Strategic Planning For Business


How To Save Time, Money, and Frustration - Solving Problems and Developing Skills With Your Peers

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In this article, I’d like to share the benefits from the experience of someone who has seen real measurable benefits that far exceed the cost in time and money for being part of a facilitated peer group.

To quote John Dini, owner of a peer-advisory franchise in San Antonio (The Alternative Board), the value of a peer group is that, “You get more out of discussing someone else’s issue in a constructive manner than you do talking about your own.”

For many people, the ideal way to do this is in person since it bars the distrust and uncertainty that is sometimes bred by background distractions over the phone.

And when you add a trained expert facilitator, you have a winning recipe: maximum benefit for the time and cost involved.

“Of course, it’s not always practical to meet in person, but many of the ideas presented here would work in facilitated peer group discussion using the telephone when geographic distance becomes a major hindrance,” says Henry Barbey, director of the Center for Coaching and co-founder of Strategic Conversations”.

“Members of the same industry scattered throughout the country may find it valuable to share information, discuss business challenges and brainstorm about new ideas. In this case, facilitated peer group strategic conversations over the telephone can be the perfect solution.”

I recently interviewed Tony Hutti, who has personally experienced the amazing results that come out of facilitated peer groups. He has over 35 years of leadership and management experience and describes himself as a peer group facilitator or Forum Leader, for Renaissance Executive Forums.

He has also been the CEO/Owner of three separate companies and has been the driving force in the turnaround of various companies. Renaissance Executive Forums is an international company dedicated to helping top executives accelerate positive changes in their businesses and in their lives.

The Group’s Structure

Any peer groups facilitated by Hutti consist of 10 to 12 same-level executives (usually CEOs) from similar sized, non-competing companies, with expertise spanning the areas of service, distribution, manufacturing, and retail.

When these members are looking for an idea that will help them take advantage of an opportunity or problem solve regarding an issue they’re facing, they are able to pull information from the other 10 members in their group. Since some of the members have twenty-plus years of experience, an entire group might have 300 years of experience.

The synergy of the peer group situation is unparalleled in any other forum. Certainly, the power of the collective minds offers optimal solutions to each business challenge. Once a peer group member describes an issue in a meeting, the facilitator and group members ask clarifying questions to better define the problem.

“Members of a peer group tend to be frank in their responses,” explains Hutti. “They have no reason to hold back since they are not from the same organization and don’t have to concern themselves with office or family politics.”

With the problem clearly defined, other members in the group relate experiences where they have encountered similar situations and discuss how they handled them. The member who brought up the question takes the problem clarifications and experiential feedback into consideration, and then presents to the group his idea of how he or she is going to address the problem. At the next month’s meeting, the member is expected to give a progress update, instituting accountability to the process.

The issue of accountability is greatly needed by executives, says Hutti, who has been facilitating peer groups for over 10 years. “Most CEOs look for that and they don’t get it from their staff; and they don’t get it from their management team; and they really want someone to hold them accountable.”

Here’s an example of how Hutti would keep everyone at a meeting on topic with the purpose of achieving focused results.

Let’s say one member of a group has a problem with a Sales Manager. While members are taking turns asking clarifying questions about this, Hutti would further guide the process by keeping it on track, noting, “Perhaps the issue is not really the Sales Manager; it’s the product or the service that’s being provided; or there’s not clear definition of who the customer really is.”

Other CEOs might share their experiences in similar situations and the CEO with the problem will incorporate their thoughts into his planned action steps to address the situation.

Why Facilitated Groups Make Good Sense

The beauty of a facilitated peer group lies in the dedicated facilitator, who makes all of the arrangements for time, place, and attendees, and attends the meetings themselves.
During the meeting, the facilitator asks clarifying questions and solicits questions from others in the group.

He/she also documents the problem or challenge being addressed, which member raised the issue, what feedback was given and by whom, and what action steps were decided upon and by whom.

At the next meeting, the facilitator discusses the action steps the group member has taken to resolve the problems. The facilitator documents the results produced since they are the one responsible for holding members accountable for examining and measuring progress.

