Name: Don Ronchi
Title: Vice President, Raytheon Six Sigma, Supply Chain and Chief Learning Officer
Company: Raytheon Co.
- Supporting the implementation of Raytheon Six Sigma so that by the end of 2002, Raytheon’s 14,000 trained Specialists and 1,100 trained Experts generated a cumulative gross benefit of $1.8 billion in the initiative’s first four years.
- Introducing a unique leadership development program that emphasizes the importance of social networking among leaders, employees, customers and suppliers and that enables teams of leaders across the company to work on critical initiatives with involvement of the CEO.
- Integrating Raytheon’s internal learning organization with Raytheon Professional Services, the company’s $100-million provider of commercial learning services in order to facilitate the transfer of best practices between the organizations.
- Developing strategic relationships with its major customer’s key learning organizations–Defense Acquisition University and National Defense University–with whom Raytheon exchanges students, develops courseware and jointly sponsors programs that leverage its capabilities.
- Launching a learning management system, and significantly upgrading it in 2003, to support Raytheon’s more sophisticated development and use of organizational learning plans and to enable the company’s drive to become CMMI-certified throughout its global operations.
“The mission of Raytheon Learning is to enhance the organizational capabilities that create value for our customers and shareholders. Investment in human capital is a part of building organizational capabilities. We also invest in social capital, capabilities generated by how people are connected across various parts of the company as well as with our customers and suppliers. Social capital is the ‘wiring’ that allows knowledge that exists anywhere in the value chain to flow to where it is most needed to help shape a customer solution. Raytheon Learning is also very much engaged in deploying capabilities where there are specific opportunities to create value. We are ‘activists’ in this sense, passionate about ensuring that learning occurs in the context of creating real value and the resulting knowledge gets embedded in organizational routines. In this way, not only do Raytheon employees learn, but Raytheon itself learns.”
On the surface, you might be pretty amazed to learn just how much is placed on Don Ronchi’s professional shoulders. In addition to being chief learning officer for Raytheon Co., Ronchi is also the vice president of Raytheon Six Sigma and supply chain, giving him three levels of duties for the defense, IT and aviation company.
It’s not necessarily amazing that one person handles all that responsibility, but it’s at least interesting when you think Raytheon represents one of Ronchi’s first forays as an insider. His background is impressive, but it’s not the typical corporate path to the VP’s office.
Ronchi’s not even sure if it was a path as much as a circuitous route to the Raytheon headquarters in Waltham, Mass. Ronchi started in academia, teaching for about 12 years at Ohio State University, where he developed the School of Business graduate program in organizational diagnostics and change leadership.
He followed that position with about another 12 years in private consulting, working with some of the world’s largest corporations engaged in change initiatives. One of those companies was Raytheon, which in the mid-1990s was undergoing a change from being a Massachusetts firm with about 15,000 employees to a global employer of about 100,000. In 1998, after several months consulting with Raytheon, Ronchi came in from the cold.
“I just felt the planets had lined up and this would be a great place to step inside and work on that side of the boundary for a while and see what kind of value I could deliver as an insider,” Ronchi said. “It was the best decision I ever made.
“The opportunity that you have as part of a leadership team in a large company to have influence and cause things to happen is much more than any consultant, even working close with leadership, has,” he added. “Also the ability to learn, being involved in all the things the top leadership team of a company as big as ours gets involved in. You gain so much more insight and knowledge as to what’s possible, what the issues are, what our customers want. There’s an incredibly diverse and intricate world when you step inside a company, and I really have not had that at all in my career up until this point, really being an outsider, first as a student of organizations and then as a consultant.”
It’s worked for Raytheon as well, which eventually consolidated Ronchi’s post into overseeing the three key areas – the company’s supply chain, its Six Sigma efforts and general workforce education. Ronchi can talk at length, naturally, about all of those areas, but Raytheon Six Sigma – its signature approach to the zero-defects improvement process – clearly has special favor.
To customize Raytheon Six Sigma, Ronchi and his team have aligned the traditional tools with the techniques of lean enterprises, allowing them to remove waste before systematically improving organizational processes. Not surprisingly, many of those changes involved overcoming past practices, behaviors and experiences in order to do things differently.
