Keeping Functional Resourcing in APAC from becoming Dysfunctional

Keeping Functional Resourcing in APAC from becoming Dysfunctional

Paula Mumby

Business lore is filled with stories of how cultural faux pas have endangered or even derailed global projects. From my own position in Asia Pacific, I see first-hand the many ways that cultural differences can impact clinical trial planning and execution—particularly when functions are managed globally. What should you do when a Principle Investigator (PI) doesn't follow the protocol? How can you troubleshoot the reasons for low enrolment results? If your answers are formed with a Western bias, they are likely not the best ones for APAC.

Testing the text and picture componentCRO’s working on behalf of sponsors need to be mindful of cultural nuances in the region to ensure that research projects run smoothly and deliver high-quality data. Without this deep local knowledge, expertise and respect a functional resourcing strategy—can easily become dysfunctional.

Critical Success Factors – Across the board(er)

All resourcing models from a single resource to FSP work best when partnerships between sponsors and CROs are in place, to clearly establish:

  • Clarity of roles, responsibilities and risk-sharing parameters. Having clear accountability is particularly crucial when personnel operate in a matrix structure between the CRO and the sponsor. The potential for confusion regarding oversight responsibility is greater—and potentially more damaging—than in traditional, transaction-based outsourcing models.
  • Detailed, program-specific escalation pathways. Personnel in both the CRO and sponsor companies must know how and where to address issues quickly.
  • A multi-functional governance framework. Complex organisational structures, extensive communication networks and competing needs for information require a streamlined process for decision-making. Clear expectations on the responsibilities of local affiliates versus the global headquarters need to be established for both the sponsor and CRO. There must also be established communication channels.
  • Workload and resource-forecasting mechanisms. Quality, business continuity, productivity and study objectives can only be met if the parties jointly create an accurate means of forecasting and retaining the resources required.
  • A change management forum. Involving key team members in planning and implementing change facilitates a seamless transition as well as continuous improvement.

Don’t get lost in translation

Operating a functional resourcing model in APAC presents many of the same challenges as elsewhere, in addition to some specific to the region or to individual countries. The success of any strategic resourcing partnership in APAC will depend upon; the type of management support structure put in place, the degree of involvement by local affiliates, and the level of familiarity with local customs. Cultural differences and local conditions can manifest themselves in:

  • Differing approaches to conflict management/issue escalation. In many Asian countries, people resist sharing "bad news," and managers must therefore stress that they want to learn of complications before they become "big problems." This barrier can be overcome by gradually building trust, by learning how to ask questions that elicit honest feedback, and by listening carefully to the responses. Cultural training and awareness of business practices can be useful for both local and overseas workers.
  • The need for peer-to-peer interactions. In many countries, positions that are granted a high degree of status (such as PIs) should only be approached by positions of equal status. A Clinical Research Assistant (CRA) should not, for instance, be expected to give direction to a PI; rather, the job should be handled by a more senior executive.
  • Staffing shortages. Significant growth in the region has created a shortage of experienced personnel, leading to salary escalation and high turnover. And this, in turn, is creating a training burden and rapid career progression. Resourcing programs must, therefore, include proactive hiring, retention strategies and ample training budgets for new entrants and new managers.
  • Challenges to employees’ sense of belonging. In many APAC countries, employees feel a strong connection to their workplace, colleagues and managers. Consideration needs to be given to where employees are located and the sense of connection that they expect to have with their employer. Best practices for strengthening employee retention include thorough onboarding processes, recognition programs, investment in employees' training and career development and active communication programs.
  • Discrepancies in salary grade structures. Accelerated career progression in APAC compared to the rest of the world can result in different experience levels for staff in the same function. This may necessitate salary and title adjustments.

Given the expansion of clinical trials into APAC, success is becoming increasingly dependent on the extent to which cultural factors are addressed in functional resourcing arrangements. The best assurance that your business dealings will be sensitive to the local customs and cultural norms is to work with a local partner that has an established presence, a strong local network and proven processes for working in the culture. This will help to keep the “dys” away from the “functional”!