Dan Eichenlaub has witnessed firsthand what peer-to-peer networking can do for businesses. The President of Eichenlaub, Inc. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania knew early in his business’ history that if he hoped to see the organizational growth he envisioned, he had to take a different approach than he and others in the industry had previously taken. As he began to talk to colleagues and other landscape contracting business owners, a consistent theme emerged: the need for peer-to-peer collaboration, but on a broader scale than was typically found in the industry. “There are plenty of peer groups for owners,” he says, “but there are very few for whole teams.” Eichenlaub points out that whole-team peer networking has benefited his business in three significant ways.
Eichenlaub prioritizes continuing education and regularly sends his team members to trainings where they can interact with industry peers serving similar roles. He shares they frequently come back energized and empowered. “Everyone from management to sales to crews achieves goals more independently now than they did before we had access to a peer network. My team members see what is possible, and they regularly take it upon themselves to improve on the successes.”
Eichenlaub is also proactive about providing growth paths for his team members that allow them to seamlessly move up in the organization. When he and his managers identify a crew member, tech or foreman with leadership potential, for example, they encourage that team member to attend manager-specific trainings to find out how others in the industry carry out their roles and exhibit leadership. When they return, Eichenlaub shares, they often feel inspired to step outside their comfort zones and more frequently take the lead on projects or initiatives. “I’ve learned to get out of their way and let them do what they do best,” he says, adding that he remains accessible to provide guidance, coaching and support.
As Eichenlaub and his team have found, successful whole-team peer networking strongly relies on transparency and accountability between and among individuals and groups. Healthy internal cultures are rich in both transparent communication and team members who hold both themselves and their colleagues accountable. In these cultures, buy-in is clearly evident, and more often than not, it starts at the top.
Buy-in within a team occurs when all team members believe in and contribute to the organization’s shared goals. The results are a business that delivers an excellent customer experience, customers who walk away satisfied, and individuals either directly or indirectly involved with the business’s operations confident that they will continually see a maximum return on investment. Buy-in within an industry occurs when individual businesses have team members who are engaged and devoted to the mission, vision and goals of their own organization and dedicated to raising the performance of others within that industry.
The Eichenlaub team regularly connects, interacts and collaborates with other businesses serving a similar high-end residential demographic to the one his business primarily served. “Being able to home in on our group and share best practices has been powerful,” Eichenlaub shares. “We challenge each other to be better. My team has access to counterparts in the industry who can help them be more effective and efficient in their own roles.”
A natural byproduct of buy-in is the willingness to provide support and encouragement to others. In thriving internal cultures, this occurs naturally and abundantly within teams. It is less common — and often less comfortable — to freely offer and support and encouragement to, and receive them from, peers outside the business. But business leaders are increasingly discovering that collaboration with the competition helps their businesses to perform better (more here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/brianscudamore/2016/04/13/make-friends-with-the-competition-and-win-big-in-business/#5315f3a07a0f).
As Eichenlaub and other leaders in the industry are increasingly discovering, whole-team peer networking requires individuals and teams to think about success on a broader scale. What was once survival of the fittest becomes dedication to the growth and vitality of entire communities of like-minded businesses — a radical departure from traditional thinking about what contributes to a business’ growth and profitability in a competitive market. Collaboration and idea sharing across businesses within the same market segment is unconventional and a clear departure from the norm, but it is immensely powerful in its ability to elevate both industry perceptions and the status of individual businesses.
For almost a decade, the Eichenlaub team has enjoyed the benefits of a powerful peer network through their membership with LandOpt, a service that offers systems, processes and industry-specific best practices to an exclusive group of high-performing, independently-owned landscape contracting businesses. Eichenlaub credits his business’ continued success and growth to this connection to like-minded industry professionals. “We’re all in this together,” he says. “At the end of the day, that’s what matters.”