As FMI rolls into its 60th year of business, we reflect on the many changes for the country, the construction industry, individual companies and our own company. Embracing and anticipating change is the role of senior management. Likewise, we understand that professional development and continual learning create the best executives. Whether times are tough or revenues are thriving, entrepreneurs and business owners must sharpen their blades persistently in order to endure the volatility of commerce.
It comes as no surprise to us that in any industry, peer groups offer a unique venue for executive development. A peer group consists of individuals who have a common interest (i.e., industry, market, etc.) and meets frequently to discuss current challenges and issues as well as ways to take advantage of opportunities and trends in the marketplace. Why do peer groups work? In short — good processes, people, chemistry and focus on results. Here we will look at how peer groups have proven to be an excellent tool for executive development.
COMMON GOAL TO BETTER YOUR BUSINESS
Peer interaction provides a unique forum for industry leaders to examine specific solutions to the challenges of running a business from the executive management of similar organizations. From within these groups, members learn new ideas and identify opportunities to better their businesses. Through interaction with other bright people, candid feedback and staunch accountability, peer groups drive positive change among the member’s management teams and improve
results of their firm’s overall objectives.
EFFECTIVE PLANNING PROCESSES
Peer groups offer conferences focused on a wide range of general business issues. Through a series of preparation processes, consisting of group phone calls and deep brainstorming discussions, each peer group collectively determines the topical content for its meetings. The issue-specific agendas, benchmarks and follow-up tools create open environments for comparing specific performance, risk management and profitability matters from each member’s business.
VARIETY AND FLEXIBILITY OF FORMATS
Not only do peer groups custom-craft their meeting discussions and topics, but also they tailor-make their group formats. By doing so, each group gains the flexibility to adapt as necessary. As we know, not everyone learns the same way. Similarly, not every group functions the same way. Understanding the differences of business and learning styles allows the peer group facilitators to customize any group of executives with the appropriate meeting format to ensure progressive development.
Round-Table Best Practice
The executive round-table format provides the opportunity to share processes, procedures, documents and knowledge regarding specific subjects. Participants are responsible for extracting ideas and incorporating the changes into their organization. The process is analogous to cooking class, where the aspiring chef translates the lessons in the classroom to the kitchen at home.
Parallel meetings allow line managers or business unit leaders to engage at an intimate level with their counterparts at the peer companies. The primary benefit of the parallel format is a deep dive into the specific operating practices of similar firms. This is a rare opportunity for candid connection with people solving similar issues. The secondary managers leave fired up with many ideas they will want to implement upon return to their operations.
Tandem meetings create regularly scheduled interaction and learning within the peer companies. These groups meet on their own with predetermined subject matter, create recorded individual action plans and ultimately report their findings, goals, processes and achievements to their respective leaders. Continual access creates familiarity, accountability and deep, ongoing resourcing.
The pinnacle of peer group trust, intimacy and value attainment is the audit. As the name implies, the purpose is a deep understanding of the true operation of a business. The outcome is an evaluation of the business with specific observations and recommendations for the target company. The auditors of the meeting benefit from the intimate, inside perspective of another contractor’s business. The audited company benefits from the collective knowledge of his peers. The culminated counsel from the peer evaluations is hard-hitting, straight-from-the-gut advice that all executives should seek.
The knowledge acquired from a peer group meeting does not stop with the executive participant. Through evolving meeting formats, varying agenda topics and progressive objectives and accountability, it is inevitable that a member’s organization becomes deeply involved in the peer group process. Employing the peer group membership to its fullest has proven to aid firms in connecting senior leaders within their organizations with their peers to begin undertaking similar paths of development. Some groups find the most benefit from involving specified business areas such as business development, pre-construction and risk management. Others have formed groups of their next-generation leaders, creating relationships to ensure senior leader and executive development continuity.
BUSINESS RELATIONSHIPS AND EXTENDED NETWORKING
It is the leader’s responsibility to develop relationships, both within the business and externally, through networking. Evolving executives experience a world of networking opportunities found in the noncompeting, similar firms of the peer groups. Examples of such networking opportunities vary from groups participating in jobsite or office operational tours to groups participating in issue-specific brainstorming discussions or training forums to members even participating in joint venture opportunities. With a network of peers to work with, possibilities for creative growth activities become almost endless.
The peer group experience is ideal for any executive who is a student of its business. The best businesspeople hunger for the knowledge of how to improve and how successful companies go that way. Peer groups are a unique format for studying all aspects of what makes a business, and the people who power it, successful. When done well, the chemistry and relationships provide a resource base and team of advocates who care about your success. Running a business can be a lonely and isolating experience. A team of true peers can provide the support, guidance and camaraderie to make a difference.
Kevin Kilgore is a principal with FMI Corporation. He can be reached at 303.398.7272 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Irenka Huttunen is the peer group coordinator at FMI. She can be reached at 303.398.7268 or via email at email@example.com.