David Sluter
By David Sluter on October 20, 2015

The Value of Peer Learning and Relationships in Business

 Alliance Spring New England Construction Value of Peer LearningWe all have peer relationships that add value and richness to our lives.

As friends and teammates can share experiences, provide support and give advice. As a business owner, finding valuable peer business relationships and opportunities for sharing and learning can be very difficult. A business owner often has to rely on their own abilities and experience to make decisions regarding important business issues, tactics or strategy. They certainly can and do solicit input from subordinates, however, the perspective and advice of a successful and experienced peer can be extremely valuable and help avoid costly mistakes. Organized peer groups can offer tremendous opportunities for mutual support, learning, advice and different perspectives for a business owner, executive or manager.

I have been fortunate to be a part of three peer experiences in my career that have helped my businesses and changed my life. In 1996, I was asked to join a construction peer group which we eventually named The Alliance. The Alliance still has ten member companies and we meet three times a year to share fellowship, best practices and complete financials. We also offer support to each other as we go through life’s ups and downs. We challenge each other when one of us persistently avoids dealing with reality. Spouses attend all meetings and have an independent agenda for parts of the meeting. They are a vital part of the fabric of our group and of our success. The basis for our longevity is trust, shared values and a commitment to each other. Sharing and lifelong learning are at the core of all of our meetings. A friend who knows us well called our group “a unique human architecture.”

As a group, we have begun the transition to the next generation of leadership of our companies so that what we have gained and shared is passed on. Our group of companies employs nearly a thousand people and delivers over $1.5 Billion worth of construction a year throughout the United States. I expect to continue these relationships that started nearly twenty years ago and to share a commitment with this group for the balance of my active life. They are the reason our company has prospered and grown.

In 1999, I became a founding member of a Rhode Island based Chief Executive Officer peer group under the auspices of TEC (The Executive Committee). TEC was an international organization that sponsored CEO groups throughout the US as well as international locations. TEC has since become Vistage. These groups meet once a month for a full day and the group Chair meets with individual CEO’s for coaching and follow up on a monthly basis as well. Meeting format includes members’ personal and business updates as well as resource speakers on business issues, tactics and strategy. The afternoons for these meetings are set aside for members to introduce decisions, issues and problems that they are facing and desire input, perspective and advice from the group.

As with the Alliance, our Vistage group’s success was based on trust and a commitment to each other and to lifelong learning. When dealing with member’s individual issues, advice and perspective was always provided by fellow members with candor and brevity. Those members who were dealing with troubling personal or business challenges were provided compassionate support as well. The resource speakers invariably brought timely insights to business issues and delivered value to our members. I managed to survive two recessions and adequately prepare for a third in part because of the peer learning that I experienced in my 13 years as a member of this group.

From 1991 to 1993, I attended the Owner and President’s Management program at Harvard Business School. This executive education program was held at the HBS campus for three weeks in three consecutive years. As students, we lived on campus and participated in the traditional HBS Socratic teaching method, the case study. We studied large, well-known companies and small ones – family-owned, publically-traded and closely-held ones. We studied cases on business strategy, finance, marketing, human relations and negotiation among other topics. The pace was overwhelming with three cases to study and prepare for each day for six days a week. Sunday was a day for getting ahead on your case reading which could run to 20 pages or more for each case. Our class was made up of business owners and presidents from the US, Europe, South America, Asia and Australia.

As a peer group, this diverse collection of highly successful, entrepreneurial people offered the ultimate opportunity for each participant to learn, be challenged, be humbled and to have one’s experiences, challenges and successes be measured, shared and reinforced. As a relative business neophyte, I was overwhelmed, impressed, energized by and in awe of my fellow students. The HBS faculty is among the best in the world and we were challenged by them each day in our case discussions. A core of this program was to offer opportunities for and to support peer to peer bonding, sharing, discussion and learning. This took place as a part of small living group study, dining and social occasions and recreational opportunities on campus. Lifelong learning was a common trait for these peers. I came away from this experience with numerous lifelong relationships and a wealth of knowledge that helped prepare me to build three businesses.

For most businesses, competition, growth, profitability, market relevance and sustainability are an everyday challenge. Education in the form of peer to peer sharing, support, advice and perspective can be the some of the most effective ways to overcome these challenges. We have all had our share of failures and successes. As business leaders, we need to continue to find ways to share with and learn from our peers if we want our future gains to outnumber our losses.

Are you part of a professional peer group to grow your business? Would love to hear your perspective on the power and the abundant return when investing your time into a peer group to grow your business and self.

Published by David Sluter October 20, 2015
David Sluter