Why Peer Advisory Groups are the Next Big Thing

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!

Thanks to Leo Bottary at Vistage International.

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