Opportunities for relationship building naturally occur through every moment of the CIO’s workday. Whether it’s attending formal project meetings, dropping by a C-level peer’s office or spending a few days with stakeholders at a remote location, a CIO is constantly forging ties with peers, internal teams and customers.
That’s a good thing, because solid relationships are cited as a foundation for nearly every professional ambition of the CIO, from successful project delivery to expanding the leadership scope of the role beyond the IT function. That’s because relationships shape the enterprise’s perception of CIO credibility. Some CIO Executive Council members discussed relationship best practices at their recent general assembly in Carlsbad, California and offered these tips and techniques for developing and leveraging strong relationships with the right people.
The most important part of the relationship-building process is identifying who to cultivate. “It was pretty easy for me to find my initial targets – the seven senior executives that along with me report into the CEO,” says Jeanine Wasielewski, CIO at Coors Brewing Company. When she was promoted to the CIO role in 2006, Wasielewski was tasked with more than just operating IT; she was asked to move the business strategy forward by leveraging IT expertise. The other members of the CEO team, including the chief marketing officer, chief supply-chain officer, the chief revenue officer, and the CFO, are key contributors to business strategy and therefore make ideal relationship targets for Wasielewski.
Linda Gilpin, the associate CIO for Enterprise Services at the Internal Revenue Service, looks to her peers for relationship-building advice. “Since I came to the IRS externally, I needed to build strong relationships and do it quickly,” Gilpin says. “I talked to everyone I could, got their suggestions of who I really needed to know and set up meetings with a multitude of stakeholders.”
Tom Langston, CIO at $2.5 billion SSM Health Care System, keeps his eye on the new hire announcements across the 20 hospitals within the SSM system. “Whenever I see a new president or vice president arrive, I make it a point to introduce myself and emphasise the value of their role as a customer of the IT organisation,” says Langston.
The first meeting is just the start of the relationship; what happens next is a constant building of credibility and trust. Just as doctors make rounds on patients to gather more information, Langston makes rounds on his customers and staff. It is a very deliberate relationship technique in which he conducts in-person visits with executives in hospitals across the four-state system. “I stop by and meet with the CEO or CFO and talk to them about what else we can be doing in IT to make them more successful,” says Langston. Langston says the value of face time with his dispersed C-level peers cannot be overstated.
Ron Kifer of Applied Materials, Vicki Petit of KI and Barbra Cooper of Toyota Motor Sales, say they have made formal documents or relationship business plans to list and track their budding relationships. Michael Whitmer, CIO for North America at the $1.3 billion staffing company Hudson Highland Group, listed the names of key stakeholders throughout the organisation, their role, communication preference and specific discussion topics. He says: “My favourite question to ask is, ‘In order for me to be successful, what can I do to make you successful?” The responses he gets give him a glimpse into the individual and what is important to him or her.
Using personality to your advantage
The process of relationship building is made easier if people can leverage personality traits such as an outgoing nature, positive energy and charisma.
“The beer business is a relationship business; our roots are in the relationships we build,” says Wasielewski. Relationship building tends to be a core trait for Coors leaders and Gilpin agrees that many executives count relationship building as a natural skill, but cautions that leaders still must practise consistently.