Leadership

Why Peer Advisory Groups Will Be The Next Big Thing

I realize it may seem odd to some that peer advisory groups, which have been around for decades and, prior to that, existed long before anyone probably ever referred to them as such, will be the next big thing, but I believe the time has come for this time-honored practice to take hold as never before.   The perfect storm is here.  In part it’s because the fundamentals of the peer advisory process itself are aimed squarely at problem solving, visioning, and personal and professional development,  but that’s always been the case.  The reason for the perfect storm, however, is revealed in the environmental and demographic trends that make the prospects for rapid growth nearly unlimited.  First, let’s look at the peer advisory model versus what most companies do today:

Peer advisory groups turn the traditional executive development model on its head.  The old model, which people have been using for decades now, is designed to train people to be better leaders with the implicit expectation that it will make a difference in how they lead and manage.  And that somewhere down the line, the company will actually see the fruits of this investment in its corporate culture and financial performance.  The problem is that most executive training is episodic/event-oriented.  Someone goes off to training, learns some interesting new concepts, and within a few weeks time, is back to the same old, pre-training behaviors.  What’s more, the training and the actual work of the company are often so poorly coordinated that measuring its effectiveness and value are next to impossible.

Peer advisory groups work in exactly the opposite fashion. By having a professional facilitator bring peers together, whether they are colleagues from different areas of a large company or CEOs from different businesses, they can work together as equals with the primary goal of meeting difficult challenges or setting a course for the future.   The diversity of the group, coupled with real dialogue, works to create an environment of trust to address larger issues that tend to transcend personal agendas.  By setting specific objectives, it’s easy to measure the ROI.  Peer groups will ask the hard questions and arrive at their own solutions rather than have to comply with recommendations of trainers or outside consultants.  Over time, during this repeated collaborative process of actual problem solving, the participants become better listeners and better leaders.  Great results lead to improved leadership behaviors and the cycle continues.  It rarely happens the other way around.

So sure, the peer advisory model makes perfect sense, but why will it be the next big thing?

  1. Large companies are forced to do more with less and are challenged to create alignment within their newly re-organized organizations.  To do so in a manner that’s effective and measurable, they will no longer be able to rely on the old “executive development” model of training executives to be better leaders and managers, in the hopes that what they learn in training actually finds its way into meeting the day-to-day needs of the organization.   And the continued inability to link training expenditures to producing more competent leaders and better bottom-line results, will result in companies seeking out a more practical way to accomplish both.
  2. Leaders of smaller companies are finding that the world in which they operate is becoming increasingly complex, especially on the international and technology fronts.  The good news is that these challenges are common across industry sectors.  As a practical matter (also challenged to do more with less), CEOs and business leaders will likely turn to their peers for guidance  instead of paying high-priced consultants or investing in leadership training programs.  (And like their larger company colleagues, they’d be wise to do so).
  3. Today’s younger CEOs are digital natives versus digital immigrants.  They grew up with social media and are natural networkers who are much more inclined than their predecessors to engage their peers for advice and counsel.
  4. There’s been a fundamental shift in management education aimed at leveraging the experience of the increasing number of adult learners in the classroom, in both traditional and online education environments.  The practice of andragogy, or learning centered environments geared to adults, is becoming increasingly more popular, replacing pedagogy (a teaching centered/lecture-oriented approach) that relies more on the knowledge of the instructor than in the inherent experience and collective insights of the group.  It’s only a matter of time before it finds its way more prominently into private enterprise.
  5. As I pointed out in my last post, there are many similarities between learning teams and peer advisory groups.  Adult learners who’ve grown accustomed to working in peer groups in school, will seek to continue the practice in the workplace in greater numbers.  Peer groups at work will replace the learning teams they left behind.

Professionally facilitated peer groups simply make too much sense in today’s world not to catch fire – and soon!  Now I understand if you’re skeptical about a Vistage employee making the case for why professionally facilitated peer advisory groups is the next big thing.  Since it is what we do, I might be wary as well.  So I ask you to consider the argument on its merits, offer your comments (positive or negative), and understand that no self respecting advocate of peer advisory groups would ever presume to write such a post without consulting his peers.   This is not my opinion alone.  Thanks to my colleagues at Vistage and Seton Hall University for your contributions to this piece!


Category: Leadership

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Avatar About the Author: Leo Bottary

Leo J. Bottary is an adjunct professor for two of Seton Hall University's graduate level programs in strategic communication and leadership.  Leo has enjoyed a 25-year career counseling leaders in the areas of strategic comm…

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  1. Angie Chaplin

    September 26, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Excellent post, Leo, as always. I’ve led and been a member of various types of peer advisory groups including academic cohorts, book clubs, informal mentorship organizations, accountability groups, etc. In every workshop or class I’ve facilitated, I make it clear that participants are expected to learn more from each other than they do from me. My role is simply to help extract the knowledge, examples, education and experiences they already possess for the benefit of the entire group (including me).

