Peer mentoring groups are usually 10 or 12 owners of similarly sized, non-competing businesses who get together to help each other find faster, easier ways to build a great company. It can be fun, enormously helpful and fulfilling but it’s not for everyone.
Here is what you need to know before you commit.
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1. What is said in the room, stays in the room. When a group initially forms, nobody wants to get off on the wrong foot. It usually takes a few meetings before things get serious. Once trust is earned, skeletons start coming out of the closet. To really benefit, groups need to discuss sensitive topics like problem employees, cash flow, vendor and banking issues. A good facilitator will remind members of the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that participants signed.
2. Suggestions, not perfect solutions. Odds are, you will not be the largest or smallest business in your group. It is likely whatever problems you face, someone in your group has faced it and remedied it but what worked for one industry may not with another.
The “best” solution may be one that nobody in your group had the courage to deploy. Your group will expect you to think through your best solution. Surrounding yourself with 10-12 smart business owners removed from the emotion of a decision is a powerful thing.
3. Your group will be very supportive, until they’re not. Everyone is there to help each other and will be patient, to a point. If your group has given you feedback on an issue but you are dragging your feet, expect tough love. Nobody said leadership is easy. Make a decision and report on the outcome. Anything less and the others will lose respect for you. After all, people are investing their time in you. They want to see results. This is business, not therapy.
Related: Getting Feedback From Peers
4. You will invest time in your group. Some groups meet for an hour per month, some meet for half-days plus consulting time with the facilitator. Whatever the group format, expect to trade email, have side conversations after meetings and go to one-on-one lunches. The “extra” stuff is because you want it. Take some conversations “off line” because you need the extra support or are in a position to make a difference in someone else’s business.
5. Expect to be uncomfortable. Not every decision you have made for your business was the correct one. It’s painful to come to that realization. Members of your group should always be respectful and not raise their voice, ever. This means you, too! There will be times that you may agree to disagree. That’s ok. Even being asked to defend your position will be a great exercise for you and make you a better CEO.
6. Eases stress. Especially if you don’t have a partner, business ownership can be a lonely. Getting feedback on issues like supplier programs, pricing strategies and inventory loss can be very helpful and allow you to sleep better at night. When your decisions are right, and frequently they are, getting validation reduces pointless anxiety and helps you focus on the next opportunity.
7. Expect transformational change. Think you don’t have the time for peer mentoring? Icons like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos all found the time to be in a group.
Vistage, the largest company facilitating peer mentoring groups has been operating for nearly 60 years and has more than 17,000 members worldwide. Thousands of other business owners are in less formal groups because peer mentoring works. Members' companies grow faster, are more profitable and exit for a higher multiple than owners of companies that go it alone. ROI is measured over time but you can be confident of getting back your investment in money and time.