Leveraging the Collective Experience of Peer Forums
Last month, in my Together Leading Ahead blog series, I described Mint’s commitment to building strong alliances based on the pursuit of mutual success.
While robust alliances and partnerships are critical to the success of every organization, it is not only those who are resolutely working with us who contribute to our triumphs but also those who exist within our greater ecosystem. In this blog, I am going to look at peer forums and how we can leverage their power and collective experience for improved outcomes.
How do we identify our peers?
Before you start looking for value in peer forums, you need to do your homework and clearly understand who your business peers are. Identifying peers is often something that people find hard to do.
For me, the best place to start is by looking at your competitors – who are the players you are constantly bumping into when you are going after the same market segment? In the Mint world, we recognize our peers in the market as either allies or true competitors. Our allies are those who prefer to implement Microsoft technology, while true competitors are those who select a different brand for their projects.
Regardless of their status or brand loyalty, your competitors represent a potentially excellent source of advice, knowledge and wisdom.
“In my Through My Lens series, I shared a very personal experience about my son’s initiation ceremony and the lessons we learned. The first key pillar of advice was “to seek counsel” which lends itself to how we run our business. The partnership with Mint and the Microsoft ecosystem is important as peers but also to collaborate around driving growth in the market. Our goal is to grow the size of the collective market size so that we call benefit and rise with the tide. Having this as a common goal drives alignment of values and ensuring that we do what is right for all stakeholders,” remarks Altron Karabina Managing Director, Collin Govender.
Importantly, you shouldn’t only look at the people whom you compete or partner with, you should also be looking at your clients as an integral part of your peer network. Because let’s face it, you must be viewed as a peer if you want to become a client’s trusted advisor.
And the flipside of this is that there are some fantastically talented people working at our clients and we should do our best to bring them into our peer forums. After all, it is often said that in a consulting or system integrator business, the biggest competitor is usually internal IT. Don’t overlook the opportunities that exist to learn from these groups of immensely talented people.
Importantly, keep your business strategy in mind. Those who are peers today may not necessarily be peers in the future, and vice versa. The goal here is to be prepared for what is happening right now and for what is planned for your business.
What forums are out there?
Once you know who your peers are, the next step is to go and look at what exists: what forums are already in play that you can leverage.
An example of a forum that we find incredibly useful is the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP). As the world’s largest community of Microsoft partners, the IAMCP helps companies and individuals in the “Microsoft ecosystem” to broaden their base of business opportunities through partnering with other IAMCP members – both within their own communities and around the world. The association is organized in chapters across three main regions: Americas, APAC, EMEA.
The IAMCP’s ability to maximize members’ business potential through peer-to-peer interaction, member advocacy, community outreach, growth and education, provides a powerful tool for business development and increased bottom line profit.
What gets you and your peers out of bed every day?
A peer forum is typically formed as a result of participants having similar levels of experience or backgrounds, having faced similar challenges, and being met with the same opportunities.
This ‘collective consciousness’ means that if you are struggling with a particular issue, challenge or dilemma, chances are that other members of your peer forum are grappling with the same matter.
One such highly topical dilemma is that of a shortage of senior talent with niche skills. Although, as with most dilemmas, there is no silver bullet solution, a peer forum is a powerful place to understand how to manage this as part of your business risk.
The obvious, quick win would be to endlessly poach from the communal pool of talent – luring away the people who work for your competitors with higher salaries and promises of other glorious rewards. This is a pointless exercise and benefits no-one. You must take a longer-term strategy involving academies, co-investment, or driving knowledge-sharing sessions. We all recognize the difficulty of creating knowledge, but in a peer environment, each of your peers may create an individual piece of knowledge that can be shared between the collective for the greater good.
Are all peer forums created equal?
The answer to this question is an unequivocal ‘no’. Peer forums come in so many different shapes and sizes. What is important is that you immerse yourself in all of them.
This includes taking part in the social events that occur at a sporting event, around a braai (or barbeque for the non-South Africans), or at a dining table. The opportunity to get into each other’s heads and share ideas should be seized without hesitation.
I attend a partner CEO lunch that is hosted by a different Microsoft partner every 6 to 8 weeks. This event has been running for three years now and every time we attend a lunch, the next date, host, and venue is agreed upon. The interesting thing about this partner lunch is that there is never a fixed agenda, and it is open to (and attended by) both present and retired CEOs. This creates a rich diversity of views and opinions that we are fortunate to be able to learn from.
Do forums need designated speakers and listeners?
The short answer is: absolutely not. In a peer forum, everyone should contribute. It should not have a defined owner, content should be owned by every participant and the forum should have an organic life of its own. Immersive participation is key to creating a useful community.
Leveraging the power of a peer forum is comparable to leveraging one’s personal network and there are more people who are proficient in creating a network than there are who can leverage it.
So many of us fixate on creating a network, attending events, and being in touch with people that we forget to formulate a crystal-clear plan on how we are going to use this system within our personal life, and professional life and to support our business strategy.
So, what is the point then?
To harness the power of the collective experience of a peer forum, you need to clearly understand your objective in attending, what you are going to contribute, what you are going to do with the learning, and who the people are that you are engaging with. After all, you should be attending a peer forum with an equal desire to learn and to teach.