Professional Learning and Development Support Services for NIAIDS’s Office of Workforce Effectiveness and Resources (OWER)

NIAID’s mission is to conduct and support “basic and applied research to better understand, treat, and ultimately prevent infectious, immunologic, and allergic diseases.” This mission requires a unique and complex set of programs, services, highly skilled scientists, and other healthcare professionals, all working to further the efforts of the Institute. Its staff manages and guides intramural and extramural research contract activities, centers for excellence, and international programs; chairs steering committees and strategic planning meetings; and facilitates other research management support programs and activities. These activities require a wide range of management and organizational skills to retain the talented scientists and meet the complex needs of rapidly developing global health challenges and scientific advancements. Training will have to cover a range of environments, from NIH research support offices to bio-defense laboratories, and recognize the unique nature and scope of scientific research at NIAID. Cygnus ‘challenge was to provide support for training and organizational development without getting in the way of critical scientific work, not all of which can be “scheduled” as conveniently as traditional training. We provided state-of the-art training, project management, and organizational development theory, practice and technology to the NIAID workforce.


  • Executive and leadership coaching
  • Course design, development, and implementation
  • Workshops
  • Survey and evaluation
  • Curriculum development
  • Course and program facilitation
  • Organizational development
  • Learning and needs assessments
  • Focus group studies
  • Data analysis
  • Retreats and interventions
  • Meeting logistics
  • Meeting facilitation
  • Publications development
  • Graphics and layout
  • Meeting minutes
  • Writing and reports
  • Description


Cygnus provides strategic, programmatic, and operational support to the Office of Workforce Effectiveness and Resources (OWER) in the areas of learning and organizational development. Cygnus has provided more than 200 offerings to support NIAID’s missions and goals. This support includes design and development of formal course presentations, one-on-one coaching services, organizational consulting services and interventions, program evaluation, focus group and needs assessment services, meeting logistics and facilitation, and publication and writing support.

Descriptions of some of the OWER programs and assignments that encompass the variety of services required are described briefly below:

