If no, then back to #4 above.

It’s not storytelling, its thinking.


When it comes time to deliver an argument to an audience—whether it’s via a presentation, video, paper, or some combination of things—it’s important to do so in a way that gets results. First and foremost, that means not arguing! If you find yourself arguing while delivering an argument, go back and think critically. Then ensure that you have:

  1. Accounted for power differentials and cultural differences – meaning, include the “ask” in an appropriate way.
  2. Ensured verbal and non-verbal signals are aligned – meaning, if it’s a serious decision, dress appropriately.
  3. Minimized cognitive overload – meaning, give time to process and don’t read from slides.

When these attributes describe how you deliver an argument, it becomes persuasive…and persuasion yields action. 

What now?

As an L&D professional, if your internal customers say they want to develop storytelling skills—or if you are thinking about acquiring a storytelling curriculum—the first thing you should do is think critically. Why do they need to tell better stories? What outcome do stakeholders want? What’s making it difficult for learners to do that now? Once you’ve identified the core need, you’ll be in a much better position to select the right learning solution.

The second thing you should do is find that solution. Chances are, you won’t really need a curriculum that focuses on character development, settings, and conflict.  It might be better to look for a solution that empowers learners to assess their thinking process, question conclusions and gather evidence (one that helps them argue better, not tell better stories).

As an aside, this entire article was an argument, and not a dragon or damsel in earshot or a single fist thrown. That said, it did take a lot of patience.

Podcast • January 4, 2022

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 33: Why we built the Critical Thinking Academy, Part 2

Karen Foster and Amy Parent continue their discussion about Critical Thinking Academy, the first in a series of academies designed to build essential capabilities for professionals in life science organizations. This is part two of a two-part series.

Access the episode here.

Podcast • December 14, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 32: Why we built the Critical Thinking Academy

Karen is joined by Salience Learning’s own Amy Parent to discuss the launch of Critical Thinking Academy, the first in a series of academies designed to build essential capabilities for professionals in life science organizations. This is part one of a two-part series.

Access the episode here.

Podcast • November 23, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 31: Why are capability models so important?

Krista Gerhard and Kim Portland discuss the difference between competencies and capabilities, and why capability models matter now more than ever.

Access the episode here.

Article • October 25, 2021

Why Capabilities Matter and How Training Your Teams on Them Drives Results

By Karen Foster and Irene Boland

Not long ago, success in the life science industry could be attributed to how well one mastered and executed skills:  skills in selling, account planning, customer engagement and more. Someone who perfected a skill could apply it repeatedly across similar situations without breaking a sweat.

Unfortunately, in today’s world it’s rare that the same situation happens twice, and skills are no longer enough. The products are more complex, the marketplace is more complex, the ways of working are more complex. And everything is constantly changing. As the industry evolves, so must you. Success in the life science industry today will be powered not only by narrower skills like selling and planning, but also by broader proficiencies that are called capabilities.

What Is a Capability?

A capability is a set of behaviors and characteristics applied fluidly and flexibility across conditions, situations and contexts. Critical thinking is a capability. It consists of behaviors like asking questions, thinking slowly and assessing one’s thinking. It entails certain personality characteristics, such as being skeptical and comfortable with ambiguity. One could think critically about scientific data or when dialoging with a colleague or when deciding where to go for dinner.

Capabilities come in handy across situations. They are foundational and allow you to adapt to changing circumstances and a continuous flow of information. They enhance information gathering, decision-making, and problem-solving. They’re a kind of all-purpose superpower. 

What Is a Skill?

On the other hand, a skill is a set of actions executed sequentially to achieve a defined outcome in a narrow set of conditions. Cutting vegetables with a knife is a skill. To execute this skill, you would: hold the knife safely, stabilize the item on a surface, and slice the item with the knife. You would carry out these steps in order, to make a whole into parts, and could apply this to tomatoes, carrots, basil or any vegetable of your choice.

Skills come in handy when the conditions don’t change much.

But if too many changes occur, the skill loses its value. Imagine for a second that “vegetable” is replaced with “tree,” and “knife” is replaced with “chainsaw.” Are the sets of actions for cutting a tree with a chainsaw the same as cutting vegetables with knife?

Most of would say no, unless you don’t mind losing some fingers.

Why Do Capabilities Matter Now?

This is exactly why capabilities matter in a constantly changing, complex world with endless amounts of information. Skills typically apply to a narrow set of conditions, but once the conditions change enough: poof, the skill no longer “transfers,” to use the learning science term. Could someone who cuts vegetables with a knife also cut fruit or meat? Sure. What about paper or rope? Hmmm, maybe. But expand to a tree trunk and a chainsaw and you have crossed a line. A new skill is needed. More training to be conducted. More time out of the field.

A capability, on the other hand—such as using a cutting implement safely—can come in handy whether it’s a tomato, rope or a tree. Capabilities flex further. They go farther.

How do Capabilities Impact the Business?

Professionals in the life science industry need to evolve, and capabilities provide that power.

New therapeutic areas and business models—not to mention the pandemic—have created tumult in the industry. New innovations, new types of work and new ways of engaging with customers require new ways of thinking.

Learning capabilities may not seem as urgent as learning skills, but it’s a forward-looking exercise that in the long run pays off. Capabilities future-proofs a business. Oh, and they supercharge skills, too.

Where Do I Start?

The World Economic Forum recently found that “critical thinking and analysis” was one of the most in-demand emerging capabilities across countries and industries. Critical thinking—the ability to test the validity of conclusions—is a broad capability.

It consists of five key behaviors: thinking slowly, asking questions, gathering evidence, checking assumptions, and assessing the thinking process itself. You can see how critical thinking would come in handy no matter the specific task or ability. It can even help you identify what task to undertake and what specific skill to deploy.

The business world will continue to change—likely at an ever-increasing rate. So, focus on improving both the narrow skills that solve the problem in front of you and also the capabilities that will carry over to the next one.

Learn about Salience Learning’s Critical Thinking Academy

Podcast • September 13, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 30 featuring Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. (part 3 of 3)

This is the final part of our three-part conversation with prolific author, researcher, and professor Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. Karen, Krista, and Barbara discuss how the patterns and pathways picked up during past learning experiences influence how our brains react to future learning challenges when building new skills.

Access the episode here.