The Importance of Executive Peer Groups – Podcast | S2:E11

by Versique

Executive peer groups are critical when attracting and retaining top executives at your company. Not only are peer groups a great way to network with other executives but it gives key executives a sounding board to bounce ideas and issues that they are facing in their companies. Tune in as we hear from Wayne Serie, Minnesota Executive Chair for Vistage International on the importance of joining an executive peer group like Vistage.

About Vistage

Vistage is the world’s largest and most comprehensive executive coaching organization for small and midsize businesses with $1M – $1B in revenue. Solutions are purpose-built for all leadership levels, including CEOs, key executives, business owners, and emerging leaders. Members meet with their peers in confidential group meetings facilitated by accomplished executive-level coaches to help solve their most complex issues. For more than 60 years, we’ve been helping CEOs, business owners and key executives solve their greatest challenges. Today, more than 23,000 members in 20 countries rely on Vistage.

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Podcast Transcription – S2:E11

 

[00:00:02] ANNOUNCER Get ready for your weekly dose of talent, strategies, and tactics from industry leaders to attract, select, and retain your top talent. You’re listening to Versique’s Inside Executive Search with Steve Yakesh and Scott Peterson.
[00:00:23] SY Hello and welcome to the Inside Executive Search Podcast. My name is Steve Yakesh. This podcast is for business owners, executives, and board members, seeking strategies and tactics to attract, select, and retain the very best. If you’re not feeling 100% confident that you have a plan, keep listening. This podcast will help you get there. That said, I’d like to introduce the uniquely designed Scott Peterson.
[00:00:46] SP Every week, it’s a new descriptor of me. None of which even were close, but I like it.
[00:00:52] SY You’re unique.
[00:00:53] SP Unique is a good thing. So thanks for introduction, Steve. We’re happy to be back again this week and this –
[00:00:59] SY We have a guest.
[00:01:00] SP We have a guest, right? We previewed it last week. Today, we have Wayne Serie from Vistage, and he’s a Vistage chair. We’ll get into what Vistage is, but we back up just a little bit. We’ve talked in past podcasts about things that help retain the very best employees. One of those things we commented on was peer groups that help peer CEOs, business owners really understand their business, help them really navigate those intricacies of a business, whether it’s they’re going to sell their company, they’re growing, they’re doing acquisition. So we wanted to bring in one of the leaders from Vistage here in Minneapolis, Wayne Serie, that’ll help us understand what Vistage is, what it does for their peer groups, and some examples of how it’s really help those clients out through those issues.
[00:01:45] SY Perfect. We’ll turn it over to Wayne. So tell us a little bit about Vistage.
[00:01:49] WS Great. Well, first of all, thank you for inviting me to be part of this today. I really appreciate. So Vistage is a organization that was founded in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1957. So a lot of people would say we’re a well-known secret. The organization today has grown from its inception to a organization that represents over 23,000 members. We’re in 20 countries around the globe. Right here in the State of Minnesota, we have about 375 member companies. So my role as part of Vistage is a Vistage chair. So I lead various types of Vistage groups on a regular basis, and it’s been my pleasure to do this for a little over 16 years now. So a little bit about the background of Vistage, our mission as an organization is improving the effectiveness and enhancing the lives of CEOs, business owners, and key executives of small and medium-sized businesses. We do that through our core values which are trust, caring, challenge, and growth. Since the inception of Vistage, our organization was founded around forming peer groups. Our founder, Bob Nourse, was a business owner in Milwaukee, had a manufacturing company, and decided it was time to semi-retire and looked back over the course of his business to decide how did he make it as successful as it has been. Decided that when he really needed to get advice in terms of complex decisions or opportunities that he was vetting, he essentially called other business owners in the Milwaukee area, and they got together for a small meeting, it might have been even a breakfast or lunch. He vetted the idea with these folks as to if I were going to start an organization that did this full-time, would you pay for this kind of advice? Every one of them said, “We would definitely pay for it, because the value it’s brought to us and to our companies is really phenomenal.” So the start of Vistage in 1957 is really where we got our roots. Today, we’re growing and adding new members across the globe on a regular basis.
[00:04:02] SY So here in Minnesota, you said 375. How many different groups makes up those 375?
[00:04:08] WS Great question. We have today about 22 groups here in the State of Minnesota. There are about 14 people like myself known as a Vistage chair that are active here in the state. I have to say that it’s a wonderful collegial group of professionals in that we actually have what we call our Vistage chair group on a monthly basis. So we get together and help each other with our businesses and help each other with best practice and help each other with recruitment and things of that nature. So what’s good for our members is good for us as Vistage chairs, and it works out really well.
[00:04:48] SP It’s an amazing story how it started, and I think we can all attest to coming up with business ideas and challenges and how do we kind of formulate getting to the right answer for us. We always have our peer groups that we kind of talk to, and some of those are just personal peer groups that you want talk to, phone a friend for an opinion. You guys formalized it way back before it was voted to have a peer group. That’s an amazing story and track record of growth.
