A CIO needs allies in high places. Here's how to cultivate them.
On those really difficult days, it may seem as though you have no friends. Yet, those are the very days when the relationships you have built can provide the support and encouragement you need. Nurturing these relationships takes some conscious effort.
As both CIOs and CEOs reported in "The State of the CIO 2004" survey, having a healthy relationship with other CXOs is the most effective practice for succeeding as a CIO. There are many potential candidates to cultivate, but a few are essential. The CEO is critical because he or she is responsible for corporate strategy. The CFO has insight into the financial implications of both short- and long-term prospects of the company. The general manager (or division president) understands the challenges of business operations. Keeping your finger on the pulse of the business through these relationships can provide an opportunity for you to anticipate the needs of the business. Getting to know these other CXOs will help you manage their expectations of your organization. Building a friendly relationship with them and enlisting their support as allies is critical, because they will determine your ultimate success or failure.
Get Through the CXO's Door
Gaining access to any of these key individuals can be a challenge, especially if you don't report to them. Think about why they would want to spend time with you. It could be to mentor you or to learn something from you. Finding the hook will enable you to be productive when you do get through the door. At the same time, keep foremost in your mind that an effective relationship is a two-way street, and your goal is to gain the insight you need to continue delivering significant benefits to the company.
Once you have figured out why a particular relationship is important, take action to gain access. Don't sit in your office waiting for the call. There are a number of things you can do to improve your chances of getting to know your target executive.
• Enlist administrative assistants. A CXO's assistant can always find 15 minutes when they can get you into the office. You can enlist your own assistant, too, to utilize her network to enhance your opportunities. One creative assistant of mine decided on her own to check my travel plans against my company's key executive's, and arranged for me to be on the same flight and in the next seat. This provided me with a great opportunity for a relaxed conversation. One of these conversations during a big company reorganization resulted in me getting a great job in the new structure.
• Get visible. Make sure the executives you need to get close to know who you are by raising your profile. This can be done inside and outside the company. Volunteer for task forces and actively participate during Q&A sessions at corporate meetings. Join professional organizations and take a leadership role. Ensure any public appearances and press interviews reflect well on the company. I joined the local chapter of the Society for Information Management (SIM), eventually took a position at the national level and became its first female president. My involvement in SIM provided me with great opportunities for some personal press and for different exposure for my company.
• Look for informal opportunities. These are more available than you may think. Getting on the formal calendar is sometimes more difficult than engaging an executive at the airport, at a company social function, or even in the hallway or cafeteria. I remember a company function where I was chatting with the CEO when dinner was announced; he asked if I would sit next to him at dinner because if he didn't invite someone, the seats on either side of him would be empty!
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