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The Power of Peers in the Age of Mobile

Energy ran low in the middle of the second day of a two-day annual planning session. Tom Bouwer, EOS® Implementer and co-founder of Columbus-based ProfitWorks, scanned the faces of the executive team and knew he needed something to break them out of their boredom. “I have my go-to techniques that I’ve used in the past,” said Bouwer, “but I wanted a new approach.” That’s when he picked up his smartphone, opened WhatsApp, and asked his team for help. During the pause between sessions, one of the members responded and sent questions for a quiz-show type exercise that re-engaged the leadership. How can you create a team (“community of practice”) through WhatsApp? Read on. Despite the popular impression that executives and entrepreneurs are charismatic geniuses who can do everything by themselves, the truth is that high-performers need help, too. It can be, as the saying goes, lonely at the top. “We want to be connected. We want to network,” said Sue Hawkes, founder of Yess!, a Minneapolis-based firm. “We need resources, knowledge and feedback.” Who is the “we?” In this case, they are a dozen EOS Implementers who have chosen to share their journey together, using WhatsApp to stay connected with their peers. This tightly knit group of EOS Implementers are relentless in pursuing excellence in their profession (In the EOS world that pursuit is also known as the “path to mastery.”). “We all the share the same core values and want to continue on towards mastery,” said Bouwer. Their core values include: • Be humbly confident • Grow or die • Help first • Do the right thing • Do what you say Communities at the top This WhatsApp group represent what sociologists call a Community of Practice, defined as a group of people who share a craft and/or a profession who want to learn how to do it better. First proposed by cognitive anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in 1991, "Communities of practice are formed, by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques." What Are Communities of Practice? No matter what your profession, identifying and connecting with fellow travelers on the road to greatness will help you grow and scale your business. Expanding and developing your peer network helps you get outside your individual limited experiences and lets you leverage the genius of your like-minded peers. Just-in-time peers Tom is in Atlanta. Sue, in Minneapolis. I am in New York, and the rest of the the team is spread across the United States. To keep us connected, we created a private group using WhatsApp, the group texting app purchased by Facebook for $21.8 billion a few years ago. Someone posts a question and the others respond, often in real time. “I call it a ‘just-in-time’ information exchange,” said Sue Hawkes. “Expertise is available to me when I need it and have no time for a phone call. To get a quick answer to a client problem is priceless.” Using WhatsApp “keeps us away from email which piles up during the day,” Tom Bouwer added. “That is crucial.” Technology can help your create and connect to your community of practice. We chose WhatsApp. You might choose an alternative venue, such as iMessage, a private Facebook group or a Google Hangout. The technology matters little; the core values, team leadership and the participants in your peer group are what matter most. Before you think that we are merely a group of intense business professionals sharing best practices, you should know another one of the objectives: Have fun. In fact, that’s the most important one. Whether to tease each other about last weekend’s football games—Roll Tide—or just deliver a quick “atta boy” or “atta girl,” we are committed to enjoying each other and what we do. Where can you build your own communities of practice? Look to the various peer advisory networks around the country, such as Renaissance Executive Forums, ACCA's Management Information EXchange (MIX) Group and the Womens Presidents’ Organization (WPO) to start. These networks provide valuable insights and advice from other leaders who share their experiences in a trusted and confidential setting. If you are interested in learning more about the value of peers and how to grow your business, check out my book Optimize For Growth: How To Scale Up Your Business Your Network And You.

Jonathan B. Smith “ChiefOptimizer” is an entrepreneur, High Growth Business Strategist, and Certified Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) Implementer. He is Founder and CEO of ChiefOptimizer and former COO of an Inc. 500 company. Jonathan is an expert in working with entrepreneurs who are “stuck” and need help in scaling, getting market traction, or resolving global operation problems. Jonathan’s WHY is to Contribute to a Greater Cause, Have an Impact, Add Value. Jonathan’s true passion is helping growth oriented entrepreneurs build high performance leadership team and produce “Real . . . Simple . . . Results.”

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