So far, Raytheon Six Sigma is credited with saving the company $1.8 billion in four years. Now, Ronchi is seeing more customers and suppliers getting involved with their Six Sigma efforts, further increasing its value.
“We believe it’s a very powerful lever for deepening our relationships with customers,” Ronchi said. “We continue to evolve Six Sigma so that it becomes not only our engine for improvement, but also our engine for learning. We continue to be able to re-engage and refresh Six Sigma so that we stay focused on the most important things we have to find for ourselves strategically and as a company.”
In addition to his various internal roles at Raytheon, Ronchi is also in charge of Raytheon Professional Services, the company’s commercial learning organization. About 500 professionals work for him on that effort, providing learning services to large clients in 24 countries. That’s in addition to about 120 employees focused on internal learning efforts.
Some of the elements of his position may seem diverse, but it all meshes with Ronchi. After all, each element has the same mission – building organizational capabilities.
“When you think of it that way, these are just important pieces of what Raytheon does to gain competitive advantage and create value,” he said. “It’s a portfolio that I think most change agents would kill for.”
Ronchi has certainly set up an interdependent system that works well. By linking learning and the supply side of the business, Ronchi’s team exchanges knowledge inside and outside the company, creating better-informed business partners and giving Raytheon learners a chance to work on real business issues, not just training exercises.
That’s not to say Ronchi’s role has been without challenges. One of his biggest was when he first started, and was suddenly faced with the task of helping integrate newly purchased companies and their employees into the expanded Raytheon organization. Professionals who had been competition were now colleagues, and the transition wasn’t necessarily simple.
“It’s just not an automatic everybody locks arms and starts to sing ‘Kum Ba Yah’,” Ronchi said. “In fact, we had very eerie experiences bringing everybody together from different legacy companies. It may have been the case on the surface that everybody spoke English, but they actually were talking past each other. Basic terms mean different things to different companies, and there were the residual suspicions and doubts about each other. We had to get past that, find ways to get everybody in the same work harness and learn from each other, learn to talk to each other and learn to trust each other. Raytheon Six Sigma was one of most effective and powerful vehicles for that.”
That’s not a message Ronchi alone believes. All Raytheon leaders are committed to learning, he said, starting with CEO Bill Swanson.
“Learning is much too important for a company like Raytheon. You could probably say all companies today in some ways are knowledge companies, but we are actually a company of rocket scientists,” he added. “We do highly scientific stuff. So our ability to stay on the cutting edge of learning is key to who we are and key to sustaining competitive advantage.”
The learning at Raytheon is delivered in a blended variety of ways, from instructor-led classrooms to e-learning programs. Employees have no mandated amount of training, but through Raytheon’s learning management system they can control much of their own education, from selecting courses to reviewing diagnostics and benchmarking themselves against competency models.
“We felt that by demanding a certain number of hours, you could drive a lot of undesirable behavior,” Ronchi said. “There may be places and programs in the company where any range of hours would be woefully limited, and there may be other areas in the company where we have people who are very active in communities of practice, knowledge is being shared very effectively, and to divert them into having to take things that are more formally labeled training would just add an inefficiency and a requirement that frankly doesn’t create value for them.”
Mandated or not, it’s all working. Raytheon is a desired employer for tech-types and has the low turnover rate to prove it.
“It’s hard to imagine that you could have a company that’s more disposed to learning than we are. We’ve had certainly our financial issues over the last few years, but no one has ever turned to me and said we have to cut out learning,” Ronchi said. “In fact, when one of our businesses is experiencing difficult times, due to market conditions or whatever, typically what the leaders of that business do is come to us and say, “Let’s figure out how we can do even more learning because if we focus it right, that’s a way of getting out of the hole that we’re in.’”
Learning at Raytheon is obviously a double-edged benefit – it helps advance the business through customer satisfaction and attract talent that wants to be part of the game.
“What young people coming out of school, particularly engineers, want to know is how does your company feel about learning. Their key to a successful career is learning, particularly in the technological area,” Ronchi said. “This has become a very important recruiting tool for us, the emphasis we place on learning and development for our employees.”
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