Career tracks can benefit any size office

Create small and large growth moments

IRB offices that have more than one employee should also create a career track that helps staff develop leadership and other skills, experts say.A career track also can improve staff morale and improve retention by giving employees a way to move up without moving out.

"Once you find good employees, the challenge is to keep them," says Charlotte H. Coley, MACT, CIP, director of IRB educational programs at Duke University in Durham, NC.

"You need to create within your operational structure opportunities for lateral and upward mobility in the job, so employees can continue to be challenged," Coley explains.

"And they can find out what they're really good at and what they like doing in the IRB world," she adds. "Find out what their strengths are, and make them king or queen of that."

Coley and other experts offer these tips on creating a career track within an IRB office:

1. Create an entry-level administrative position.

"This should not be a gofer and dead-end job," Coley says. "But it can be somebody who is a shadower of your existing staff."

An administrative support job would be an opportunity for someone who is interested in IRB work, but has little or no research experience. In this beginning role, the employee could learn about how IRB offices work without the pressure of having responsibility for meeting all regulatory burdens, Coley explains.

"If someone can learn this entry-level job through observing and helping out staff, then you and they will know if they are ready to move to another position within the organization," Coley says.

IRB managers might hire staff with specific job experience and skills and start them in a higher position, but this can backfire if the new employee decides he or she doesn't like the job after the organization has spent six months in training the person, she notes.

Less time and fewer resources are lost if the new entry-level administrative staff worker decides to go elsewhere.

2. Encourage staff to attend conferences, become certified.

"We offer opportunities for administrative assistants and analysts to attend regional human subjects conferences," says Karen Hansen, director of the institutional review office at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA.

"We have courses offered in our center, such as Cancer Biology 101 and human resource management courses," Hansen says. "We encourage staff to take these courses, and we also encourage individuals to get their CIP, an IRB professional exam, and we pay for the expense provided they pass the exam."

These opportunities for growth help keep employees on an upward growth track in their careers, she notes.

"We recently had an employee who was an administrative assistant move into a SOP [standard operating procedure] administrator role," Hansen says.

The SOP administrator is responsible for maintaining job descriptions, handling IRB office forms, and making changes to forms used by staff when analyzing new protocols.

"It's important to provide continuing education opportunities, encouraging staff to go to PRIM&R and other conferences or to local workshops," Coley says.

Educational opportunities can be as simple as inviting IRB staff to lunchtime seminars or adding five minutes of information about a new regulation to a staff meeting, she adds.

"Dovetail the continuing education you provide for board members for your staff too," she says.

The key is to give employees the tools and opportunities they need to grow in their positions, Yvonne Higgins, CIP, director of quality management at Copernicus Group Institutional Review Board in Durham, NC.

3. Provide opportunities for developing leadership skills.

IRB directors might take a look at their own daily tasks and responsibilities and delegate some of these to other staff in the office.

"That's something that's very difficult for people in this graying IRB profession to do," Higgins says. "If you've always been in the office and always been the only person doing one thing and now you have other people in the office, you may not be comfortable giving up responsibilities."

A good example involves education and training. An IRB director might give staff some opportunities to develop and present some education and training curricula.

"Each month we have IRB member training that takes 10 to 15 minutes of the meeting," Higgins says.

"Instead of having one person do that training across eight IRBs, we met as a group and decided on topics of the year," she explains. "Then we assigned junior IRB administrators on staff the responsibility of pulling together the materials to do the training, developing a presentation, and presenting information to a group of their peers and to me and then presenting to their individual IRBs."

This is an example of how existing employees can expand their skills and be honed as the next generation of leaders, Higgins says.

Another strategy Higgins uses to develop leaders is to create teaching moments throughout the workday.

When employees stop her to ask a question, she'll turn the encounter into a teaching moment.

"I'll give them a set of questions and say, 'Before we talk about this, here is a set of articles I'd like you to read, and then we'll talk about it,'" Higgins says. "That's an example of how to coach a person and help them develop the ability to work through their own questions, coming up with a potential solution."

4. Make well-defined steps of progression.

"In my first interview with Copernicus, our CEO said that I would be working within a meritocracy where you move ahead by doing good work," Higgins says. "We have within each department very well-defined paths of progression."

Also, the organization is beginning to give staff individual development plans that outline who they are and where they want to go in their careers within a defined period of time. These are developed in sit-down sessions with supervisors, Higgins says.

"We discuss what their resources are and which tools they'll need to get there," she adds. "It's an empowering way to help people grow."

An IRB office could create positions at different levels, perhaps labeling them specialist I and specialist II, Coley suggests.

This helps employees see opportunities for growth and promotion, she adds.

5. Raise expectations through project assignments.

"Assign employees projects in areas where they've shown skills and interest and see how they do," Coley suggests. "You can have them help you with different assignments, get them to help or go out on their own to do presentations when a department asks for guidance."

When an employee asks for additional training, IRB supervisors should jump on the chance to help the employee expand his or her knowledge and skills.

"I pushed human resources to classify IRB positions at as high a job level as I could," Coley says. "It helps in recruiting people when you offer a good salary and have built-in opportunities for growth so they can stay in the job and move up as their interests grow."