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If you ask any runner why they run, there’s no doubt a common answer would surface. For the runner’s high.
As a runner myself, it’s a pretty inexplicable feeling to finally hit a rhythm in the run where you feel like you’re on top of the world. And oftentimes, it comes at the point in a run where you’ve already logged some miles underneath you. Your body makes you work for it, it’s not instantaneous. But once you’ve reached that level of peak performance, you’re rewarded with a blast of adrenaline.
But peak performance doesn’t just happen in sports. In fact, at BetterUp, we’ve studied peak performance in the business world.
What does it look like to reach organizational peak performance? What does individual peak performance look like? How do you know if you’ve reached your peak performance? And what are some ways you can develop a peak performance mindset?
What does peak performance mean?
First, let’s understand what we mean by peak performance. We looked to the American Psychological Association for the definition.
What is peak performance?
Peak performance is when an individual performs at optimal levels physically, mentally, or both.
In many ways, peak performance is parallel to reaching self-actualization. Why? Human motivation is tied to a hierarchy of needs. As our data reports, an employee’s ability to perform their best will be hindered if basic employee needs aren’t met.
Before individuals can reach their peak performance, they need to achieve a flow state. When we think about a flow state, there are a few things that come into play. We define the flow state as an experience where you’re so absorbed by the task at hand that your attention is completely captured. Oftentimes, in the flow state, you lose a sense of time and even self-consciousness.
But peak performance takes the flow state to a notch above. It’s a state of thriving, where employees (and businesses) are able to reach their full potential.
In some ways, it’s at the top of the organizational success pyramid. That is, if we’re thinking about organizational performance in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy. But in order to reach peak performance, the foundation below needs to be strong.
What is peak performance in business?
In business, peak performance helps your organization reach its full potential. Let’s break down what this means for individuals and for organizations.
Individual peak performance
Some people might think of peak performers as Olympic or elite athletes. Others might associate peak performance with sports psychologists or other forms of athletic performance.
But in reality, peak performance is more than just sports. As humans, we all possess the ability to reach our full potential. And the unique and best part about reaching our full potential is that it’s defined by us. We get to choose what high performance looks like for us, but it takes some help along the way.
When individuals reach peak performance, they’ve pushed themselves outside of their comfort zone. They’ve gone beyond myopic, day-to-day tasks and have looked at the bigger picture. They’ve pushed through life transitions, change, uncertainty, and challenges.
They’ve reached a level of performance that allows them the ability to be more productive, resilient, happy, and engaged. So when we look at peak performance in our own lives, we can really boil it down to living with purpose, clarity, and passion.
Of course, we all want to feel good. We want to have strong mental fitness and take care of our mental health. We want to be able to reach a level of performance that’s worth working for, one that might take our lives (and our mental fitness) to the next level.
Individual peak performance is going to look different for everyone. Start by thinking about your life goals, dreams, and aspirations. Be willing to get uncomfortable and hit some plateaus along the way.
With BetterUp, you can work one-on-one with a peak performance coach. This coach can help you essentially put together a training program to reach your full potential (whatever that looks like for you).
Organizational peak performance
Some might associate organizational peak performance with profit. If an organization is performing well, it’s reached a level of peak performance. Right? Well, not exactly.
At BetterUp, we know organizational performance to be a symptom of a healthy, thriving workplace where employees feel a deep sense of purpose, clarity, and passion.
Peak performance in the workplace means employees’ needs are being fulfilled. Employees are engaged, happy, productive, and able to bounce back easier from setbacks. Especially in a fast-changing world that’s become our new normal, it’s important for employees to be agile.
So when we think about peak performance in the workplace, yes, business performance is important. But your workforce’s well-being is paramount — and that’s the key differentiator.
Doing well as a business is an outcome of peak performance, not peak performance itself. It’s important to keep in mind the bigger picture around your people and your organization when looking to adopt a culture of peak performance.
Adam Massman, head of Global Learning & Leadership Development, JLL, talks about how peak performance has come to life for leaders at JLL.
“The leaders that have gone through BetterUp coaching are seeing the teams that they manage are actually more engaged, more excited to come to work and bring their whole selves to work. At the end of the day, that's where the profits come from, right? Engaged teams, more productive teams, and lower cost of turnover.”
Adam Massman, head of Global Learning & Leadership Development, JLL
In fact, if we look at the results of BetterUp on JLL’s leaders, the data speaks for itself. JLL saw a 10% increase in employee engagement and a 21% growth in guiding others as a result of personalized coaching for managers. Here’s more from Adam on the impact of BetterUp at JLL.
