Peer groups: Hang with the right crowd

November 19, 2014 -  By

Editor’s note: This article is excerpted from “Three Cheers for Peer Groups,” which ran in Pest Management Professional’s 2015 Business Planner.

As the saying goes, it’s lonely at the top. As a lawn care or pest management professional, employees, customers, bankers and other interested parties expect you to know all the answers. Ever feel like you want someone on your side? Someone to bounce ideas off? Someone who will give you honest criticism and who’s been in similar situations? Joining a peer group might be the answer.

An executive peer group is a forum for owners and managers involved with top-tier decision making in their organizations who are willing to share information about their company’s financial, marketing, operational and strategic plans to grow their company and tackle business challenges confronting its members. These groups can be geographically specific with members from various industries, or industry specific. Those that are industry specific are usually comprised of non-competitive firms in different markets.

Typically, groups are comprised of eight to 12 members and harness the collective knowledge of the membership to help overcome the challenges of operating, growing, and building value and profitability for their companies. Benefits of peer group membership include:

• Increased accountability;

• Business owners with similar backgrounds to bounce ideas off;

• A strong support network;

• Access to professionals with complementary strengths;

• Improved delegation skills;

• Higher quality of living;

• Increased profitability;

• Business coaching input; and

• Improved level of business expertise.

Members typically sign a nondisclosure agreement preventing members from sharing financial and operational information or trade secrets with anyone who isn’t in the group. Many groups include an experienced facilitator using an organized discussion format ensuring all members are heard.

One of the largest peer-group forum organizer and facilitator is Vistage, which offers groups for CEOs, small business owners and key executives in more than a thousand cities worldwide. Their groups usually aren’t industry specific, but there are many green industry professionals who belong to Vistage and find membership to be beneficial and educational.

Some peer groups are run by business coaches or consultants who have expertise in one particular industry. A few years ago I was asked to become the facilitator of a peer group because of my industry expertise and the large number of clients I coach as a value-add to my accounting practice. I now facilitate several of these industry-specific groups. I try to provide members with increased insight into their organizations through meetings hosted at members’ locations. These meetings include members sharing financial and operational benchmarks and other business information. All this information is compiled before the meeting and distributed to each member to form the basis for interesting conversations that often lead to expanded discussion and sharing of ideas.

Member Benefits
I’ve talked to several participants of multiple peer groups and the most relevant parallel for many seems to be comparing the peer group concept with friends from one’s childhood. For example, parents want their children to associate with the right crowd. Parents want a fertile environment for their children. They hope the crowd their kids hang around with are the smart kids, those who were trying to better themselves, sharing ideas and researching better ways to achieve.

When put together properly, a peer group is the right crowd. True friendships are made, and folks are genuinely interested in where your company has been and where it’s going. During the meetings, members agree on actions to be taken by each individual, usually by the next meeting. Most participants are able to report back the success or failure of those actions, making that member accountable to himself and the group. Many times if we’re only accountable to ourselves, we get busy and procrastinate some responsibilities. This is especially true for those who are the boss and have no one to answer to.

Sometimes having to answer to someone, even if the motivation is to avoid embarrassment, is motivation enough. It encourages us to put in extra effort to avoid embarrassment. Chances are, we’re more likely to implement the needed action than if left to our own devices.

For more information on green industry peer groups, see the January 2013 issue of Landscape Management. Or contact Gordon, who’s accepting applications for a lawn care peer group.

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About the Author:

Gordon is a New Jersey-based CPA and owner of Turfbooks, an accounting firm that caters to land care professionals throughout the U.S. Reach him at dan@turfbooks.com.

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