February 2014

Transforming Government through High-Performance

by Juan Riboldi

Case Summary

Situation: CVM leaders decided to transform the agency into a high performing organization

What We Did: Organized the Ascent Partners as a cross-functional group to accelerate innovation and improvement

Outcomes: Within a few months, senior leaders started to see progress in areas that had been stuck, in some case for years.




The U.S. FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) stands out as a progressive government organization that has been recognized by other Government agencies for their resourcefulness and engagement during challenging times. Facing the complex challenges affecting US Federal Government agencies, CVM leaders decided to proactively improve efficiency and service to the public.

CVM leaders set out to deliberately transform the agency into a high performing organization. Over the years, CVM invested in training all employees in the principles of high-performing organizations. While the concepts were slowly taking root in the hearts and minds of the employees, the leaders decided to take another bold step in the chosen direction.

The next step was to apply high-performance principles. They started by empowering a cadre of internal resources to act as improvement champions to tackle strategic improvements.

Ascent Advisor helped select a cross-functional group of champions. Through a series of action-learning Ascent Workshops and weekly coaching sessions, the change champions applied the Ascent Process to critical initiatives. In the process, they became catalyst for making improvements.

The “Ascent Partners,” as they became known at CVM, gained skills and practices to lead effective change. Working outside their department as respected insiders, gave the Ascent Partners instant credibility among peers.

The group started making incremental improvements at first that over time accelerated as they became more comfortable with the improvement process. The specialized skills and tools coupled with regular coaching from Ascent, equipped the Ascent Partners to achieve critical milestones on important projects within the first year.

Each incoming cadre receives the Ascent Certification training and coaching in addition to the valuable mentoring from certified peers. As a group, they meet weekly to share best practices and discuss lessons learned. They help each other on projects and trouble-shooting difficult situations. Even the cynics at the Center can tell that this group won’t get easily discouraged.

The influence of the Ascent Partners has been felt at many levels at CVM. As part of their role, they provide coaching to others who may be struggling with an issue, large or small, and could use expert advice. From coaching with employees one-onone, to facilitating effective meetings, to guiding complex change projects, the Ascent Partners are making a difference.

As the initial cadre of Ascent Partners started making a noticeable difference, the leaders decided to expand the initial group to include additional members from every office.

Additional Ascent Partners were nominated from high-potential employees willing to devote a portion of their time to learn and apply principles of leadership and organizational excellence in accomplishing key projects.

Ascent Partners eventually moved into positions of higher responsibility. The Ascent Process has proved a pivotal development experience, giving talented employees an opportunity for growth while gaining broad exposure to the organization’s priorities and interaction with other key players.

Within a few months, senior leaders started to see progress in areas that had been stuck, in some cases for years. In addition, they saw the full completion of important initiatives.

The Ascent process helps address the root causes so the work progresses more steadily towards timely milestones. The Center executive team receives regular updates from project team members reporting on their team’s achievements.

The Ascent Partners act as agents for change, dealing with complex people and organizational situations. The Ascent Partners set a model for other government organizations needing to build their capacity to change.

© Ascent Advisor, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Cameron Wilkinson | Director of Business Development
801.900.6002 | cwilkinson@ascent-advisor.com