[00:05:15] WS Yeah, exactly. Well, and our model is somewhat unique in that we really have four components, really five components to our model in that we, first of all, form the peer group. Our peer groups are comprised of companies that represent different industries, different size of organizations. Our groups we consider full when we have 16 to 18 members in the group. So the group is the one aspect of the model. Then we do one-on-one executive coaching on a monthly basis with each one of the CEO or business owners, and we spend from 90 minutes to two hours with each of our members on a monthly basis. In addition to that, we bring in what we know is Vistage speakers. So in our Vistage Speaker Bureau, we have some 700+ speakers that we pull from on a monthly basis. They come in and they spend their time with our CEO groups in an interactive conversation around whatever topic it might be. It could be marketing. It could be finance. It could succession planning, any number of things that business owners need to keep their saw really polished and really sharp. So that’s the third component. The fourth component is we connect our members right here in the state to our worldwide network. So if we have members, let’s say they’re opening up an office in the UK, which I’ve had as an experience that really didn’t know the land in the UK, what we’ll do is connect them to the Vistage organization in the UK. They’ll help that member figure out how do they go about opening up the office and what are the guidelines and the rules that you need to play by in the UK. So it’s a growth-oriented focus that we have with our members. In fact, really that’s kind of one of the first things what we think about when we interview a prospective member. Is this member on a growth path? Is their vision to grow or not? If it’s the or not, then Vistage really might not be the best place to hang out, because we’re all about improving, getting better on what we do every day, and growth is part of that.
[00:07:20] SY So you get together monthly as a group. What is a typical day in the life look like? How long are we meeting, and what’s kind of a typical agenda?
[00:07:27] WS Yeah. Great question. So we’re meeting at about seven hours a day. So it’s usually a 7:30 to 8 o’clock start with a light breakfast, introductions, overview of the day. We have guests almost every meeting and possibly prospective members that might be interested in joining Vistage at some point. Typically, we have our Vistage speakers in the morning, and they spend from three to three and a half hours with our group. Our speakers are with us 8 months out of the 12. So the other four months of the year, we have a different agenda. But when we have a speaker, they are with us generally in the morning. Over the lunch hour, there is networking that goes on. They’re sharing what’s happening in their lives, both personally and professionally over the last 30 days since we’ve been together. Then after lunch, what we engage in is what we know as our executive session. We have a host every month. It’s a member of the group, and they provide an update on their organization. Then from there, we go into what we know as solving issues and helping members with topics and opportunities that they’re faced with. Typically speaking, we’re spending time on strategic-type opportunities. Certainly, the tactical aspects of running companies and growing companies is important. We’re really taking time out of our really busy day to work on a business and not in the business. The owners and CEOs are really interested in looking at what are those growth-oriented kinds of strategies and things that we need to be thinking about. That’s what they’re sharing with each other in a highly confidential environment. So what happens at that meeting stays at that meeting, along with what happens in a one-to-one stays in a one-to-one. So that’s our afternoon typically. We’re usually done around 3:30, 4 o’clock.
[00:09:21] SP So you kind of touched on some of the benefits, issues, dealing with issues, your speakers bringing special topics. When you have a speaker, is it more of a presentation or is it more workshop or a combination of the two? Then maybe we can get into a couple other really what are the benefits to being a member. So if I was a prospective member, what am I going to get out of this for the investment that I put in, not only in money but also in the time?
[00:09:46] WS Yeah. Great question. To your last point, members that really join Vistage, it’s really the time component that’s the most critical from their perspective. The money, well, yes. It’s money, but it’s not the most important thing that they’re thinking about. It’s that one day a month that they’re spending with their peers, and it’s that other time during the month that they’re spending with the chair in that two-hour coaching session. So the opportunities in the afternoon and what are the benefits that they’re getting from one another. We like to think that over time, they begin to make better decisions. Members really are great at making decisions. But they begin to understand that with peer input, those decisions get refined and become much better. Two heads are better than one, and 16 heads are better than 8. That’s the way we think about it. Members are really coming, because they want to be held accountable, believe it or not. They understand that as owners of the company, they have lots of avenues that they can follow, and yet they want to be held accountable and they want to be held to a focus and to a vision that they’ve set out. They have that peer group help them do that. The other benefit that they get is they simply grow faster in terms of their organization and then personally as a leader by being part of a peer group. An interesting part that they would cite is isolation. So every one of our members have leadership teams surrounding them. Most of them are organizers. Yet at the same time, sitting in that corner office as we say is lonely at times, and the type of topics they bring to their peer group are things that they might and probably will bring to their leadership team or to their board of advisors. But to get an opportunity to vet that opportunity with their peer group before they take it to that next level.
[00:11:36] SP It’s really impactful.
