What`s in a Relationship? Everything

By Arthur Langer  |  Posted 10-06-2009 Print Email
Columbia Professor Art Langer explains the power of strong relationships with C-level executives.

I (and many others) have written before about the importance of relationship building. Still, too many CIOs miss the mark and pay dearly for the lack of an integrated relationship strategy.

At the heart of any relationship building is bringing value--not from your perspective, but from the viewpoint of the "other." The question to ask is: Who are the "others"?

Well, the first of the others are your C-level colleagues, which, of course, include the CEO. A relationship with C-level colleagues goes beyond a meeting, a lunch or even a drink: It's really about understanding their needs and what brings value to them. This is accomplished through both formal and informal meetings and discussions.

Your formal meetings are ones that should be initiated by you and typically allow you to assess how IT can bring value; the meetings also allow you to meet the key players in these departments. So, it is important that meetings involve the other managers who report to your C-level colleagues.

CIOs often err in thinking that all they need is a C-level partner to support them. That's simply not enough. Line managers--those with daily production responsibilities--can be very influential and powerful within their own business domains. Knowing and working with line managers is critical, so forming relationships with them is equally important.

Furthermore, if line managers support you, it only strengthens the relationship with your C-level colleague. How do you do this? Get authorization from your C-level partner to start working with his or her direct managers.

Don't do it alone, though; get your line managers engaged as well. Getting your staff in line with business managers shows that your organization has the depth and breadth to implement your commitments to the business. Having strong IT line managers also affects how others view you; lousy line managers equate to a lousy CIO. Remember the adage: "You're only as good as your people."

The informal meetings are far more important. They occur in hallways, telephone chats, lunches, business trips--the kind of off-the-record conversations that enable you to understand how you might create important relationships that will help the business.

It really helps if your C-level partners can count on you--and sense that you understand the challenges they face in the organization. Informal meetings cannot occur every six months. They should occur all the time, and they're typically event driven--that is, initiated by you, based on something that's going on inside the organization.

If you perceive an opportunity to bring value, act on it--informally at first. Informal discussions often lead to lasting relationships and even friendships, personal and business. These friendships matter.

There are challenges in forming any relationship. Obviously a C-level partner may disappoint you, be incompetent, manipulative or even unethical. You must be agile, and all of these challenges can have workarounds.

We call this "politics," except, of course, for the ethics dilemma. An unethical partner can be dangerous, but your C-level colleagues are likely to perceive the problem as well. Therefore, you may need to discuss the issues with them--carefully and informally!

My final recommendation is always to try to be helpful--people appreciate it.

Ingrain this concept in your staff and make it a vital part of the IT way of doing business. I promise you: The results will be tangible and long lasting.

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