Six Ways to Improve Signal-to-Noise with Roundtables

Board RoomOur thirst for information is far outpacing our growth in need for money.

If you’ve had business success, you already know access to information is critical, so this may not surprise you.

But according to U.C. San Diego’s ongoing “How Much Information?” study, the average American’s daily consumption of data – things like phone calls, emails, videos, television shows, tweets, songs, even books, magazines, papers and the like – has ballooned to more than 34 gigabytes per day, up from a still staggering 10 gigabytes per day in 1980, just 30 years earlier.

That’s an annual growth rate of about 5.4% in the information we consume in order to try and keep up.  Compare that with monetary measure of keeping up, inflation, which as of this writing stands at just 1.05% and just 3.39% for roughly the last hundred years.

Information is king.

(Oh, by the way: the U.C. San Diego study doesn’t even include data you consume while at work, so the real tally is far higher.)

There is zero doubt that we are information ravenous and trending toward gleefully gluttonous.

Despite our digital selves, the truth remains that it’s not simply “more information” that’s important for creating success.  Endless information quickly leads many leaders to impasse, inaction, and overwhelm.  When facing the challenges of lagging sales, tapped credit lines, creditors calling, and clueless employees asking for raises, an owner doesn’t need a 13th off-base idea from a self-proclaimed internet guru. He needs real advice from real people who have faced his situation before.

It’s “right information” that counts.  If anything, our digital bounty makes more obvious the need for critical thinking and for the savvy business leader to have tools to lift signal from noise.

Among the best “signal detection” tools for those desiring high performance are executive roundtables.  Also sometimes known as peer groups or mastermind groups, some roundtables may be enhanced by the power of the internet, but here are at least six excellent reasons for you to unplug and work on your business.

Community of Business Peers

The New York Herald Tribune said that “doing business without marketing is like winking at a girl in the dark” – not very effective.  Similarly, leading from isolation is like recommissioning Alcatraz in your mind.

Imagine instead a group of 8-12 dedicated professionals at your same level of leadership, convening every month to focus on you.  Unlike a number of high quality social clubs focused on networking or contributing to society, this group is focused specifically on helping you identify and seize business opportunities and overcome challenges.

Never again feeling alone in business is an important benefit of roundtables, but most members are gratified by how much they are able to bring their own expertise to bear on the businesses of others.  This cooperation creates a community of leaders who are committed to achieving monthly gains in performance and helping each other achieve the same.

Designated Time for Improvement

If you’ve experienced it, there is little arguing with the power of setting aside dedicated time for improvement and growth.

That’s why unplugging is so important.

I’m not talking about time where improvement is the primary among many focal activities (aka distractions).  I mean time where improvement is the only mission and the unitary purpose.

Feel free to call me out: am I the only one who checks email, does paperwork, or even takes the occasional call during webinars?  There is no substitute for the focus imposed through scheduled blocks of invested time backed by the power of social norms.

Imagine the advancements possible if no less than once a month you took dedicated time to focus on your business.  Invest your time through your engagement in a quality roundtable and your business will profit.

System for Continuous Improvement

Some of my corporate consulting clients have looked at me with healthy confusion when I have suggested that they also seek out coaching in the form of a roundtable… even from one of my competitors.

Good roundtables are based on a system of thinking about the health of a business.  Regardless of a theme, the very best develop a focus on corporate leadership, foster alignment of people and planning, enforce performance management concepts (more later), and build personal and professional skills.

These facets align perfectly with my own corporate consulting and coaching, so I urge my clients to seek out roundtables.  Increased thinking about how to achieve success reinforces my own work and speeds my client’s success.

Problem Solving

A key component of overcoming “Alcatraz of the Mind” – and one of the most powerful aspects of roundtables – happens when members engage in problem solving with each other.

Look for a roundtable format that offers you the chance to voice a current challenge in your business and enlist the support of your peers in solving it.  These interactions have led to some great moments of resource sharing, solution creation, and even the occasional business opportunities.

Learning and Professional Development

Earlier I mentioned continuous improvement, and learning and professional development is central to that.

My preference is for monthly discussion of a topic of need or interest to the group.  For example, finding and winning more business, or hiring and retaining key employees are two popular topics with most groups.

The cornerstone is that the topics are driven by the needs of the group and that they stimulate informative, lively discussions that equip the members with immediately applicable information.

Coaching and Accountability

It’s easy to say we’re going to accomplish something… and then not actually get it done, as long as nobody is looking. That gets tougher when a dozen peers are staring back at you every month with just one question: “Did you make it happen?”  This alone is priceless for many.

Combine that with one-on-one coaching from a professional facilitator.  These monthly sessions are designed to be more focused on the individual needs of your company to guide you through trouble spots.

Do note that not all roundtables feature one-on-one coaching, so be sure to choose according to your preference.

Finding Your Group

Remember that executive roundtables are built on trust as well as degree of match, so it may take a few tries to find the right fit for you.  You should always seek a group with businesses your approximate size, and should never enter a group with your competitors.

For groups that are already formed, expect to interview and be interviewed by both the facilitator and the group at large, who will vote on your membership.  For groups still forming, the facilitator will take pains to carefully match members.

For more information or to join a group that matches your needs, contact Dustin Walling Associates.

When you invest in the right executive roundtable, your signal-to-noise ratio will go up, and your profitability should follow suit.