  1. Navigating NIAID Welcome Workshop (NNWW) and New Employee On-Boarding Program—A year-long program to assist with the assimilation and integration of new staff to NIAID beginning with a mandatory orientation.
  2. The Art of Leadership (AOL)—A multisession program open to GS-12s and above to develop and enhance their leadership skills. It includes a leadership coaching component of one-on-one guidance from a qualified leadership coach.
  3. The Essentials of Supervision (EOS)—A mandatory program of seven sessions for supervisors with 5 or less years of supervisory experience with NIAID to provide knowledge and tools for supervision at NIAID. It includes a 360° feedback tool and two individual coaching sessions on the feedback.
  4. Executive Coaching (EC) Program—Available one-on-one guidance from a certified executive coach (ICF Certified) to assist senior leaders with meeting short- and long-term goals.
  5. In addition to direct facilitation, provide coaching services to NIAID leaders via Art of Leadership, the Essentials of Supervision, and Executive Coaching.
  6. Unit-based Training and Services (UBT)—Professional assistance is available to management and their teams, and includes such topics as organizational diagnosis, project management, time management, team building, conflict management, and customized training.
  7. Career Development (CD)—Classes in specialized topics to assist NIAID staff in fully developing their careers and career potential. Held Career Development classes for 132 employees including video casts and in-person classes at Rocky Mountain Labs (RML). Topics included Email Excellence, Making Your Best Speech Ever, Powerful Presentations, Scientific Presentations and Individual Development Plans and Effective Communication and Customer Service.
  8. Organizational Consulting Services (OCS)—Provides organizational development consulting, interventions, customized training, conflict management, team building, retreat design, and facilitation. This includes some of the following programs and services:
    • Intervention: “From Assessment to Action”—Designed a program for the Office of Policy in Clinical Research Operations (OPCRO).The intent of this intervention is to support the management team in learning how to analyze previous data and recommendations to determine how to move ahead in setting direction and priorities for the unit.
    • Retreat—“Achieve the Mission” involved data collection from the participants and resulted in a program that enabled the group to clarify their roles and responsibilities, learn to build a collaborative organization, feel engaged and involved in the work of their unit, operate through trust, work together more efficiently, and manage conflict to achieve positive outcomes.
    • Retreat—Focused on understanding differing communication styles and improving communication based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and extensive case studies.
    • Facilitation—Facilitated a session on achieving success through operational planning, defining roles and responsibilities, making process changes, and addressing technology needs. It included outlining next steps and implementation plans.
    • Facilitation—Facilitated “Thinking Outside the Box,” devoted to fostering innovation and creativity. It included presentations and exercises in challenging problem situations, reframing the status quo, and using creativity to generate new possibilities.
    • Intervention—Led a strategic planning session, including posing challenging questions, learning to think strategically, and providing plan components.
    • Intervention—Provided specialized consulting on communications and work styles, dealing with the past and letting go, implementing the change process, and developing a mission, values, and goals to a small office with some off-site staff.
    • Retreat: “Defining the Mission”—Provided a retreat on leadership development, including the definition of purpose, roles, and key functions of the unit within NIAID’s overall mission.
    • Retreat: “Creating Successful Client Relationships” focused on role definitions, intergroup dynamics, consulting contracts, team development, and managing change.
    • Retreat: “Working Effectively Across Boundaries” focused on helping participants to function well and to positively influence other teams in a rapidly changing work environment. Administered the DISC instrument to help participants learn their strengths and weaknesses.
    • Retreat: “Strategic Planning”—For a research advisory group, reviewed mission, goals and objectives, and accomplishments; reviewed the research portfolio at NIAID; and determined activities, seminars, and reports for the coming year.
    • Intervention—Conducted an intensive intervention to coach the staff of a small Office on improving communications and giving assistance with the PMAP Process. This resulted in a marked improvement in interpersonal communications and effectiveness.
    • Planning Retreat Series and Individual Coaching—Continued work from a previous retreat for a Branch that operates in an environment of rapidly changing intersections between science and health. transformed their current, mostly siloed, research approaches into more dynamic multidisciplinary approaches to achieve better research results and faster product development and delivery across seven focus areas. Provided individual coaching to the Branch staff members.
    • Survey, Report, and Intervention—Designed and executed an interview process to gather ideas from 42 Office staff on how the Office could be restructured to achieve its mission in a better way. Analyzed and presented the data in a survey report. This complex project gave rise to an intervention later in the year. The facilitated intervention was designed to improve Branch structure and function, enhancing service to the Division.
    • Intervention—Designed a retreat and provided organizational consulting services to alleviate interpersonal conflicts among a staff that had had several ombudsman visits. The two-phased approach included an initial assessment of senior staff (through the DISC instrument identifying communication styles) and the design of a 2-day communication training retreat for 30 people. A follow-up retreat was held four months later, during which participants assessed their progress after having had the opportunity to practice skills learned at the earlier retreat.
    • Facilitation and Technical Assistance—Designed and facilitated a process to help two Offices within a Division capture lessons learned from its success in responding to the recent H1N1 epidemic. Conducted interviews with the department heads and their staff to gather information. Phase 2 consisted of the retreat at which 23 staff worked together to extract lessons learned and to address leadership issues that had arisen during the process.
    • Facilitation, Retreat, and Technical Assistance—From an original request for a retreat for Division staff, Cygnus facilitated  a series of pre-meetings, assisted the design of a collaboration process, and interviewed individual staff members to gain their input. A second phase of the project involved a series of informal “forums’ during which staff members made brief presentations to the others to help them make better collective decisions about reduced resources. During the third phase, the retreat was held and Cygnus assisted the Division in collecting, interpreting, and distributing the feedback from the project.
    • Facilitation—Worked closely with NIAID organizers to provide two facilitators to assist in the delivery of an Institute-wide presentation of emergency preparedness information.
    • Facilitation and Retreat—Designed and facilitated a retreat to encourage Branch staff and the staff of its grant-sponsored Centers of Excellence to discuss issues openly, develop productive consensus, strengthen the Centers of Excellence network, improve the science it delivers, and help the Centers to work collaboratively to advance sharing of knowledge and expertise.
    • Individual Leadership Coaching—A Cygnus facilitator and Executive Coach is working with a highly placed member of a Branch on developing and enhancing leadership style and effectiveness. This one-on-one format emphasizes Cygnus’ ability to provide specific and individually tailored services to our clients.
    • Practical Management Skills Workshops (PMSW)—Customized short workshops offering hands-on training on specific topics applicable to managers, supervisors, and team leads.
    • Focus on Leadership (FOL)—A series of speakers and book discussions available to NIAID leaders and aspiring leaders on a quarterly (speakers) and monthly (articles) basis.
    • Learning Management System (LMS)—Cygnus provided consultation and facilitation for a complex new undertaking including establishment of an Advisory Group, a Working Group, and a pilot program with a launch plan and schedule.
    • Administrative Officers/Administrative Tech (AT) Training—Provide training programs for the OAS staff, including Effective Communication and Customer Service (ECCS) to new OAS staff.
    • AT Pipeline—Designed and delivered a 4-month AT Pipeline course designed to train entry-level administrative professionals leading to placement within NIAID. Provided training and development opportunities to give individuals the basic technical skills and practical knowledge to support NIAID’s administrative mission and goals.
    • Also planned and piloted an Executive Assistant Skills Training (EAST) program for OP3.
    • Data Calls (ongoing)—Cygnus responds to a variety of data calls and other special requests from OWER staff. Examples include generating cross-program participant statistics, identifying staff participation in each program area by NIAID division; developing and modifying a program delivery schedule for each contract year that includes activity dates, locations, and personnel involved; searching lists of staff names by NIAID Division to determine mandatory course attendance and/or completion for each person identified as a “Required Supervisor.”
  9. Program evaluation and needs assessment services included:
    • Developing the methodology and approach for conducting the Learning and Development Needs Assessment Study, including designing data collection instruments, a focus group discussion guide, and an analytical framework.
    • Conducting seven focus groups of managers and supervisors from each NIAID Division for the needs assessment study.
    • Producing the NIAID Learning and Development Needs Assessment final report and presentation materials.
    • Producing a report of the progress and accomplishments of the Executive Coaching Program.
    • Producing overall program assessments and achievements of the AOL program.
    • Producing program evaluation reports of the ECCS and the Working with Contractors (WWC) courses.
    • Conducted a comprehensive program assessment of the EOS program that included a comparison of EOS and OPM-mandated regulations.
    • Conducted a comprehensive program assessment of the NIAID Executive Coaching Program.
    • Conducted an analysis of biannual evaluation of the NNWW program.
    • Conducted the NIAID Quarterly AO/AT Human Resources Training summary Evaluation.
    • Conducted the ECCS Program Summary Evaluation.
  10. Meeting logistics and facilitation support included organizing, scheduling, and coordinating formal course presentations, focus groups, presentations, retreats, and staff/client meetings including the following:

