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Peak Performance

The term Peak Performance is used to describe an individually-based development and mentoring approach that attempts to raise the performance of individuals as sports coaching does for athletes. It has been used extensively in sales, which is often an individual, rather than team activity, but the concept has been extended to team-based working, and even to organisational development.

In the 1980s, Charles Garfield in Peak Performers (1986) spelt out six capacities or aptitudes of high achievers:

  • missions that motivate,
  • results in real time,
  • self-management through self-mastery,
  • team building and team playing,
  • course correction, and
  • change management.

In Garfield's second book, Second to None (1992), the focus had shifted to organisational redesign, and the definition of a peak performer had changed from the enterprising individualist to the fully participating partner. Peak performers were those who had the ability to collaborate in cross-functional and self-directed teams. They had an understanding of interdependent systems, of networks of people connected by shared values.

We now understand organisations as being organic systems with each component part of an interdependent whole. World-class quality, superior service, high-performance sales, and high-achieving management strategies all depend on the deployment of superior collaborative skills.

In true interdependent organisations, each individual and team has others with whom they can share, brainstorm, develop and innovate. Although innovation, like invention, is often thought of as being 'the one great idea' dreamt up by the boffin in the backroom, in reality, it is much more likely to be the result of team-thinking and team effort.

We therefore redesign processes in flexible ways to promote and take advantage of collaborative activity and aim for a quantum leap in performance. Flexibility is necessary, anyway, to cope with the increasing rate of change of the external environment. Aiming for peak performance simply puts the initiative back with the organisation to drive change rather than respond to it.

The individual focus of peak performance transformation remains important. The individuals in peak performing groups need to be aware of their own attributes and makeup, and how they are likely to respond and react to others with differing makeup. They need to be confident of their own abilities and of their place in the team and the organisation. As with athletes, they need to know when and how to raise their game. The training of individuals to help prepare them for peak performance might include :

  • Understanding the nature of presence and charisma
  • Techniques for developing and maintaining presence
  • Basic meditation and relaxation exercises
  • Transforming self-consciousness into self-awareness
  • Projection: from playing a role to filling a role
  • Adapting to the nature of those around you
  • Motivation through effective communication
  • Finding and overcoming the blocks to confident performance
  • Aligning personal and organisational mission
  • Focusing on the 'big picture'

See PRAXIS: The Centre for Developing Personal Effectiveness http://www.som.cranfield.ac.uk/som/p661/Knowledge/Praxis-Centre

Peak Performers: The New Heroes of American Business
Charles Garfield
Avon Books
ISBN: 0380703041

Peak Performance: Aligning the Hearts and Minds of Your Employees
Jon R. Katzenbach
Harvard Business School Press
ISBN: 0875849369

November 2000

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