Business Center

Peak Performance

"Peak Performance" Key to Understanding How Our Innovations Affect Others

peak performance

Authors: Brian Elms and J.B. Wogan
ISBN number: 978-0983373353
Posted: Jul 20, 2016
Summary by: Michael J. Shull, Process improvement intern

Book Review: "Peak Performance: How Denver's Peak Academy Is Saving Millions of Dollars, Boosting Morale and Just Maybe Changing the World (And How You Can Too!)"

Challenged with budget shortfalls and economical mayhem from the recent 2007-2011 financial crisis, Peak Performance founders Brian Elms, Brendan Hanlon, David Edinger and Scotty Martin discovered an interesting phenomenon: Give your front line the power to innovate. This concept worked, saving the City of Denver millions of dollars in waste while boosting educational resources and restoring morale.

With great support and direction from Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, the Denver Peak Academy was founded in 2011. "Peak Performance: How Denver’s Peak Academy Is Saving Millions of Dollars, Boosting Morale and Just Maybe Changing the World (And How You Can Too!)" is an engaging book depicting a collection of innovative stories that leads the reader to understand some of the trials and tribulations that the Peak team has endured.

What Peak Performance is Not

Brian Elms
Brian Elms of Denver Peak Academy

If you are looking for a step-by-step guide on how to start your own Peak Academy, this is not it. Those books work great for teaching us how to perform math equations or drive a car. Nevertheless, creating a culture for innovation is not as simple as putting your car into gear and driving away into the sunset–even then can that activity be blinding. Creating a culture for innovation, and a stable foundation for your own Peak Academy, according to Elms and Wogan, is unique to your situation and requires a series of shared stories. Therefore, shared stories about the challenges and successes endured from the Peak team are exactly what are highlighted in this book.

Peak Performance is also not about a suggestion box program. In fact, they do not use a suggestion box.

"Instead," according to the authors, "we ask people to take responsibility for their work and to make changes in their own working environment." Elms and Wogan make a clear statement that most people work in the public sector because they are already driven to make positive changes to government. Thus, throwing out suggestions becomes counterproductive—especially when those suggestions propose changes in areas outside of your control.

Elms and Wogan state the following:

"That's why we don't operate a suggestion box. Instead, we ask people to take responsibility for their work and to make changes in their own working environment. So stop telling other people how they should do their job. Worry about your job and fix what bugs you."

Shared Stores: "Communication, Communication, Communication"

With chapter titles such as "Just What is This 'Peak' Thing?," "Red Bouncy Ball Crap" and "Forget the Fro-yo," Elms and Wogan realistically describe the foundation for the Denver Peak Academy's principles. Stories—such as 50 parking enforcement attendants running around searching for their government-issued vehicle, or printing a 500-page report just for the final six pages—help us understand that these are real people facing real challenges.

"Our team shares stories and data on a regular basis to encourage people to keep innovating… All these modes of communication try to convey how Peak enables employees to make their jobs better. We're not asking people to believe in some new-age philosophy. We're asking them to fix what bugs them. When they run into trouble, we'll be there to help. That's why it works."

These stories, and the innovations that followed, are shared as victories and not as reprimands, assisting the reader with a further understanding for the fundamental grounds for innovation—security and people.

What Exactly is Inside "Peak Performance"?

Success Stories: Change from the Front Line
As noted above, Peak Performance is about a series of stories that help guide the reader toward a better understanding of what it takes to form his or her own Peak Academy. One story specifically captures the theory of this book and is written by Melissa Field, who, as of this writing, is a facilitator for the Peak Academy. In her vision working with Denver Animal Protection, Field highlights the importance of empowering people to innovate their own ideas.

This project confronted many challenges. The staff was overworked and burdened with outdated processes. Field explained that "the process was broken, turning great employees into overworked colleagues caught in endless bouts of conflict and frustration." Nevertheless, Field and her team experienced a breakthrough moment after Audrey Borsick, an animal care professional, submitted an initial request to track treats given to the shelter animals—reducing cost while preventing animal illnesses from over-eating. Soon all 50 shelter employees had submitted innovative changes, saving $1 million in the initial year of Field's residency at Denver Animal Protection.

Structure of Peak's Training
Peak Performance is about stories—this cannot be emphasized enough. Moreover, two chapters are devoted to structure. Chapter 2, "The Nitty and The Gritty," describes the layout of Peak's training program offered to internal employees. Peak Academy offers four basic training programs:

  1. a four-hour introductory process improvement training;
  2. a five-day process improvement training;
  3. executive training; and
  4. leader and supervisor trainings.

Throughout the training sessions, Peak facilitators teach nine principles for empowering change. Those principles include:

  • stating why change is needed;
  • explaining the current state;
  • explaining your desired future state;
  • performing a gap analysis;
  • brainstorming solutions;
  • documenting the results; and
  • documenting lessons learned.

(Find more about these and other Peak resources.)

Chapter 7 touches on the "F-word"—failure. Peak Performance also brings to the forefront that not all change succeeds. Change fails for a number of reasons, including time constraints, flawed ideas, changes that are out of your control and changes that are hard to sustain. Nonetheless, it is important to understand the importance of embracing failure, as without failure we may not have as many innovations.

Elms and Wogan highlight a few failures throughout the book, such as one employee's action to reorganize the boss’ desk while on vacation. Such scenarios are used as learning opportunities with the elimination of names and reprimands.

Concluding Thoughts

Change is about the people side of processes, and "Peak Performance" highlights this wonderfully. We must understand how our innovations affect others before we can grasp how to implement them. Reading "Peak Performance" just might help you understand this concept in further detail. If you are curious about the Denver Peak Academy's story, you want to form your own Peak Academy or you are curious about how employees with the City of Denver saved millions of dollars through a series of innovations, I suggest reading this book.