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Peak Performance: How Denver’s Peak Academy is Saving Money, Boosting Morale and Just Maybe Changing the World. (And How You Can, Too!) Paperback – 2016
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When Denver Mayor Michael Hancock took office in 2011, he inherited an $80 million budget shortfall and a government workforce that had been through multiple rounds of cuts and furloughs. Morale was low. He needed a way to drive greater efficiencies, cost savings and improved performance—and he had to do it in-house, on a shoe-string budget. Enter Peak Academy, the coaching and innovation program Mayor Hancock created to teach frontline city employees how to tackle small problems and deliver big results. In four years, Peak Academy trained 5,000 government staff in the fundamentals of lean manufacturing and other process management techniques. More than 2,000 employee-driven innovations later, the program had saved Denver an estimated $15 million. Word got out and dozens of other governments sent their staffs to Denver or hired Peak Academy to bring the training to them. In this fun, easy-to-read guide, Peak Academy director Brian Elms and Governing staff writer J.B. Wogan deliver the basics for the rest of us, with a surprisingly frank discussion about how hard it was to get the program off the ground. Experience a thoughtful exploration of both the challenges faced and the reasons why Peak ultimately succeeded. Get a clear overview of Peak Academy training methods and tools (including yes, all those yellow stickies). See concrete examples of employee-driven innovations—many of which sound, in hind-sight, like $40,000 no-brainers, until you realize there are hundreds of similar and much-needed fixes in every workplace. Peak Performance is a book that will help public sector leaders replicate the Peak model. It’s a book for government managers to read and talk about with their teams. But most importantly, it’s a book for anyone working in government at any level—about the power of good ideas to improve the way government works.
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With great support 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 moral 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 tributes that the Peak team have endured.
If you are looking for a “Dummies” book 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 in gear and driving away into the sunset–even then can that activity be blinding. Creating a culture for innovation requires a series of shared stories, some of which Elms and Wogan (2016) highlight in this book.
With titles like, “Just What is This ‘Peak’ Thing?”, to “Red Bouncy Ball Crap” and “Forget the Fro-yo”, Elms and Wogan (2016) realistically describe the foundation of the Denver Peak Academy’s principles. Stories, such as fifty parking enforcement attendants running around searching for their government-issued vehicle, to printing a five-hundred page report just for the final six pages, help us understand that these are real people facing real challenges. These stories, and the innovations that followed, are shared as victories and not as reprimands. “Our team shares stories and data on a regular basis to encourage people to keep innovating” (Elms & Wogan, 2016, p. 28).
“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.”
Imagine the entry-level worker who is confronted for the very first time with the absurdity of a particular process in the workplace. Now imagine a seasoned employee who still notices the things that don't work well enough now (or were always kluge-y, or are unnecessary and ridiculous), who has given up trying to figure out how to move the organization to get them fixed. The things that "don't work and can't be fixed" cause friction, discontent, mediocrity, customer dissatisfaction, cynicism, and disengagement in the workplace. That's increasingly a big deal in corporate environments. More than that, it's a crucial driver of dissatisfaction with government agencies that don't improve.
The first great thing about Peak Performance is that it's a true story and a road map to process improvement, improved morale, and satisfying performance. The second great thing is that the techniques described within are accessible - clearly, they can be learned and are transferable to many different kinds and sizes of organizations. The third great thing is that the book is funny as heck. Refer to the employees mentioned above: their despair, skill-building, aha moments, and increased sense of an ability to make a difference unfold throughout the chapters. What makes it funny is that every single chapter has a "been there" quality that anybody who's ever worked in a bureaucracy will recognize immediately. We are laughing with, not at, the employees. And, Brian Elms and J.B. Wogan make a great storytelling team.
Peak Academy's focus on helping employees become the best they can be, creating a culture that values basic work, and delivering value to Denver residents when they want it is hugely important, having demonstrated beyond all doubt that it is increasing customer satisfaction, improving employee morale, and reducing costs. This practical book is geared to readers at all levels and will benefit especially those who seek to improve productivity and quality, whether their own or their organization's.