Let’s start this column with a joke: How can you tell an introverted CIO from an extroverted CIO? The introvert stares at his shoes when you talk to him; the extrovert stares at your shoes. While CIOs are masters of a variety of skills, networking typically isn’t one of them. Most CIOs, introverts at heart, would rather lead a global SAP deployment than work the room.

Yet, effective networking is often a means toward better business partners, better employees and better jobs. So, like it or not, it is something CIOs have to learn.
Rather than look to sales professionals, consultants and other expert schmoozers for tips on managing your Rolodex, I’ve turned to the introverts themselves. These four IT executives offer practical, tactical advice for identifying the most promising networking opportunities and making the most of them.

Avoid generic networking events

Dave Clarke, CTO of the American Red Cross, is president of the Washington Area CTO Roundtable, a group that meets bi-monthly to discuss technology topics. “This forum is effective for networking because it is not a networking forum,” says Clarke. “Its purpose is technology education, but because the members have common interests, we wind up developing a good network.”

His advice to CIOs in search of something similar: “Look for events that have specific topics of interest as opposed to general networking. Once you’ve joined, listen to those members whose opinions you find most interesting. Decide to make contact with only a few, exchange business cards and follow up on that specific topic.” Members of the Roundtable call each other to compare notes on technology topics that are relevant to their businesses, not just to have lunch.

Another tip from Clarke: “CIOs might want to take a look at LinkedIN, an online networking tool. It is fun to use and because it is a technology tool, technology executives might be more inclined to use it.”

"At any given event, I may meet only two or three people I like. I’ll add them to my personal Rolodex and follow up with an e‑mail to get together in 30 days"

Greg Smith, CIO, World Wildlife Fund

Build a networking model

Greg Smith, CIO of the World Wildlife Fund, uses a ‘networking model’ to manage his relationship building activities. The model is a wheel with Smith in the centre and nodes that represent friends, IT peers, recruiters, vendors, consultants, employees and mentors around the perimeter.

“The links between the nodes and yourself are built by getting out and speaking to people,” says Smith. “I force myself to attend vendor seminars, to participate in peer to peer councils, and to reach out to my employees and to mentors. I make sure that I am spreading my networking activities to a variety of groups and contacts.” “But don’t cast the net too wide,” advises Smith. “At any given event, I may meet only two or three people I like. I’ll add them to my personal Rolodex and follow up with an email to get together in 30 days. But if I’m having a conversation with someone I’m not that interested in, I’ll cut it short. Networking is time consuming; you have to control your network.”

Networking tips before the event

CIO LESSON Be selective about which events you attend. Decide which events are worth your time based on the networking potential that each provides.

Do your homework. Before the event find out who is expected to be there. Then identify the individuals you want to meet.

Plan ahead. Consider what you might say to break the ice and keep conversations flowing. Planning ahead will help you make the most of the event and increase your confidence going into it.

Know what you want to accomplish. Do you want their business card, or a referral or permission to contact them afterward to discuss your mutual interests?

Make a good first impression. Give the casual attire a break and look smart for the occasion. Also keep your business cards handy.

Have a friend introduce you. If you’re uncomfortable introducing yourself to someone new, find someone who knows one of the individuals you want to meet and ask that person to introduce you.

Focus on vertical networking

Chris Feola, CIO of AskSam Systems and the president and CIO of nextPression, a dashboard software company, divides networking into two types: horizontal and vertical.

“Networking horizontally is simple,” he says. “You join a CIO forum or go to a CIO conference, and you’re going to meet your peers. The good news is you will find people who do the same job as you. The bad news is that you will find people who do the same job as you.”

Much more challenging, and often more valuable, says Feola, is vertical networking, where you network in circles higher up the corporate ladder. “You always hear that you should dress for the job you want. It’s the same with networking,” he says. “If you were the CEO of your company, where would you network? You would join a state business association, an industry forum or a business council. Make sure those groups figure into your networking plans.”

Take an MBA short course

For vertical networking, he recommends taking an MBA ‘short course’ at a reputable business school. “A certificate or mid-management course is not nearly as time consuming as an MBA and allows for some great networking,” he says.

“You meet a whole group of people in your community who are on the CEO track, and you are taught by the professors who have taught most of their university’s MBA candidates. Plus, you learn to calculate EBITDA, which always comes in handy.”

Networking tips during the event

Work the room with someone. You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to meet new people when you do so with another person by your side.

Stay focused. A networking occasion is never about the libations. It’s about expanding your circle of relevant contacts and learning and remembering as much as you can from your conversations.

Quality is more important than quantity. It’s better to spend your time having a meaningful conversation with a few carefully chosen contacts than to have a zillion superficial interactions.

Know when to hold your tongue. It’s better to remain silent than to put your foot in your mouth, so if you don’t have anything to add, don’t feel obliged to talk.

Be gracious.Write timely thank-you notes for invitations, assistance, introductions, referrals
and advice.

Follow up. To maximise the value of your networking efforts, be sure to follow up on the contacts you made. Persistence is a guaranteed advantage in the job market.

Start to network collaboratively

Tom Morgan, CIO of Dobson Communications, says that he finds that collaborative networking with professionals outside his company can be the foundation of strong, enduring professional relationships.

“We have a local CIO group in Oklahoma City and we meet on a regular basis,” he says. “A few of us have decided to get teams from each of our companies together to establish best practices in information security. Since we are working to produce a concrete deliverable, our networking has real substance and takes on a much more stable footing.” “There are dual benefits to project-based, collaborative networking,” he says. “The work you produce as a collaborative team will be useful to you in your current role and will also give you credibility outside of your organisation.”

Please post your comments on cio.co.uk about ideas, models or forums that have worked for you.