Welcome to ISPI’s Organizational Spotlight! This column focuses on our members-some you may know, some you may not. Each month, we will explore what brought them to ISPI, how they use the principles of human performance technology (HPT), and their insights into the value of membership. This month our interview is with John Constantine, Executive Director and Dean, Merck.

Merck is inspired by the difference we can make in the lives of people around the world through the innovative medicines, vaccines, and consumer health and animal products we discover and produce. Their products cover a broad range of areas, including heart and respiratory health, infectious diseases, sun care and women’s health. And we focus our research on conditions that affect millions of people around the world – diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes and cancer – while building strengths in new areas like biologics. At today’s Merck, we’re applying our global reach and strength in scientific research to do more of what we’re passionate about: working to ensure a healthier future for all – one person at a time.

Does Merck work locally? Nationally? Internationally? Globally? How does your organization approach human performance technology in each of these landscapes? Is it different? How so?

Merck is a global company with operations in almost every country on earth. The R&D Learning & Development organization, the Merck Polytechnic Institute, has 115 staff in 10 countries and 4 continents. Technology for human performance traditionally has been a bit behind the times compared to many companies, but the organization is catching up. Global systems, one-stop-shopping, collaborative technologies are all becoming the norm now.

How does Merck adapt to performance improvement needs for today’s variety of generational workforces?

Iphones/Blackberries, Protoshpere Virtual World platform, Ipads, global learning systems, just-in-time learning program design have recently been introduced to support human performance, although many of these technologies are far from optimized. Workspaces are organized virtually via SharePoint for offline collaboration.

How do you use social media in your work? As a resource? As a solution?

Share point, instant messaging, yammer (twitter-like app for enterprises) are all used in addition to more traditional media. Departmental and functional websites are linked to a company portal, though the search function has a long way to go.

What excites you about ISPI’s work?

ISPI’s work yields articles, research and tools, which provide credible information that enables HPI professionals to be successful in their roles. ISPI’s work encourages HPI professionals to improve their performance, which elevates the profession overall.

What types of learning/performance improvement opportunities does Merck offer its employees? Its clients?

Recently there have been many stretch assignments between departments and even between divisions. New headcount is not possible in this climate, so we share people between divisions/departments that have a bit extra capacity and those who have lots of important work but no excess capacity. We also are sharing courseware across divisions, e.g., commercial content for scientists and vice versa.

How has Merck’s approach(es) to performance improvement changed over time?

I think the company has finally made the dive into emerging technologies as enablers of productivity and performance, rather than the latest things being just ‘fads’. Centralization, globalization, performance consulting with clients, strategic allocation of resources are also newer practices that enable performance.

What has your organization learned from the recent economic slowdown?

Economic cycles do not impact pharma as much as political, healthcare, and regulatory cycles, though we are not immune. The real slowdown has been in R&D productivity and hostile regulation across the industry and geography.

What interesting things does Merck do to manage and develop its human capital?

There is a tremendous amount of education offered to Merck employees and stakeholders, both inside and out. A culture of ‘stretch’ projects and rotational assignments looks like it may be taking hold. Learning resources are allocated strategically across functions to go beyond compliance and into the realm of strategic capabilities.

How does human performance technology add value to Merck? How do you measure its worth and value?

I’d like to see more use of it, as our culture is a bit behind others.