by Leo Bottary
A reinforcing loop that is. One of the most powerful dynamics of the peer advisory group is the momentum created when peers engage in a cycle of learning, sharing, applying, and achieving. Whether they
are executives with different skills sets from the same organization or CEOs collaborating with fellow CEOs from entirely different industries and backgrounds, they participate in a process that by its nature fuels continuous improvement. For larger companies, even those with robust formal training programs, internal peer advisory groups can play a major role in maximizing a company’s Return On Development. For small businesses, it’s often a brilliantly effective stand-alone solution for developing people and growing the enterprise.
The prevailing model in many large companies today is what I’ve described in earlier posts as Trickle-Down Leadernomics:Traditional episodic training designed to stimulate positive behavioral changes, aimed to build better leaders who inspire commitment rather than mere compliance, in an effort to create a healthier culture, a more productive workplace, and happier employees whom you hope will one day perform like a well-oiled machine and drive double-digit growth and profitability for years to come. (Notice the amount of “trickle-down” it takes to achieve the desired result).
The two big problems with Trickle-Down Leadernomics are 1) If you believe the axiom that “practice makes perfect,” then you would probably agree that what you learn in training, while inviting and practical, is not likely to find its way into your daily routine unless you have the discipline and support system to assure its application. And even then, short term behavioral changes tend to give way to old habits. 2) Since most companies don’t have a formal mechanism for helping individuals share and apply what they’ve learned, the organization by definition gets shortchanged. It’s a bit like planting a garden and not giving it water or sunlight.
Believe it or not, I’m a HUGE fan of formal executive development, which is the reason I can’t stand to see so much of it go to waste. That’s why I believe the reinforcing loop inherent in a highly functioning peer advisory group is worth some thoughtful consideration:
Learning – It’s the first stage of the process and, for too many organizations, it’s often the last. In Peter Senge’sbook, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization, he describes learning organizations this way: “…where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, are where people are learning how to learn together.” Senge goes on to say that we wouldn’t suggest we learned how to ride a bicycle if we only actually rode the bike once. It’s about demonstrating the capacity to produce quality results repeatedly. It’s the difference between riding a bike and being a bicycle rider. Peer advisory groups create bicycle riders by fostering deep learning.
Sharing – Whether it’s knowledge gained from reading a book or attending an offsite training program, sharing delivers value to our peers and colleagues and, in our role as teacher or conveyor, helps us embed what we’ve learned. Peer groups not only engage in rich dialogue about cutting-edge concepts, but the group members tend to ask hard questions and challenge each other to tackle complex issues using their newfound knowledge. Peers reinforce and essentially give each other permission to try new ways of working. As I wrote last week, peer to peer influence is incredibly powerful.
Applying – It’s hard to stress the importance of applying what you’ve learned. Can you imagine a football team showing up for a game without having practiced? It’s unconscionable. The best of the best don’t rely on talent alone to excel or win championships. They take what they learn and apply it until it becomes second nature. Peer groups hold us accountable for practicing our craft and fine-tuning news ways of working.
Achieving – Good behaviors will replace bad ones, but only over time and after repeated success. Achieving inspires believing. And once you believe in yourself and grow to trust a newfound way of working, it fuels the hunger to learn more and the cycle continues. Achieving also inspires others to emulate your behavior. Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner call it modeling the way! As a CEO you can model the way for your peers and your employees and, as leaders in larger companies, you can do the same. It’s about walking the talk and others following your lead. There’s nothing more powerful.
If you don’t mind getting thrown for a loop, then you’re an excellent candidate for either joining an external peer advisory group or starting one in your organization. If you’re planting the garden anyway, why not help it grow?