Whether you’ve read it here or in countless other blog posts, articles, textbooks, videos, podcasts, etc., you know the failure rate for most strategic plans or any type of organizational change initiative is unacceptably high. Leaders may not be able to impose their will to achieve success, but they can create the conditions that allow for employees to make their organizations successful and achieve strategic goals more often. If you’re willing to consider establishing formal peer groups in your organization, here are five reasons to give it a try:
Shared Vision – Peer groups can add value by shaping a shared vision consistent, of course, with the values and aspirations of the organization. Rather than a leader imposing a personal vision on others (in the hopes they adopt it), employees/peer groups who are allowed to shape the vision as their own will help paint a clearer picture for everyone. MIT lecturer and author Peter Senge writes, “Few, if any, forces in human affairs are as powerful as a shared vision.”
The Power of “My Idea” – Marshall Goldsmith will tell you that a common fault of leaders is they have an “overwhelming desire to add (their) two cents to every discussion.” What he means is when approached by an employee with an idea, most leaders can’t help but say, “Great, but if you added x,y,z, it could be excellent!” Goldsmith submits that for whatever incremental value the leader may have added, he/she likely reduced the employee’s enthusiasm for implementing it by half because in that instant, it’s no longer the “employee’s idea.” Peer groups who engage in dialogue and collaborate on achieving their shared vision, will have a greater commitment to implementing “their own ideas.”
Trust – When leaders allow peer groups to flourish, it not only demonstrates trust of the employees, but also fosters employees in the peer groups to trust one another. Their work isn’t about individual personal gain, it’s about creating abundance so that everyone wins. They become dedicated to something larger than themselves. Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner write, “If leaders want the high levels of performance that come with trust and collaboration, they must demonstrate trust in others before asking for trust from others. Leaders go first, as the word implies.” This dynamic serves among the most fundamental differences between what can be achieved with peer advisory groups and what’s lacking in the typical top-down approach.
Commitment – One can only be “committed” to someone else’s goal or plan for so long. That doesn’t mean that over time top-down plans can’t be embraced by some of the people responsible for the implementation, but it hardly makes much sense. Why settle for variations of apathy and compliance, when you can achieve real broad-based commitment? Senge notes, “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.” So if a level of self determination will dramatically increase the chances for success, then it’s hard to imagine not giving peer groups in your organization the opportunity.
Accountability – Former HBS professor, consultant, and author David Maister writes, “You can’t achieve a competitive differentiation through things you do reasonably well, most of the time.” Peer groups keep each other accountable. The members of the group do their part to make sure everyone in the group is clear about their commitment and accountable for its success. The only thing tougher than meeting with your CEO to explain you dropped the ball, is telling that to a group of your peers.
If more CEOs participated in CEO peer groups, I believe they’d be more likely to encourage the practice in their own organizations. Also, they would dramatically reduce the strategic plan and organizational change failure rates, and help their own companies to boot! Next week, I’ll look at five ways CEOs would benefit from engaging their peers!