[00:11:37] WS It really is. Then most of them would site that change were different in many ways. Some of us are good at creating change, and others of us are good at managing change. They realize where they are, and they get help around understanding that and getting better at the point that they’re not so good at. So those are the kind of benefits they bring to each other, and the group ultimately as a group becomes much more bonded and more influential in each other’s lives.
[00:12:04] SP Do you see your groups – Speaking of groups, you get together once a month formally. You do the one-on-one coaching formally. Is there a lot of cross-communication outside of those times between your members?
[00:12:16] WS Yeah. That’s a great question, and it depends. It depends on the group. It depends on the members and so forth. In my two CEO groups that I have, there’s a fair amount of outside the meeting format that they’re getting together. It could be a lunch or breakfast, a lot of phone calls, emails, texts, things like that. The other thing that we do is we hold spousal events. So we have realized over time that by those social activities, the groups become far more bonded than if it’s a business-only kind of environment. So one of my groups actually decided about seven or eight years ago that our spousal events were going to be out of the US. So we’ve been traveling to Costa Rica and Kabul and –
[00:12:59] SP I guess I’m joining Vistage next week.
[00:13:04] WS So spouses come with us, and then we have an appropriate speaker for the retreat. It could be on communication, relationships. It could be some family aspects. It could be vision for the couple, vision for their family, etc.
[00:13:16] SP That’s a great idea.
[00:13:18] WS It’s a really great way to kind of cement that relationship. Many of the spouses would say they have closer relationships with their Vistage connections than they have in any other parts of their life, which is really a testimony too.
[00:13:31] SP It’s really colorful.
[00:13:32] WS It’s the power of Vistage in that sense. Yes.
[00:13:34] SY What I can – I can only assume too another benefit that comes out of this is just sheer networking. It’s almost more of an afterthought. It’s not why one is going to join a peer group. But you’re around 350 other executives when you pile them altogether in the marketplace, and I can only assume you probably get a little bit of business out of it or at least opportunities.
[00:13:58] WS I think that’s an excellent point, and you’re right that Vistage is not a – What we say, it’s not a networking organization. However, we do network. One of the things that we really guard against is having competitors and large customers in the same group, because we want it to be a completely independent experience. That would be on groups. If we have, let’s say, a construction company in our group and we know that a number in another group is going to be building a building, we encourage Vistage members to sign onto the corporate website where they put their profile. We encourage Vistage members to go that member profile section to find other Vistage members that they can have business with. Then, of course, the local network is really strong. We know what members are part of Vistage, and we as chairs try to facilitate that experience as well. It’s a great way to get more business, just not within your existing Vistage group.
[00:14:57] SP Well, it’s such a great story of where it came from and what it’s doing today for companies. Maybe you can share one or two examples of here’s how our group that came together helped one of our clients overcome an issue, get better at something, acquire a company, sell their company, that kind of stuff. Do you have a couple examples that you could share?
[00:15:16] WS Sure. I’d love to. Yeah. I have a couple and more than that. But we only have time for a couple. So one of them related to an executive that took on a much larger part of their organization. So they went from a local leadership role to a territorial leadership role. So they now were responsible for several offices in several states. The question was how do we – As a new leader, how do I put guidelines in place and put an effective organization in place to allow them to run their offices without me there, because I’m not going to be there all the time and yet to allow me to be part of the decision-making that needs to go on? So within Vistage, we’ve got what I would call a proprietary decision-making model that I sat with the member to begin with. In one of our one-to-ones, we crafted out a decision model that would work for the territory offices. Then before they took it to the territory offices, they brought it into their group and said, “So here’s the wall. Here’s what I’m trying to accomplish. What do you think of this approach?” So they vetted it there, got a few more ideas, and then they roll it out to their regional offices. First, the regional offices were thankful that they had taken that approach, because they were worried about having a new leader and are they going to come in and run my business or not. What’s the opportunity for me to make decisions without you or with you? It was so clear that it went almost without a hitch, and the organization ran smoothly, and everybody knew who was in charge, who made decisions, and at what level those decisions were made. So it made a huge difference, because it took on a much, much larger organization within their company.
[00:17:00] SP Does your Vistage member then come back to the group and say, “I implemented. Here’s the result of it or here was the unexpected consequences of our decision, both positive and negative,” and talk through that?
[00:17:11] WS Absolutely. Sometimes, when we do something like that, it isn’t perfect. So they’ll come back and say, “You know, 90% of this is working pretty well. There’s three aspects here that I need some more input.” So that we’ll rework on the part that needs some input. So, yes, it’s very interactive. In fact, when a member brings a topic to the group, it actually gets recorded on a summary sheet and it stays on the summary sheet for that member to report back to their group the following month, or maybe it’s three months later, what’s the outcome of the input that we gave you.
[00:17:45] SP That’s the accountability piece.

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