CIOs will need strong contacts books

How CIOs and CTOs need a little black book of tech change talent

It was one of my first lessons as a journalist. A former national newspaper journalist marched into the classroom brandishing a black book and proceeded to wave it at each and every one of us. The class of ambitious hacks were promptly told that a book like this was the most important thing we'll own in our careers. The contacts book tutorial was lesson 101 at journalism school and an exercise I have held dear to this day. 

In today's digital enterprise a business technology leader, like a journalist or editor needs a little black book, because it will be the most important tool for your careers. Successfully delivering technology projects and change is reliant on orchestrating the right team. In the past, a CIO could rely on hiring a few good executives, but of late I have seen examples where CIOs and CTOs need to know the names and numbers of database developers, front end coders and be able to draft them in instantly.

It is my observation that Contacts Book Leadership (trademark pending) is becoming essential. This is not new; editors live and die by knowing which writers can pull together the best insights on a given topic. Blockbuster movies command budgets akin to a global enterprise transformation project and are entirely the work of an army of freelancers, each and every one somehow connected via a black book that reflects a previous job well done. 

On a recent engagement I met a team that had developed an application for a CTO.  In discussion they revealed "they wanted the work" the CTO had on offer. Initially the CTO was looking to recruit new talent to his team. As it turned out, the talent he so very much desired wanted "the work," but "not the job". The good news is that the application was completed and delivered, but not from headquarters, but from a ski resort. 

Contacts Book Leadership is coming of age not only out of necessity, but because the technology enables it. I never forgot that first vital lesson in journalism and it still shapes everything I do today. The black book has been replaced by a WhatsApp Group, LinkedIn and loyal Twitter followers. Transformational CIOs and CTOs are able to create their own networks and build teams rapidly and deliver results for their CEOs, shareholders or citizens. 

There are of course some challenges; recruitment practices of organisations have to adapt to ensure Contacts Book Leadership can flourish. Procurement, CISOs and HR teams will have to accept this methodology. And this approach does not sidestep the need for organisations to develop the skills of their existing teams, and to invest in the education of the next generation of technology talent. The contacts book must also be diverse as each and every challenge a business technology leader takes on will require a fresh approach and new ideas. A good contacts book is packed with leads whose ideas will be challenging to both you as a CIO or CTO, but also your organisation. 

In the CIO WhatsApp Groups it is my honour to be part of, I see those CIOs adopting Contacts Book Leadership share their best talent resources and help their peers discover the skilled individuals they require to tackle business issues.

As my editorial tutor told me, "you are only as good as your contacts".