    The same concept holds true for facilitated peer advisory groups. Unlike casual “let’s get together for coffee/lunch/beverages” gatherings, facilitated events have key points — not necessarily an agenda, but a purpose, a plan, and a process for getting from beginning to end. 

    Thanks again, for the opportunity to think more about the value of peer advisory groups. It’s a format I passionately support!

    Lead on,
    angie

  2. Angie, thanks so much for your comment.  I couldn’t agree more with regard to the learning experience.  A good peer advisory group will learn far more from one another than from any instructor or text.  Our job as facilitators is to create and nurture the environment to allow that dynamic to flourish!

  3. Leo, I appreciate your comments. As a former Vistage Member and current Chair, I have lived the peer advisory reality for the past 16 years. It is incredible to see my Members weathering these turbulent times so well because they advise and support each other.

  4. David, that’s quite a testimonial coming from you!  Much appreciated as well!

  5. […] GOOD FRIEND Leo Bottary has written another excellent post over at the Executive Street blog – ‘Why Peer Advisory Groups Will Be The Next Big Thing’. Peer advisory groups turn the traditional executive development model on its head.  The old […]

  6. Leo: as a Chair for over eight years and a psychotherapist for 15 years before that, I have consistently observed the inherent weaknesses of the old didactic learning model. Your comments mirror all the newest findings in the neurosciences (that we already know as Vistage Chairs): that we learn far more efficiently – and that learning translates into real change – when we are “engaged” in something that matters. What could be more meaningful than a peer discussion in which there is emotional involvement along so many powerful fronts: care (for fellow members), excitement (about someone’s breakthrough or new strategy), celebration (when someone wins either personally or in business), and compassion (when someone is struggling). What we know is that this level of emotional engagement produces real learning that leads to core change. As a therapist, I used to tell my clients that it is a long journey from the head to the heart to the gut. 18 inches but until it gets all the way to the gut behavior doesn’t change and neither do outcomes. Thank you for putting it together in such a compelling way for business leaders.

  7. Nina, your thoughtful comment reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Peter Senge, “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!”  You offer a number of compelling reasons why that’s so and why peer groups can be so powerful!

  8. CindyM

    October 1, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    I work in an exceptional hospital that not only values self-governance of practice but also embraces peer feedback for professional development, specifically using the 360 model for evaluation. I know all industries would benefit from a similar practice. Fantastic article!

    • Vistage

      October 1, 2011 at 10:14 pm

      Bonjour!!

      I will be out of the office from Friday 9/30 until Monday 10/17 traveling France and Italy.
      For email, List, and communications related items please contact Automated Marketing Specialist Louis Patrick. (Louis.Patrick@vistage.com)
      For website, regional site or other web related items please contact SEO/SEM Specialist Dominick Frasso. (Dominick.Frasso@vistage.com)
      For all other issues please contact Director of Communications Gina Onativia (Gina.Onativia@vistage.com)
      A la votre,

      Andy Ramirez

  9. CindyM, thanks for the kind words and the helpful reminder that utilizing peer advisory groups can be just one ingredient of an overall successful program!  You’ll have to tell us more about your exceptional hospital in the event we ever need its services!

    • Vistage

      October 3, 2011 at 12:56 pm

      Bonjour!!

      I will be out of the office from Friday 9/30 until Monday 10/17 traveling France and Italy.
      For email, List, and communications related items please contact Automated Marketing Specialist Louis Patrick. (Louis.Patrick@vistage.com)
      For website, regional site or other web related items please contact SEO/SEM Specialist Dominick Frasso. (Dominick.Frasso@vistage.com)
      For all other issues please contact Director of Communications Gina Onativia (Gina.Onativia@vistage.com)
      A la votre,

      Andy Ramirez

  10. I totally agree Sonja, the difficulty in
    implementation is the attitude of change by some senior executives. As I have
    said previously in this group , emphasis has been placed on Leadership training
    for a few, we seem to be obsessed with this concept. We have forgotten that worthwhile
    ideas come from many in an organisation; you just need to scrape the surface to
    find the gems!

    Success can be achieved by having such peer groups
    and in fact I am working with a company where the real problems and challenges
    are being addressed by such an approach. The key thing I find as an interventionist
    is that trust of managers and directors is absent or at least declining. They
    are close enough to the coal face to know what is really going on in their
    respective organisations. Gauging people’s opinions is not best served by cultural
    paper surveys, innovation and new methods need to be considered.

    This is a topic which I know is painful for owners
    and directors nevertheless it is one that cannot be avoided.

  11. Any chance, Leo, that we can reprint your article in our Peer Bulletin magazine? We’d provide appropriate citation, a brief biography and photo of you as the author as well as a link to Vistage.

  12. Any chance, Leo, that we can reprint your article in our Peer Bulletin magazine? We’d provide appropriate citation, a brief biography and photo of you as the author as well as a link to Vistage.

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