August/September 2002 Online Publication       

"Peak Season" is when teamwork emerges at its best and folks rise to the occasion by performing the little miracles that would have been deemed impossible in slower times.

Peak Season
by Dan Brent,
Professional Development Officer with Citibank

Like those of you in the financial aid profession, we have a stretch of time here that is known as "peak season." For about three months, things get very busy. The volume soars during that time. Everyone knows it is coming and when it will start. It's good for business, but it does tax people and resources. "Peak Season" is when teamwork emerges at its best and folks rise to the occasion by performing the little miracles that would have been deemed impossible in slower times.

Athletes talk about "peak performance" - occasions when their play exceeds their normal expectations of themselves. I suppose the ideal is to reach a peak performance level at the same time as the peak season occurs. Realistically, that doesn't always happen.

The word "peak" suggests some kind of mountaintop, some distant and rarely reached goal. Golfer Tiger Woods had one of those peak performance experiences in the 1997 Masters Tournament when he ran away from a field of the best golfers in the world to win his first "major" tournament. Interestingly enough, Tiger says he later looked at the video of that performance and was astonished to feel that his swing was terrible that week. He decided to take several months to scrap his swing and rebuild it. He went back to basics and reconstructed his game so that it would be more reliable even when he was not playing at his peak form. It appears to have worked for him. When the stakes are high and the pressure is on, he is still formidable, even when his swing is not "peak."

So the trick for us is to be at least "pretty good" when the pressure is on, even if we're not having our best days! A lot of this, I think, is a reflection of the attitude that we choose to bring to the office. When everything is frantic, it would be easy to decide to merely get through the day and hope our efforts are good enough. What would be most effective, is that on the tough days, we decide to be at our best anyway. Some of it may be skills; but really, we have the same skills on the hard days that we do on the easy days! So mainly it's attitude. When demand is "peak", I believe we can choose to perform at our "peak".

As an example of attitude, let me tell you what happened recently as I sat in the reception area of the Financial Aid Office of a college waiting to present a workshop on customer service skills. A sign on the door announced that the counselors would be unavailable for the afternoon. A woman dressed in business attire came in carrying a briefcase. She looked around and waited. Just then a counselor came through the office but avoided eye contact with the lady. Before the staff woman could disappear into an office, the visitor called, "Excuse me!"

The staff woman turned and said, "Yes?"

"I have an appointment with Mr. Tyler. Is he here?"

"There's no Mr. Tyler in this office."

"I must have the wrong office. I was told this is the building. Do you know where I could find him?"

Saying nothing, the staff member pouted her lips, spread her arms palms up, and shrugged her shoulders to indicate she didn't know.

Meanwhile, another staff person had materialized from a back office and heard the end of the conversation. Promptly, she had what appeared to be the college directory in her hands. "Is that spelled T-y-l-e-r?" she asked. The visitor turned to her. "Yes, . . . Robert." Checking the directory she said, "He's in Room 555 in this building. Do you want to call him from here?"

"Thanks, no. I'll just go up on the elevator. I appreciate your help."

I was there to teach something about customer service! It seemed obvious to me that the first woman's attitude suggested that she doesn't want coaching in customer service, and the second woman's attitude suggests that she doesn't need coaching!

I'd like to think that "peak performance" is more a choice of attitude rather than it being merely a lucky day. Agree?

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