The Power of Marginal Gains

Spring has definitely sprung and how do I know this? Wherever I have been over the past weekend I have seen a plethora of lycra and bicycles. Maybe it’s because the inaugural Tour of Yorkshire recently reached it’s climax or whether MAMIL’s (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) are looking forward to the heady days of Summer and the start of the Tour De France that cyclists are out in such force; for whatever reason my mind has turned to the world of cycling and what those of us who have a responsibility for the development of talent can learn from this most brutal of sports.

I recently attended an Investors In People road show and was lucky enough to see  Sir Dave Brailsford give a presentation on the power of marginal gains. Sir Dave Brailsford  – Head of GB cycling and also of Team Sky is arguably one of the best ever leaders within the cycling world with 2 Tour wins and many medals from the London 2012 Olympic Games to his name as a coach.

Sir Dave started his talk with a walk through the history books and that back in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona the GB team came away with just 1 gold medal; compare this to the London Olympics of 2012 and a medal haul of 2 bronze, 2 silver and 8 golds and you can instantly see the hardwork undertaken by everyone involved in the GB team.

The talk continued with Sir Dave talking about the Podium Principles which helped him and his support team steer Team GB and Team Sky to victory; by far the most fascinating principle for me was that of “Aggregate Marginal Gains”.

To explain this means focussing on improving components which significantly affect overall performance by just 1%. Indeed his mantra is “progress not perfection”. Sir Dave went onto to give a number of examples where improvements have been made, which on their own won’t win the Tour or an Olympic gold medal but aggregate them all together and they really make a difference. One example he shared was about ensuring all team members were trained to wash their hands properly so to reduce the chance of infections and therefore reduce the risk of riders missing training or falling ill during a race.

So how can what I learned from Sir Dave Brailsford help develop talent within non-sporting organisations? I think we could all look to the examples he gave and find similar small goals; how about the following:

  • Set incremental performance objectives and review regularly rather than setting a chunky, challenging objective and only reviewing it once every six months
  • How resilient are your people? Invest in training which helps them to look after their health  – both body and mind
  • How does the physical environment impact on your people’s performance? Would a small rearrangement of working space help people to be more effective
  • Are your team all clear about what needs to be achieved and can articulate it in a short sentence or paragraph?

I am sure that you can think of many potential marginal gains within your organisation, so don’t overlook the power of small changes in pursuit of a major change….. what do you have to lose? Perhaps only the chance of a gold medal……..

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