Every six weeks for the last fifteen years, I have enjoyed the incredible opportunity to spend the day with six amazing peers. The resulting one thousand hours the seven of us shared have been without question the most valuable of any time I spent in any setting during my career. The experiences and lessons they have passed along saved me countless hours and dollars. Their willingness to challenge me through tough and pointed questions has given me the confidence to make decisions that have built multiple businesses. The trust we have developed has allowed me to stretch my comfort zone and grow my creativity knowing I can test my ideas with them in a judgment-free space. As valuable as all of that has been to me what stands out as the most important gift from these peers has been the certainty I am never alone in my journey. They are always with me, and I am always with them.

Our group came together through an association the seven of us had joined called Young President’s Organization (YPO). As a member, you can participate in Forums. The forum I belong to was established about ten years before I joined and four of our current members came into the group around the same time I did. It was just chance that brought us together. You are not assigned to a Forum in YPO. Instead, the other members determine whether you are a good fit for the Forum and you decide if the Forum is a good fit for you. During my time in this group, others have come and gone, but the seven of us together today have seen each other through ups and downs and everything in between over the last fifteen years.

My intense positive experience with Forum and my business partner’s involvement in a similar group prompted us to pitch a member service offering to the American Supply Association (ASA) that eventually came to be known as CONNECT. CONNECT has been embraced by other associations and my partner and I formed Connected Peers to facilitate the expanded program. CONNECT Forums are comprised of members who share the same job responsibilities. Purchasing Agents meeting with Purchasing Agents, HR Managers sharing with other HR Managers, and Financial Officers exploring best practices with other Financial Officers are three examples of the nine role-specific forums we offer. The Sales Management and Purchasing Managers groups are for Distributors only, while the other seven are home to Distributors, Manufacturers, and Rep Agents.

It is a great feeling to experience a member who began an exploration uncertain in a course of action gain the belief that their solution will benefit their company.

Just as in my YPO Forum we explore relevant and meaningful topics through CONNECT. Each member shares their pressing issues or challenges, and these are tackled in our one-hour monthly meetings. Through our proven facilitation program, we break down broad topics such as “Recruiting New Employees” into bite-size morsels like “Reducing No-Show Interviews” and “Best Practices for Conducting Zoom Interviews” that are part of a broader subject. Those two morsels are examples of real challenges one of our HR Forums has explored this year. Each month our members leave with takeaways to immediately put into practice at their company.

Just as in my YPO Forum our CONNECT members ask tough questions of each other. Trust is the foundation of good experience sharing and it’s what allows us to feel comfortable asking our peers what to outsiders might seem to be uncomfortable questions. Knowing we all care about each other and having a set of rules which promote a safe environment creates the trust needed to build confidence in our solutions. I have been fortunate to witness inside our CONNECT meetings many examples of this. It is a great feeling to experience a member who began an exploration uncertain in a course of action gain the belief that their solution will benefit their company. Our members have been able to confidently present their recommendations to their senior leadership because they tested them out in the trusting environment of the Forum.

Just as in my YPO Forum our CONNECT members know they are not alone. Even if you encounter customers, co-workers, and suppliers throughout your day, the distribution industry can often feel like a lonely place. One of the highlights of my time with the CONNECT program came during a Training Forum session. We had a new Training and Development Manager join the group and after her fellow members introduced themselves and welcomed her to the call she said with a huge smile on her face, “I am so happy to have found my people”. I didn’t realize how much I valued the feeling of “It’s nice to know I’m not alone” until hearing it from so many of our CONNECT members.

Unlike my YPO Forum, CONNECT is available to anyone working in Distribution. If your company is a part of the American Supply Association, you are eligible for a discount off CONNECT membership. You can join a CONNECT Forum at any time. If you would like more details you can talk with an ASA representative, one of us at Connected Peers, or even a CONNECT participant. Another option is to sit in on a meeting to find out if it’s right for you. There has been nothing more valuable in my business career than the time I’ve invested in my Forum. Our hope is our CONNECT members will say the same thing about their Forum. Come give it a try.