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Business: A New Perspective on Corporate Performance

Peak performance shouldn't be your goal.

What level of performance do you want to attain? Do you want to achieve "peak performance?" For many people in the business world, that is the goal to which they aspire. Peak performance has become part of our language of achievement, first used by coaches and athletes, it has since been adopted by businesspeople, consultants, and motivational speakers. People typically think of peak performance as performing their best, as being at the top of their game. That sounds good, doesn't it? Who wouldn't want to achieve peak performance? And when I came out of graduate school, peak performance was what I thought people should achieve.

Yet, as I became more experienced as a psychologist and a writer, I came to appreciate the power of words and that it's important that the words we use be highly descriptive what we're trying to communicate. And I decided that peak performance was not highly descriptive what I wanted people to achieve.

There are several problems with peak performance:

  • A peak is very small, so you can't stay there long. Would you be satisfied if you had one good day of work and three poor ones, or closed one deal, but lost out on several others within your reach?
  • Once the peak is reached, there's only one way to go-down!-and the drop is usually precipitous. Have you experienced those big swings in performance, where one week you're totally "on your game" and the next you're completely off it?
  • You may arrive at the peak too early or too late, missing a chance for success. Have you felt the frustration of lost opportunity because you weren't as on your game as you were the week before?

A New Perspective on Corporate Performance

So I spent several years unsuccessfully looking for a concept that was highly descriptive of what I wanted people to achieve. Until one day I had one of those rare meetings of timing and readiness. I was walking through the meat section of a supermarket when I looked down at a piece of beef and on it was a sticker that read, "Prime Cut." I had one of those "ah-ha" experiences; I knew I was on to something! I went back to my office and looked up "prime" in the dictionary. It was defined as, "of the highest quality or value." I finally had the concept, Prime Performance (in the corporate world, Prime Business), that would become the foundation of all of my work and the goal that I believed was truly descriptive of what I wanted people to achieve.

I define Prime Business as: performing at a consistently high level under the most challenging conditions. There are two key words in this definition. First, consistently. I'm not interested if you have one great performance and then some poor ones; you probably don't remember the people in your business who built the one big project or made that one big deal then were never heard of again. What makes the great ones great is their ability to perform at a high level day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out, for years on end. Those people are the superstars in your field that you remember.

The second key word is challenging. I'm not interested if you can perform well under ideal conditions when you're at your best (e.g., rested, relaxed, focused, totally prepared); anyone can do that. What makes the great ones great is their ability to perform their best under the worst possible conditions, in an incredibly important situation, faced with immense demands, under great stress, and when they aren't at their best. Prime Business is truly a goal worth aspiring to!

How to Achieve Prime Business

Harnessing Prime Business involves maximizing six essential areas:

  1. Essential information. Gathering the necessary information is the initial and most obvious contributor to Prime Business. Without this foundation of data, none of the other contributors will be of use in achieving your goals.
  2. Task-specific knowledge and skills. Gaining the requisite knowledge and skills is the next influence on Prime Business. At every level of your education, training, and immersion in the business world, most of your time is devoted to identifying and developing those areas that will enable you to maximally fulfill your responsibilities.
  3. Crucial resources and tools. In most parts of the business world, success doesn't occur in isolation. Rather, success involves a gathering of resources and tools (e.g., people and equipment) that is necessary to accomplish your goals. The ability to take advantage of these often separates great producers and outstanding leaders from those who are merely good at what they do.
  4. Physical health. Maintaining your physical health is an often-disregarded, yet fundamental, contributor to the enduring success associated with Prime Business. If you're working your way up the corporate ladder, being healthy and fit-all else being equal-will help you outperform those who are also climbing up the increasingly crowded ladder of success. If you are a business leader, living a healthy life and encouraging your team to do the same pays performance dividends in terms of consistent productivity, performance under pressure, and long-term team retention. Though, admittedly, if you look at many successful people in the business world, you will find many who are unfit, overweight, and lead unhealthy lifestyles. In fact, pursuit of corporate success often creates a lifestyle that leads to an unhealthy life. I would argue, however, that the inability to master the ever-present physical demands of business life will ultimately take its toll on health, performance, and life in general.
  5. Psychological and emotional capabilities. The hallmarks of Prime Business, consistency and the ability to overcome challenges, are grounded in your ability to respond positively to the psychological and emotional demands that are a daily companion to those in the business world. Skills such as staying motivated and confident, mastering stress and emotions, and maintaining focus are necessary to achieve Prime Business.
  6. Interpersonal skills. Anyone who aspires to a leadership role must possess the interpersonal skills to work effectively with and direct others. True leadership takes empathy, assertiveness, communication, inspiration, decisiveness, and the ability to build a team, among other essential qualities.

Just like an athlete, you can achieve some success by maximizing a few of these areas or by being pretty good at all of them. But, just like world-class and professional athletes, the best in your business have developed each of these six areas deliberately and completely. The first three contributors are an accepted part of the education and training of those in the business world. Physical health is another factor that is gaining recognition as a key component to the success of a company (note the widespread presence of corporate wellness programs and in-house exercise facilities).

Interestingly, whenever I ask businesspeople if the psychological and interpersonal aspects of corporate performance are less than, as, or more important than the other four factors, the majority say as or more important (as the baseball legend and noted misanthrope, Yogi Berra, once said, "90% of sports is mental, the other half is in your head"). But, to be honest, as a performance psychologist, I don't even believe that. All of the mental skills in the world won't help you succeed if you don't also have the necessary information, knowledge, skills, resources, and tools to get the job done. But the mental side of business is an essential piece of the puzzle. Yet, despite its professed and real importance. Attention paid to the psychological, emotional, and interpersonal skills ranges from complete neglect to periodic exposure; certainly not the investment that should be made given their importance.

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