Leveraging Peer Advantage in the Workplace

How peers are engaged shapes the level of interaction

We spend a lot of time at Vistage thinking about how to optimize the value of peer influence. We believe that by creating structure around peer-to-peer interaction and using it strategically, peer influence becomes something entirely different. We call it ‘peer advantage.’ This philosophy is not just applied to the business leaders we bring together in our peer advisory groups. As head of human resources, maintaining a strong culture with employees who are fully engaged is top of mind for me. How we go about doing that starts with looking to our external model.

In THE POWER OF PEERS: How the Company You keep Drives Leadership, Growth, & Success, authors Leon Shapiro and Leo Bottary explore the four methods we use for engagement: connecting, networking, optimizing and accelerating. The first two are self-explanatory, right? In all corners of life, whether professionally or personally, we connect and network with people every day. We tend to do this casually and our own, resulting in a high number of peers. Think about how you engage on Facebook or LinkedIn or when you attend a live networking event with your co-workers.

When connecting and networking with peers, those exchanges typically consist of:
Trading information about what we do for a living, how long we’ve been doing it for, as well as our current and past employers.

Growing our list of contacts by meeting with as many people as possible. If it’s online, we’re typically using overlapping circles of friends and colleagues to expand our reach. At live events, we’re working the room and swapping business cards with as many people as possible.

Engaging in conversation but needing the people we’re meeting to participate to come away with anything valuable from the exchange.

Sharing similarities, like skills, interests or goals, over a finite period of time. We may continue to engage after the initial contact is made, but it’s at our discretion. There’s no structure in place to ensure that it happens.

Meeting in an open environment that doesn’t offer much in the way of confidentiality or privacy. Anything we say is out there for others to react to.

Optimizing and accelerating peer relationships is more strategic in nature. They involve working together on a team level to achieve a common goal. The end result isn’t so much about the number of peers we collect, rather finding the people who can impact our performance. These are more selective and intentional ways of engaging to drive specific outcomes.

While connecting and networking create peer influence, optimizing and accelerating are what drives peer advantage. In the workplace, this is where you can really start to impact employee and team performance. At Vistage, these are the two forms of engagement we strive for within the context of the peer advisory groups we run, as well as applying them to our internal operations. Optimizing and accelerating peer engagement at Vistage consists of:
Exchanging information early on by collaborating up front so that we’re working together in a constructive manner from the outset.

Getting to know peers beyond our team or floor by forming groups based on common interests. For example, those who are interested in health and wellness can meet other like-minded staffers who share their passion.

Giving feedback during the early stages of a project or issue, but also engaging in active listening so that everyone walks a way with a better understanding of the issue or challenge.

Understanding that we’re all expected to share and offer our perspective because it’s how we create a dialogue that leads to performance-enhancing results.

These approaches have higher barriers of entry, but they’re more productive because when someone engages we know they are motivated and more likely to participate in a constructive and layered way. Authenticity and vulnerability are crucial. Without those two things, you can’t accelerate anything.

The kind of engagement that ultimately matters most depends on your goals. The more complex the outcome you’re looking for, the deeper the relationship you need to establish and that takes longer to develop. When we surround ourselves with people who share the same passion and drive, yet come with different points of view and experiences, that’s when unexpectedly positive outcomes tend to unfold. Putting the right mix of people in a confidential environment where we can expose all of our blemishes is what allows that deeper level of sharing and accountability—we’re all in.

Michael Molina currently serves as the Chief Human Resource Officer at Vistage. He provides guidance, promotes new thinking and creates innovative solutions related the human resources function.