Why even CIOs need smart friends

When my editor called to ask why my column was late, I said, “Column? What column?” With limited time to produce a draft, I rushed to my CIO network in search of help. Within 48 hours, I was the grateful recipient of a wealth of information from successful CIOs about their approach to relationship building.

1. Build a strong professional network. “When it comes to professional organizations, don’t just show up for social events,” advises Jo Hoppe, CIO of Parexel International and president of the Boston Chapter of the Society for Information Management. “Make a genuine contribution and the rest will follow. Before long, you’ll be asked to speak at conferences, serve on boards and build more expansive networks.”

2. Meet the investor community. “If you are adopting a new technology, reach out to investment firms that are funding it and ask how to get involved with their portfolio companies,” suggests Rahul Merchant, Partner at Exigen Capital and former CIO of Fannie Mae and Merrill Lynch. “They will appreciate your market perspective and may invite you to join an advisory board. You’ll gain an increased appreciation for the business of IT and a valuable new professional network.”

To read more on this topic see: How to Be a Successful Mentor and How to Network: 12 Tips for Shy People.

3. Volunteer externally. “Nonprofits need your help,” says Jennifer Scanlon, CIO of USG. “Seek out one that fits your personal or professional passion and determine how it can benefit from your skills.” Sheleen Quish, CIO of Ameristar Casinos, agrees. “Early in my career, I was doing a lot of community work on behalf of my company, like running city walks for the American Heart Association and serving on multiple nonprofit boards,” she says. “When I became a CIO, I was able to bring some of the communications experience I developed through those outreach roles to work effectively across the business.”

4. Volunteer internally. “Identify internal projects that could use your talents, work with your management team to get involved and demonstrate your value beyond your traditional role,” says Scanlon (who raised her hand for corporate strategic planning, a function she now runs). Linda Jojo, CIO of Energy Future Holdings, calls it “getting out of the pile.” “Volunteering for special projects may give you the internal visibility to have a shot at new roles.”

5. Find a mentor. “Early on in my career when I was at Procter & Gamble, I had a mentor in the IT group and one in R&D,” says Manjit Singh, CIO of Chiquita Brands. “Working with these executives gave me a valuable perspective on what I was trying to do in IT.” Regardless of how senior you are now, there is always someone who knows more than you do. Your job is to find them and learn from them.

6. Prioritize your team relationships.. Rather than have tight relationships with everyone, pick the A players and focus on them. “Years ago, when I was leading my first transformation project, a consultant told me ‘carry the wounded and leave the stragglers behind,'” says Sue Kozik, former CIO of TIAA-CREF and Lucent Technologies, and now Smart Grid transformation and integration leader at OGE Energy. “Invest your time in the people who are embracing change but not those who haven’t bought in. Those you helped will ‘own’ the change and never forget your leadership.”

Martha Heller is managing director of the IT Leadership Practice at ZRG Partners, an executive recruiting firm. You can reach her at [email protected] or read her columns at www.cio.com/author/41283.

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