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5 Key Ways to Ensure Your Field Rides are Effective

By Robert Zelinsky Robert Zelinsky on October 11, 2019

Field rides are a classic method of checking in with your employees. By directly observing their daily activities, a company manager or outside consultant can make constructive suggestions that encourage adherence to policies.

It’s a valuable opportunity to see what’s really happening out in the marketplace. The employee finds out if they’re doing things right, and the monitor gains a hands-on, first-person view of the everyday challenges that can create excessive risk for the company.

Here are 5 ways to ensure your field rides are always as effective as possible.

1- Take Unscheduled Field Rides

Field rides come in many forms. A field ride can be an actual car trip or simply a shadowing period that takes the monitor on a “ride” through the person’s daily workflow. Together, the pair may visit a client, join a lunch meeting, attend a conference, or participate in other common daily activities.

During the trip, the person being observed should be encouraged to act as naturally as possible and not alter their usual plan. The goal is to gain a window into reality.

Of course, when the rep knows the field ride is coming, they have an opportunity to modify their actions in a way that doesn’t represent their true day-to-day behavior. They may orchestrate the day by setting up appointments with certain clients, controlling what the monitor sees.

These faked-up field experiences, sometimes called milk runs, can mess with your metrics and erode the overall effectiveness of your compliance program. Unscheduled ride-alongs can be much more effective.

According to a recent compliance presentation at the Pharma Compliance Forum, field rides should be both risk-based and random, balancing a focus on your riskiest activities with an element of surprise. Here are some tips for unscheduled field rides:

  • Field rides should represent a mix of activities, like sales calls, lunch/dinner meetings, speaker conferences, and so forth.
  • Unscheduled observations can make an employee feel nervous and unsettled. So it’s important to frame it as a positive experience that provides hands-on real-time learning.
  • It’s important not to single out certain employees for repeated field rides, while others are never going through the experience. It skews your results and can be interpreted as either favoritism or punishment.
  • Set a positive goal for the field ride, and make the goal clear to the person being observed.
  • When arriving at any appointment with a client, carefully respond to questions about the ride-along, upon request.
  • Document field rides thoroughly, including names, locations, dates, data collection, and any notes for follow-up. We will discuss how to do this more thoroughly below.

2- Ask “What If?” Questions

Field rides provide the perfect opportunity to get people thinking about compliance in an open, transparent way. “What if” questions make good conversation starters.

During the ride, the supervisor can observe activities and ask hypothetical questions. For example, let’s say a sales rep is buying a meal for a client meeting. The cost of the meal is close to the expenditure limit. The supervisor could ask a question like, “What if this cost $20 more?” to test the knowledge of the rep and see if they understand the expenditure threshold.

Your questions should be based on your company’s key performance indicators (KPIs) and key risk indicators (KRIs), along with the specific compliance issues your company is facing. If a certain set of activities has been causing near-failures, it’s time to structure a set of field ride “what if” questions around these specific activities.


Look for adherence to policies and procedures and uncover:

  • Obvious gaps in knowledge and awareness
  • Subtle gaps in understanding that affect the correct application of policies
  • Frustrations and comfort level with proper procedures
  • Situations that are not addressed by current policy
  • Outright violations
  • Violations that are random vs. habitual
  • Anything that must be halted immediately by the observer stepping in

On the last point, where an urgent issue has arisen, document and review answers to "What if" questions and use this information, along with field metrics and other compliance inputs, to improve your recurring compliance trainings. By identifying issues early and using that as a method to continuously update training, you will create a risk-focused, constructive feedback loop.

3- Request a Review of Materials

During the field ride, it’s important to keep an eye on the materials and messaging the employee is using. Whether printed or digital, these materials represent your company and shouldn’t be old and outdated.

It can be difficult to track exactly which materials a rep is using. Are you sure they’re referencing the latest version of your marketing kit? When they speak to clients, are they accurately explaining what’s in the materials?

Here’s a common occurrence: The rep has an iPad for presentations, but makes printouts in case the client wants to keep a copy. The rep routinely makes dozens of printouts in advance and stores them in their car’s trunk, causing old versions of the presentation to stay in the market for months. The iPad is getting the latest updates, but the printouts are not.

Observation during a field ride can put a stop to this kind of practice. Take the opportunity to educate the rep about the lifespan of materials. Communicate with the marketing department to ensure reps always have the most up-to-date materials possible.

In the moment, monitors can easily capture instances of noncompliance by taking pictures with their phones. This preserves information for later, closer inspection.

4- If You Can’t Ride, Re-enact

In certain companies and situations, it’s difficult to do ride-alongs as frequently as you’d like. As an alternative, demonstrations performed as re-enactments can be instructive for your staff.

The point of these re-enactments isn’t to play “gotcha” and try to catch reps’ mistakes, although that will certainly be a side effect. The goal is to create a constructive learning environment where your reps can observe best practices, ask questions, and consider potential worst-case scenarios without real-world consequences.

Here are some tips for performing educational re-enactments that support compliance efforts:

Invite all new reps. Make re-enactments a part of your new-hire training program to ensure every employee has experienced this training method at least once.

Train the trainer. You’ll need to be certain that the person guiding the re-enactments is fully up-to-date about compliance best practices.

Consider consultants. Sometimes an outside trainer can provide a more thorough learning experience, especially in specialized fields with strict regulation.

Competency, not evaluation. Re-enactments are not the same as performance evaluations. Re-enactments, like actual field rides, should be viewed as a competency assessments - a way to see whether further training is needed.

Document everything. Although re-enactments can feel casual, they should always be documented as a formal part of your compliance plan.

5- Use Technology as a Partner

Tech tools can be a huge help in conducting field rides and interpreting their results afterward. A compliance monitoring tool can also help you fulfill the critical need to promptly address urgent issues that are found during a field ride.

Technology turns a huge list of individual instances into data you can analyze. Something that is observed by a single person during a single field ride might seem like a random event at the time, but when everything is input into a compliance monitoring platform, large-scale trends emerge.

Initiating or revamping your compliance monitoring program is the perfect time to kick-start a data-driven compliance program. This is a type of program that values data management and collects field data in a way that facilitates comparison across geographies. It supports aggregation of findings, thereby accelerating constructive feedback loops.

The right tech solution ensures your field rides are always effective at managing risk for your company. To learn more about the industry’s best compliance tools, connect with Cresen Solutions for a demo.

Topics: Key Risk Indicators in Compliance Monitoring

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