ATD Blog

Forget Peak Performance: Use Extreme Performance to Meet Audacious Goals

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

If you want to achieve something extreme, the first step is total commitment.

As a keynote speaker on engaged leadership, I’m always hearing from company executives how they are worried about disengaged workers and how they desire to have them achieve peak performance. If their employees could just reach peak performance, they could not only achieve great things for the company, but they would also be so totally immersed, in such a Zen-like state, time would slip by without notice, and at the end of the day employees would feel good instead of exhausted. If only.

Peak performance is a nice goal if you have predictable work environments and challenges. But if you want your company to reach big, hairy, audacious goals, you need to aim for extreme performance.

Take the example of mountain climbing. Which climb is an extreme performance: Mount Everest or K2?

Before you answer, here are a few facts. While Mount Everest has the peak with the highest altitude, it is not the most difficult climb of the 14 mountains that measure over 8,000 meters. Its challenges are so predictable that more than 4,800 individuals have summited, some multiple times, for a total of 8,306 summits by the end of 2017.

On the other hand, while K2 is the second highest peak, it poses more challenges. The routes are steeper, the weather less predictable, and the climbing route is a blend of mixed rock, ice, and alpine climb. To date, there have been less than 400 summits and a fatality rate of near 25 percent. For comparison, Everest has about a 3 percent fatality rate.

Everest is a peak performance mountain. The challenges are predictable enough that most people who try can get in the zone and summit, while K2 is so challenging that very few ever reach the peak.

So ask yourself: Do you want your company to accomplish a challenge that most people can do, and be like the rest of the pack, or have a challenge that few can do, and stand out in your industry?


Be a Game-Changer With Extreme Performance

If you want to be the kind of company that is an innovator and a game-changer, you need to aim for extreme performance, not peak performance. Peak performance is for tasks people can do successfully consistently. But to be an innovator or game-changer, you need to do something that has never been done before.

To do something extreme, your first step is following the four Ps of total commitment.

Your audacious goal must have a clear and easily understandable plan. While you may not know all the steps of how to reach your goal, you do need to set a direction, choose your approaches, make checkpoints for progress, and agree on the destination.

If you consistently communicate these goals to your team so they understand their roles, your team will be able to innovate and come up with the new, out-of-the-box ideas needed to meet the changing circumstances required of extreme performance. Although I say a plan is necessary, as everyone knows, plans can go out the window when circumstances change. So it's also important to be “Semper Gumby” or forever flexible to achieve world-class results in a constantly changing environment.

A team who is inspired will perspire for you. When people have a purpose, they go to extremes to achieve a goal. So when you choose your next audacious goal, remember that while making money is nice, goals are more meaningful for people when they feel they are part of something larger than themselves.


People often feel a strong purpose when they serve others and their communities. So allow your team to do a "greater good" through your organization, and watch them rise to the extreme occasion, personally and professionally.

Extreme goals are not accomplished in a day, a week, a month, and sometimes not even in a year. Extreme performance demands perseverance. When a goal seems a long way off, it’s easy to get discouraged.

To keep your team going, make sure you reward people for their consistent, small, day-to-day progress—not just reaching the end goal. Extreme performance is based on the small steps that add up to the large goal. But it’s not just small steps that are important. Perseverance is also taking that extra step every day—not going the extra mile once in a while. By working a little harder each day, going one step further, teams can accomplish extreme goals.

All consistently high-performing teams have one thing in common: world-class preparation. They not only out-prepare their competitors, they are always scanning the horizon for opportunities and creating opportunities by understanding and capitalizing on their unique strengths and core competencies.

What does your team do better than anyone else in the industry? Make sure you are preparing every day to capitalize on your strengths.

Total commitment is just the start of sustaining extreme performance. In the next blog post, I will discuss how you can inspire your teammates to achieve goals through empathy and awareness.

About the Author

Robyn Benincasa is a CNN Hero, motivational speaker, thought leader, world champion adventure racer, founder of Project Athena, and author of the New York Times bestseller How Winning Works.

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