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Raytheon CIO: Why IT teams must stop shooting for all A's
When you try to get an A in everything, you may do B work across the board – and that's an unacceptable grade for our top goals
In IT we tend to be perfectionists. We strive to get an “A” in everything we do — and we do a lot. But I’ve learned during my years as both an IT leader and a business leader that this kind of thinking can be a trap.
Here’s why. There is a fundamental difference between how IT leaders and business leaders traditionally think. Business leaders tend to recognize that there’s way more work to do than can possibly be done well. So they spend time figuring out the right answers to these questions: “What are the things we have to get an A in, and in what areas is it OK to get a C?”
When IT tries to get an A in everything, it means we’re not focused on things that align with our company’s most critical business goals. By trying to get straight A's all the time, no matter what it is we’re working on, we can end up doing B work across the board — and that’s an unacceptable grade when it comes to our most important goals.
We’ve put this A/C prioritization into practice in our IT team. Like many organizations, we go through an annual goals-setting to figure out what we must accomplish in the upcoming year. But at the end of that process, we sit down as a leadership team and identify the three top priorities — and agree these are the ones where we must get an A.
For everything else we said, it’s OK to earn C's. We’re not encouraging people to do substandard work. Rather, we’re simply making clear that we don’t need to be perfect in areas outside of our top priorities.
Culture change required
Avoiding the “straight A” trap isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. People hear C and think something awful has happened. When we first started down this path, I had to correct people who’d say: “We’re going to get Bs on these other things,” because they couldn’t bear the idea of a C. It was actually kind of an amusing side effect of our approach.
Remember, a C is a passing grade. You did what needed to be done, and you didn’t spend more time than was necessary to get it done. Instead, you invested the lion’s share of your talent and energy in one or more of the team’s top three priorities.
One of my biggest roles in all of this is making sure I am reinforcing the right behavior.
If something goes wrong, if something’s not perfect in one of those areas, my response can’t be, “What the heck is the matter here? We need to get this fixed right away,” If I do, I’m undermining the whole message.
It also doesn’t mean I’m going to look the other way if I see us getting an F. I’ll let the team know an F is not a passing grade and that we need to get the project back to “good enough.”
I’m 100 percent confident that, when we evaluate our IT performance at the end of the year, we will have delivered A-level work on the things that are most important to the business.
That’s because we’re thinking like business leaders. We’re prioritizing what really moves the needle for the company, instead of trying to show how many different things we work on. The CEO already knows that IT does a lot of stuff. Heck, the CEO expects that. What the CEO really wants to know is: What are we doing to drive the company’s top priorities forward? How we answer that question is what really defines IT’s value.