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Does orientation matter? Improving HR from day one boosts last mile medicines delivery

10th March 2021

To increase access to essential medicines, especially in low and middle-income countries, it is important to improve all elements of the supply chain.

According to the WHO, “Adequate human resources, sustainable financing, comprehensive information systems, and coordinated healthcare partners and institutions are key components to ensure uninterrupted availability and accessibility of essential medicines.”

Human resources (HR) cover a wide range of factors in the working environment. Part of HR’s role is to ensure the company’s employees are equipped to perform to the best of their ability. It has become even more important to consider the wellbeing of those working in health care and health supply chains throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, as we focus on supporting essential workers.

More generally, when working to improve a supply chain, it is critical to consider HR. Although it may seem like a supply chain’s efficiency comes from manufacturing speed and effective transportation, one of the most important ingredients to an efficient supply chain is its people. Strong human resources can make a supply chain more efficient in a sustainable way, improving the skills of people who already work within the supply chain.

HR investment for better health outcomes

People that Deliver (PtD) is an organisation that aims to improve health outcomes by helping health supply chain professionals gain or upgrade essential skills to do their jobs well. Development organisations have coordinated projects to invest in HR before, all with the ultimate goal of improving health outcomes. However, there has been little explanation for why or how investing in health supply chain workers’ skills improves health outcomes. Therefore, PtD created a Theory of Change to explain how workforce investment specifically can improve the health supply chain generally. This concept is called the Human Resources for Supply Chain Management (HR4SCM) Theory of Change.

The HR4SCM Theory of Change suggests that training health supply chain workers on how they can do their jobs better will ultimately improve the whole supply chain at every level. There are four ‘pathways’ for improvement:

  • Staffing
  • Skills
  • Working conditions
  • Motivation

Improving each of these areas means that health products will be more available and more cost-effective for patients at the last mile.

Induction – starting off on the right foot

The first day on the job always comes with challenges. Induction is a critical step in a new staff member’s onboarding. Thorough and meaningful induction processes can give a new employee a strong foundation that can set them up for years of growth at the company.

Induction therefore touches on each of the other areas of human resources – skills, working conditions and motivation.

Through induction, an employee understands their job’s day-to-day expectations, from the most basic, such as when to arrive, to the more complex, such as the objective of their new role. It sets their expectations for working conditions, so it is important that companies make induction a positive experience. According to the CIPD, “for an employer, effective induction may also affect turnover, absenteeism and employer brand.”

Induction also helps new employees understand how their everyday tasks are related to the company’s wider mission, which can be an important source of motivation.

These aspects of human resources are particularly significant in low- and middle-income countries, which have shortages of qualified and skilled workers in the health and supply chain sectors.

Why a strong start matters

Research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that good onboarding can lead to higher job satisfaction, organisational commitment, lower turnover, higher performance levels, career effectiveness, and lower stress for employees. They noted that “research and conventional wisdom both suggest that employees get about 90 days to prove themselves in a new job. The faster new hires feel welcome and prepared for their jobs, the faster they will be able to successfully contribute to the firm’s mission.

Crucially, SHRM found that effective onboarding can improve retention rates by 52%, time to productivity by 60%, and overall customer satisfaction by 53%. Therefore, onboarding does not just improve an employee’s experience or the company’s efficiency, but it improves the customer’s experience, too.

A case study in strong inductions: Ethiopian Pharmaceuticals Supply Agency

Pamela Steele Associates (PSA) has led the Admas Programme at the Ethiopian Pharmaceuticals Supply Agency (EPSA) since 2019.  Through Admas, PSA has used the HR4SCM theory of change to help the EPSA workforce gain important skills.

The Admas Programme started in March 2019, and at that time, PSA needed to determine EPSA’s starting point. To do so, PSA facilitated a ‘cultural diagnostic’ to assess EPSA’s organisational culture. The beliefs and behaviours that dominate a workplace determine its culture, and culture can affect communication, leadership styles, employee behaviour, and more.

Through interviews with EPSA’s employees, the assessment found that over 70% of the respondents did not believe that EPSA’s staff adopted EPSA’s core values. Also, staff said that a lack of strong induction and onboarding processes posed a significant challenge for the culture. Employees were having difficulty feeling like they belonged at EPSA, so they formed sub-groups to fashion a sense of belonging for themselves.

Lacking induction processes, staff did not know about fundamental aspects of their jobs, such as when and where to collect their pay. The entire culture at EPSA suffered.

Based on these findings, PSA helped EPSA create an induction pack with essential information for new staff about EPSA’s history, guiding principles, and HR policies. Since August 2020, the new induction materials have been used to induct eight staff at EPSA’s headquarters and several more at the hub locations.

Sustainable HR to raise the bottom line

Increasingly, it is it is expected that Human Resource practices are sustainable – meaning they are focused on long-term growth and development.

This pack will help with employee orientation – namely, the few hours it takes to go through necessary paperwork. However, it is important that EPSA HR is equipped to continue the onboarding process themselves, a process which can last months or even years. To ensure this intervention is sustainable and owned by EPSA HR, PSA helped train their HR staff on how to use and update the induction materials effectively and independently.

Read the full case study >