TJ interviews: AstraZeneca’s Brian Murphy

AstraZeneca’s Brian Murphy talks to TJ about learning at the pharmaceutical giant.

Describe the learning culture at AstraZeneca.

Learning happens every day, in the flow of our work. As a science organisation, discovery is in our DNA. Our people are naturally curious and always looking to explore and learn, so we work hard to nurture that inherent quality.

The ground-breaking innovation we deliver creates a real-world learning laboratory that provides extraordinary development opportunities for us all. Our learning framework, the 3Es, helps our people take advantage of the natural classroom that is AstraZeneca:

  • Experiences provide continuous opportunities for people to learn as part of their critical work to push the boundaries of science
  • Exposure to learn from some of the best minds in science
  • Education, in which we take pride in offering a world-class programme with formal learning experiences.

We also recently updated our performance management approach, moving away from ratings and a backward looking assessment, to now focus on forward-looking performance development conversations throughout the year supported by great coaching conversations.

Our holistic approach to performance development is based on the ultimate goal of supporting our people to stretch and grow. Therefore, learning is increasingly seen as integral to our work every day, the way that our people will thrive and the company will grow.  

Lifelong learning seems to be a term that’s falling out of favour, but surely the idea of it is sound. You should always be learning, right?

It depends on what we mean by lifelong learning. If we mean lifelong education, then I think this is still critically important. Each of us will have to reinvent ourselves a number of times during our careers, and education will be key to that. But learning is much more than just education.

The most successful individuals, teams, and companies continual investing in learning, unlearning, and re-learning

It’s also a daily practice of learning from our experiences and embedding continuous improvement into everything we do. With the pace and nature of change we face in this fast-changing world, reskilling every now and then won’t be enough.

Adopting learning agility and a continuous improvement mindset will see the most successful individuals, teams, and companies continually investing in learning, unlearning, and re-learning, because it equips us to embrace challenges and seize opportunities that lie ahead.

And I would argue this goes beyond our professional lives.

This goes to the heart of what makes us human. That’s why the Learning For Life initiative focuses on supporting our people to be curious, brave, and collaborative. It’s these values that will help develop a growth mindset and enable continuous innovation.  

How will you know when you’ve achieved your aims as a head of learning? What are the indicators?

Ultimately any great learning and development team should measure their success when they are not needed anymore. If you can support the creation of a true learning organisation, then the company has embedded learning into everything that it does, and it’s impossible to differentiate it from the work.

Technology, work design, processes, and company culture all incorporate learning as part of the highest high performing organisation possible. I honestly think we should be trying to make ourselves obsolete. That’s when the work will be done.

Give us something to be hopeful about in L&D in 2021.

CEOs, leaders, and employees are all desperate to be empowered to re-skill and build future capabilities. Learning agility and learning culture are seen as the keys to future-proofing ourselves and our organisations in the face of unprecedented change and disruption.

So we really are in the right place at the right time. Add to that the fact that people are tired and challenged by the experience of the last 12 months. Helping people to be resilient and to be the best they can be, is ultimately the goal of every L&D professional.

So it’s never been a better time to be in L&D. We just need to step up to the plate and help our people, leaders and organisations embrace rather than fight the required change and prioritise lifelong learning.

That’s a big responsibility for the L&D profession, but I know we can do it.


About the interviewee

Brian Murphy is global head of learning and enterprise capabilities at AstraZeneca.


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