Learn more about JLL and BetterUp.
6 characteristics of peak performance
If you’re asking yourself, “what does peak performance look like?”, this is your answer. This is what peak performance looks like in individuals and organizations.
1. Increased productivity
Increased productivity is one key characteristic of peak performance. We know that humans aren’t (and shouldn’t be) at a 110% level of productivity 100% of the time.
So when you hit your stride and you feel like you’re knocking out item after item on your to-do list, you’ve likely hit peak performance. The caveat is that while you’re getting a lot done, you might also be stretching your mind. Your quality of work matches your productivity and you’re able to maintain that flow state into a state of peak performance.
2. Strong emotional regulation skills
According to our data, BetterUp Members who have strong emotional regulation skills have 153% higher team performance as rated by their direct reports.
You’re better equipped to handle any potential triggers or setbacks that may come your way. If something does ruffle your feathers, you’re able to stay resilient and agile. You may see an improvement in your relationships (both personal and professional).
Another key characteristic of peak performance is resilience. Humans are more resilient than we tend to think. In order to reach peak performance, it’s inevitable that you’ll come across a set of challenges on your way.
But resilience will help you to recognize potential problems and balance priorities in the face of challenges. Resilience also helps you cope with stress and adversity.
Our data also reports that Members with high emotional regulation skills and peak performance are also rated 24% higher for team agility by their direct reports.
Especially since the pandemic, the world is constantly changing. In order to navigate change and uncertainty, humans need a certain level of future-mindedness to stay agile. Agility is a defining characteristic of peak performance in today’s day and age.
5. Goal attainment
Another key characteristic of peak performance is your ability to reach your goals. As mentioned earlier, everyone’s level of peak performance is going to be different. We’re all human with unique passions, needs, and goals.
But one commonality of reaching peak performance is goal attainment.
6. Happiness or satisfaction
According to Maslow, peak experiences are described as “especially joyous and exciting moments in life, involving sudden feelings of intense happiness and well-being, wonder and awe, and possibly also involving an awareness of transcendental unity or knowledge of higher truth.”
Happiness or satisfaction is a rewarding characteristic of peak performance. It’s this state where you feel the benefits of all the work you’ve put into reaching this level of human performance. You’re able to soak in the feeling of accomplishment and joy.
6 ways to develop a peak performance mindset
If you’re ready to build a peak performance mindset, here are six tips to keep in mind.
1. Build resilience
Your ability to bounce back from setbacks is critical to reaching peak performance. In order to build resilience, you need to invest in your mental health and your mental fitness.
With support from a coach (like a life coach or peak performance coach), you can start building the skills you need to reach your full potential.
2. Create a strong mental fitness practice
A strong mental fitness practice and peak performance go hand-in-hand. Leaders who invested in their mental fitness with BetterUp report lower stress, higher purpose, and higher resilience after just four months. These key leadership behaviors are critical to adopt to help reach peak performance.
3. Work with a coach
BetterUp has trained peak performance coaches to help your organization thrive. The well-being and health of your workforce is worth investing in.
When employees thrive from coaching, teams are more productive, see higher employee retention, and are more likely to recover from setbacks. Our data also reports that virtual coaching increases employee satisfaction. In addition, employees are less likely to experience mental illness.
4. Practice Inner Work®
The practice of Inner Work® has incredible benefits for both the individual and the organization. With Inner Work®, you’ll be better equipped to fight burnout and increase your productivity. You’ll also experience increased clarity, confidence, and decision-making skills.
5. Know (and set) your boundaries
This is a skill that takes practice. But once you know and set your boundaries, you’re better equipped to set yourself up for success.
For some, this may be in the form of time management. But for others, it’s about knowing your priorities, your goals, and your bandwidth (both emotionally and physically).
6. Maintain your focus
Focus is a big part of reaching peak performance. After all, you need to be lasered into your goals and dreams at hand to know where you’re going.
Research shows that investing in building skills to focus better also has benefits elsewhere. For example, if your organization invests in building focus skills, you’ll see less distractions and better productivity. Your employees will likely be sleeping better and cope with stress better, too.
Reach your organization’s peak performance
The best performance comes when you have a clear big picture of what you want to achieve.
So when it comes to peak performance in the workplace, how are you empowering your employees’ success? Are you investing in helping them reach their full potential? With BetterUp, you can help your business (and your people) thrive.
Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.