    • Base year meetings and facilitated retreats – 65
    • Option year 1 meetings and facilitated retreats – 135
    • Option year 2 meetings and facilitated retreats – 122
    • Base year one-on-one coaching services and small group interventions – 91
    • Option year 1 one-on-one coaching services and small group interventions – 150
    • Option year 2 one-on-one coaching services small group interventions – 118
  11. Publications and writing support included designing, developing, and reviewing course materials, facilitator guides, case studies, and other materials for OWER programs including the follow
    • Creating PowerPoint masters  – 63
    • Developing Focus on Leadership flyers, biographic sketches, and supporting materials
    • Base year reports – 15
    • Option year 1 reports – 35
    • Option year 2 reports – 24
    • Providing biweekly minutes and meeting summaries– 107


Our Cygnus team included experienced human resources, training, and organizational development professionals with more than 25 years of hands-on experience and success. We have human capital and talent management professionals, organizational development and needs assessment specialists, course developers, facilitators, and executive coaches. We engaged the support and participation of senior staff from the executive programs at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, who are at the leading edge of theories and practice for developing government leaders (Adaptive Leadership); we furnished facilitators from world class management organizations such as the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and Personnel Decisions International (PDI); and consultants, coaches, e-learning experts, and course developers. Team members have written a host of respected articles, white papers, and books on adult learning, career development, leadership, and other related topics.

Cygnus also created sound and effective internal marketing and performance management strategies to ensure a valuable return on the investment of NIAID’s time, money, and talent under this contract. The Cygnus team developed management, executive, and career development programs to improve productivity, retain and develop staff, and provide capable and effective leaders for the future of our client organizations. We created internal marketing strategies and materials to improve the attendance and value of workforce training programs using a variety of methods. Cygnus then developed programs to evaluate the return on investment (ROI) of senior executive programs resulting in data and evidence of substantial savings related to the programs. 

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