The facilitator provides members of the group with quantifiable evidence that their participation paid off for them.

Examples include: the dollar value of advice given/received, the bottom line savings a solution yielded for a member’s company, or the value of time that would have been spent on other alternatives had the solution not been extracted via the process and synergy of the peer group.

Another important role for the facilitator is recruiting relevant yet diverse members for the groups so their members can get right to work with a ready-made expert panel, making subscription to the group a priceless investment.

Hutti personally interviews any given prospective member, informing him or her of the value he is getting from his dollar by backing it up with facts from his own repertoire of peer group successes.

He is also quietly sizing up the CEO, ascertaining his or her communication style, his specific skill set, business needs, and determining whether or not the prospective member is amenable to a peer group setting.

If all goes well and the CEO wants to try the group before paying a membership fee, Hutti will get permission from the peer group to have the CEO attend on a trial basis. The CEO signs a confidentiality agreement, and attends a meeting.

This protects the individual from joining an incompatible group - but it also protects the members of established groups. If the members feel that a new prospective member is not a good fit, they can speak up and request that he or she not be permitted to join their forum, before it is too late and the dues are paid.

Although this is quite rare, say 1 in 100 instances, Hutti wants to make sure the group has the right mix and offers this service to protect the group members’ collective investment, making certain that the group provides value to every member.

The Results

Obviously, the members join to get results. Hutti says that any given member in a group will see results within a year, but some members gain results as early as the first meeting. He cites one example where a tip given in the first meeting saved one man $100,000.

Investment in a facilitated peer group pays off for many reasons:

Members become empowered by the facilitated peer group process. Often times in their own settings, business owners and CEOs are stifled in their effectiveness because they do not have the proper tools to get their ideas across, even if they have the right idea to begin with.

The peer group can draw upon its reserves of wisdom to provide additional problem-solving methods to the member, which he or she may not have already considered.

When a member does not have the right processes at work in his organization to implement his ideas, the other group members can provide alternatives they have seen work in their companies. Or they can help the member find ways to motivate his organization to change its processes. As a result, he might go back to the company with factual information that support his ideas, which is more likely to elicit a positive response.

Annually, each group member has the opportunity to understand the value of his or her contribution to the group. Once a year, Hutti sits down with each member and tells him or her what the member individually brought to the group, and what it was worth. He also reviews personal action steps taken, and what those were potentially worth to that member.

Members may also call Hutti for additional advice between meetings and he personally arranges separate meetings or appointments to supplement the monthly meetings.

Community And The Greater Good

In addition, members of facilitated peer groups such as the ones run by Hutti or available through are ostensibly helping their own communities thrive. The peer groups are built of diverse types of businesses, but the businesses are concentrated in a local area.

In helping local businesses become as effective as possible, a positive impact is made on an entire community’s economy. Synergy works its way out of the meeting room and into the local community!

In Strategic Conversations facilitated peer groups, instead of just a local community benefiting from these groups, entire industries are positively impacted.

Henry Barbey, co-founder of Strategic Conversations notes, “These facilitated peer groups, unhampered by geographic distances, allow strong, productive alliances to be built between individuals in the same roles in an industry as well as individuals functioning in vertical roles. Group members broaden their understanding of and problem-solving skills in the operations of an entire industry, instead of just their unique and specialized functions. This strengthens their skill sets and creates additional areas of expertise for both new and seasoned executives, as they share ideas and problem-solving solutions covering a myriad of business challenges. Their organizations receive additional value as they personally do.”

Creativity flourishes in peer groups as well. By taking individuals out of the cocoon of their single industry and placing them in the presence of other high-level experts from other industries, either in-person or virtually, magic happens.

Now you have executives thinking outside the box, but within their own expertise at running companies. By borrowing innovative ideas that worked in one industry and applying them to a totally different industry, a new code is being written for business.

Business continues to evolve because of groups like these - the ideas that peer group members implement and report back on will serve to change the landscape of their own individual companies, their industries and local communities forever.

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