Networking and Relationship Building
The Benefits of a Peer Advisory Group to the CEO
Whatever its type or size there is always one unique role in every organization – the General Manager or to use the best catch-all term, the Chief Executive officer or CEO. Although it also often is given several other different titles (such as President, Managing Director, Managing Partner, Executive Director and others) this “chief decision-maker” inevitably does not have direct peers that perform a similar role.
Although some decisions are inevitably made alone from time to time, CEOs of all kinds are often left to seek input, advice and support from a range of people who may have relevant experience to offer but have a very different perspective to the one held by the CEO. This may include board directors, external legal and financial advisors, executive coaches and even management consultants. Unfortunately, every one of the individuals occupying these roles has his or her own agenda to think about or to pursue in advising or supporting a CEO. In other words, any input from external advisers such as these is almost inevitably colored or influenced by their different role and what is expected of them in carrying it out effectively. For example, a board member can listen to the CEO and offer input, which may be relatively independent, but he or she is still a member of the board and has to judge whether or not the CEO is competent and performing as well as possible. This is not a good foundation for full disclosure to occur in either direction. The existence of this “other agenda” is equally true of paid advisers (such as a lawyer, accountant, coach, consultant, etc.) who all have input to offer but within the realms of their particular expertise and objectives and so that they can retain the paid relationship for as long as possible in most cases. This is not to say that all of these roles don’t play an important role in giving a wise CEO knowledge and options in making future decisions. However, it is to say that truly independent and “un-agendered” advice needs to come from sources other than these.
Rather than to operate in this relatively lonely way at the top, there is an effective alternative available to every CEO, no matter what the size or type of company that he or she may run. This is involvement in a peer advisory group. Such groups tend to take two broad forms:
- A group of CEOs from many different companies that is assembled by an external organization with experience in doing this. Groups such as Vistage, the Entrepreneurs Organization, Score and many others do this on an international basis and many others do so in local markets.
- A group of CEOs from many different companies that is assembled privately, either by a “founding CEO” or by an appointed person who then often serves as the group’s facilitator.
Both of these options lead to groups which are typically similar in style and therefore commonly have the following broad characteristics. They:
- Are between 10 and 18 people in terms of group size (12-15 most often)
- Meet monthly for a half or full day
- Have a skilled group facilitator who helps the group to deal with important issues in a structured way
- Often have external expert speakers from time to time
- Sometimes (but by no means always) offer some support one-to-one coaching
- Hold each other accountable for what they agree to do or in terms of decisions made
This last point above is perhaps the most important characteristic of all in that every person effectively acts as a peer level “witness” to a commitment. Having a dozen or more witnesses is clearly a powerful incentive to act for each person in the group and encourages everyone to try to follow through as promised, especially when they may be tempted to defer taking action, if left to their own devices.
In general terms, peer CEO advisory groups tackle a wide range of issues that may be challenging individuals in the group. This may be many broad challenges such as lifting revenues, better controlling costs, finding new markets and customers, more effectively managing social media, obtaining new investment, etc. But in addition, a range of more specific challenges often come up such as hiring a key individual (a new CFO or Marketing VP for instance, separating from or even firing a senior member of staff or dealing with an unhealthy conflict situation in a business. Naturally, some of these issues involve the CEO him or herself and may involve learning some new approaches or ways to tackle a situation not encountered before. Not only can the facilitator of the peer advisory group help to steer the input that may be helpful on any of these kinds of challenges but ensure that the wisdom of the assembled crowd is provided in helpful ways.
In summary, all CEOs of many stripes can benefit from peer advisory groups. These groups provide an invaluable external perspective that is as beneficial of the large company CEO in a national or even international organization as it is to the startup entrepreneur with only a few people working for him or her. John F Kennedy is credited with the quotation, “A rising tide floats all boats.” If the “tide” referred to here is knowledge, then a peer CEO advisory group helps to provide much more of it on a regular basis and allow every individual to learn from others’ successes and failures in a similar role in their business.