Raytheon CIO: How to stay focused on top priorities

How Kevin Neifert and his IT leaders rally the team around the most critical goals
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At Raytheon, our senior IT leadership team does many of the things senior leaders do in most organizations. We strive to attract talented employees with the skills needed to deliver value to our company and customers. And we try to align those employees to the right work in order to produce the best results. Then, we do our best to support those employees and their projects so that we’re consistently achieving our goals.

All of the above is pretty common, and important, in the workplace…but it’s not enough for the areas we designate as top priority.

Our IT leadership team realizes we also need to personally engage to ensure we’re offering valuable thought leadership. To do so, we’ve set up a variety of integrated mechanisms designed to give senior leaders a more significant opportunity to contribute and give employees, at all levels of our organization, greater access to us.

We’ve also clarified what leadership accountability looks like in the areas where we need to get an “A.” Leaders are expected to proactively challenge their teams to bring their particular expertise — be it software, infrastructure, program management, or anything else — to bear on our mission-critical goals. They are expected to be hands-on and fully invested in the work their teams are doing.

[ See our related story, Why IT teams must stop shooting for all A's, by Kevin Neifert. ]

Personal engagement in action

Like most IT organizations, we have a process when we roll out a new capability that includes piloting with user groups and a qualification testing process. We’ve realized that with our most important priorities, this process isn’t necessarily enough to help us achieve the outcomes we want.

So to ensure we get an “A” in those cases, we as leaders, serve as a pilot group in the rollout of new capabilities. We don’t replace the other processes, but enhance them, by living the experience we are going to be giving others. It’s been a rousing success. Here’s why:

  • We’re raising the bar for our top priorities by discovering that we can improve our standard testing process to make sure that we catch things that the team may have missed or thought unimportant.
  • We’re cutting out red tape because as a leadership team, we have the resources to fix things that often create bottlenecks lower in the organization and slow us down. This also gives us greater visibility into the pain points others in the organization are or will experience in adopting new capabilities or working differently.
  • Best of all, we are having fun doing the work.

The role of the CIO

One of the best things I can do as the CIO is set the example. I help ensure the team is 100 percent clear on our priorities — and that we stay focused on them over the course of the year. I provide regular touchpoints through a variety of channels to ensure everyone stays connected and engaged:

  • Face to Face: We hold an annual IT leadership forum with top leaders. This year we discussed the concept of priorities and improving our focus on them. We reviewed our top three goals for the year — the areas where we must earn “A” grades.
  • Written communication: I regularly blog internally on topics of importance to the IT function. This has become a key platform for communicating the importance of setting priorities and investing our energies and resources appropriately in our top three goals.
  • Leadership alignment: We discuss the top three priorities at my monthly meeting with my leadership team. We also have quarterly goals review throughout the organization.
  • Virtual engagement: Several times a year, I hold a “CIO conversation.” It’s designed, quite literally, to be a conversation with me and key subject matter experts on various topics of importance to the company. Our goals and specific priorities for the year, are great topics for these calls.

Here’s what we’ve found with all of this: It’s working. We’re well on track to achieve our top three goals.

Better yet, we’re doing so at an “A+” level. That’s a report card we can be proud to share.

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Kevin Neifert is chief information officer for Thales North America. Previously he was the CIO of Raytheon, where he spent 14 years in a variety of information technology, engineering and program management roles.

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