If championships teach us anything, it’s that experience matters. Luck can certainly help you cross the finish line first, but critical too is drawing from the collective successes and failures of those who have played the same game before you and knowing when to infuse new thinking and new strategies into the game you thought you’d mastered.
To be a championship team, you need strategy and planning, solid offense, amazing defense, a deep bench and smart coaching. Shouldn’t the same requirements hold true for business growth and success?
With fluctuating economic pressures, consolidating retail power, unstable tax and employee healthcare costs, and a host of other factors including a shortage of skilled workers, it’s nearly impossible to manage every issue with the necessary confidence that you’re making the smartest decisions you can.
If you had a fantasy team of business executives that had different expertise than you, who could fill in the knowledge gaps and share their own advice for avoiding mistakes, you’d be strides ahead of your competition. The reality is: you can have your own business fantasy league team. It’s called an executive peer group, and it’s the not-so-secret weapon for top performing executives and their companies.
You don’t need to lead a billion-dollar conglomerate to benefit from executive peer groups. As a matter of fact, these powerful think tank opportunities are best suited for executives leading small to mid-size businesses ($5 million to $50 million) who are looking to grow amidst competitive pressures.
“Executive peer groups are formed with non-competing business leaders who can provide unfiltered guidance and feedback to others within the group,” said Dr. Kiu Leung, executive coaching and forums leader for Renaissance Executive Forums in Madison, Wisconsin. “Business executives have very few outlets to openly and candidly discuss business challenges and seek advice on how best to create solutions and grow. You can’t usually share uncertainties or weighty decisions with your board or your employees, as there are too many conflicting agendas in the way. I’ve seen numerous breakthrough strategies emerge from peer group discussions that would not have been possible coming from within single organizations. Having a collective cache of business wisdom supporting you is invaluable.”
Business owners and managers who are part of an executive peer group outperform their competitors, showing an average 5.8% compounded annual growth rate average over the last five years versus negative rates for the majority of other businesses. With the added motivation of peer accountability, most companies grow at twice their pre-joining percentage rate after they align with an executive peer group.
Beyond the business growth numbers, there are four qualitative reasons why executive peer groups are being sought-out by growth-minded business leaders.
It’s expensive to hire and retain senior-level talent, and if you take a chance on an agency or external expert, you might be investing a lot in a singular source when you need expertise you don’t have in-house. With an executive peer group, you can gather a host of experienced opinions to help guide critical choices. One of the core purposes of an executive peer group is to process issues which the members of the group bring up to tap into the collective wisdom of the group to help solve. Like seeking second or third opinions from doctors and medical specialists, executive peer groups give executives other opinions to consider, from those who have been (or are) in similar circumstances. No strings attached.
The more people who have attempted a solution or been through a business crisis situation, the more data points you have to draw from (and the more reliable the conclusions). Similar to the above, more opinions and informed recommendations are better than less, and if you can get quarterback advice from Tom Brady, Payton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Steve Young and Joe Montana, versus just one of them, there’s no question which is the better strategy. Beyond steering the ship, executive peer group members lend each other support too, regardless of the situation that each member is in. The whole goal is to keep CEOs and executives from being isolated at the top of their respective organizations, and with non-partisan peer group members, it works very well. A big plus is that each member’s network will grow, not just by connecting with their peer group members, but indirectly connecting to every other members’ network and the multitude of connections those can offer. We live in a connected world, and in each executives’ case, that can be thousands of new contacts.
Many CEOs already believe they’re the best at what they do. So, what do they need outside input for? Well, fresh input for one. The same strategies that put you at the top, or got you to double-digit growth, may not be the same that you’ll need to keep you there. Organizations can get stagnant, especially if they’re comfortable at the top of the food chain. To disrupt entrenched thinking, new perspectives are needed, and they’re easily accessible with peer group interactions. If you ask others who are NOT focused on your day-to-day operations for input, the results may surprise you. Dynamic ideas can come from seemingly mismatched industry strategies: retail learns from tech, food and beverage from overnight delivery (and vice versa)… There may be legions of ideas on how to improve that you might not see because you have blind spots in your vision (or you never thought to look in that direction). Shake the dust out of the curtains and let some different light in. It’s illuminating (pun intended).
4. Tough Love Teammates
Probably the most valuable reason why executives join peer groups is their search for the truth. That might sound high-minded and somewhat spiritual, but truth without agenda is hard to find these days, especially when it involves money, growth, business and power. Executive peer group members have no agenda in providing feedback. They’ll tell you where you’re falling short and share with you “the cold truth others won’t tell you.” Peer executives will ask more pointed questions than many sheepish internal employees might (since you sign their paycheck, that plays a factor in every interaction you have), and they’ll help you kick the tires on strategies that may or may not work so you don’t waste time or money chasing your tail. With truth, comes clarity. Even if there’s disagreement, the direct back-and-forth that executive peers share with you can help clarity your values and what you’re really willing to fight for, which leads to confidence and conviction in direction. Like crash-testing a car, put your most critical strategies and ideas up for debate to see which can best withstand the fire. Peer groups are a priceless testing ground.
“Being part of a localized executive peer group is one of the most powerful tools that executives have to strengthen and grow their businesses in today’s market,” continued Leung. “Learning from those who have faced similar business and personal circumstances, supporting and connecting with other group members and collectively exploring critical business ideas and processes catapult member businesses to the next level. It’s powerful to be a part of those evolutions, and the learning never ends.”
Dr. Leung is spear-heading the formation of executive peer groups in and around the Madison, Wisconsin market currently, as the market is expanding rapidly and CEOs have few executive coaching resources to draw upon. Business leaders who are interested in being part of an executive peer group should consider attending the upcoming executive briefing: Leading Madison Businesses to a Stronger 2018, to be held on February 15 at the Fluno Center.
Renaissance Executive Forums is the one place that Madison’s business leaders can convene to learn from each other and sharpen their CEO skill sets: leading their teams and their businesses to success, discussing confidential business solutions to current challenges, and exploring executive leadership on a whole new level. Invited members have access to executive business coaching and trusted peer advice forums, all led by nationally-recognized quality assurance and business process expert, Dr. Kiu Leung. For more information visit https://executiveforumsmadison.com or call 608-826-7488.