Why Marginal Gains Make For Organisational Achievement 

That which defines a winning team is the same in sport as in business.  It boils down to alignment.  In other words, everyone striving with unwavering commitment towards the same goal, with clarity of purpose and shared values.  But the devil is also in the tiniest of details.  Otherwise known as the aggregation of marginal gains … 

In the world of professional sport, every element of every single day is dedicated to the ultimate goal of achieving a podium position and holding aloft a medal or trophy, before stepping back into training mode and doing it all over again, yet better, faster and stronger.  It’s all about performing to the very highest level, and pushing oneself to one’s absolute limits in pursuit of success, time and again. It takes more than just sporting prowess to pull this off.  It takes every ounce of dedication and commitment, a ‘never give up’ attitude and the most Herculean task of all; the ability to turn every single setback, knockback and confidence blow into a learning opportunity, and then channel one’s energies into ploughing forward with renewed determination and drive.   It also takes a village, even in the world of individual sport.  Few athletes reach the podium without the backing of a dedicated support crew, all pulling together behind the scenes, sharing the highs and the lows along the way.  To achieve the dream, the entire team must share perfectly aligned goals, a unified sense of purpose and belief, and a strong connection between planned strategy and intended outcome.

Sometimes, though, in business as in sport, our pursuit of excellence can leave us so focussed on where we ultimately want to be that we neglect to take detailed stock of where we are today, and what we need to do differently in order to get there.  Defining the long-range goals and figuring out the big objectives is the easy part; but it is nothing more than a letter to Santa unless it comes with two things – a detailed strategy for achieving them, and a commitment to creating a conducive environment and culture.  For inspiration on making this work against the odds, we need look no further than Team Sky and the world of British Cycling.

The Aggregation Of Marginal Gains

I wouldn’t last 5 minutes on ‘A Question Of Sport’.  But I can Trott out – excuse the pun –  the names of more medal winning British cyclists than you can shake a stick at.  Which, considering that as recently as twelve years ago, our country’s presence on the competitive cycling scene was barely existent, is absurd.  Back in 2009, when David Brailsford (Performance Director, British Cycling) announced his intention that a British cyclist would win the Tour de France, he was met with widespread scepticism. Track forward to the present day, and it seems that the world wildly underestimated his ambitions.

The secret to Team Sky’s success?  Well, of course it was no one thing alone. It came down to multiple component parts, aligning together to create remarkable and sustained success. But the devil was, at every step of the way, in the detail, and David Brailsford made sure that no-one, however major or minor their part in the process, lost sight of that.  His strategy zoned in on ‘marginal gains’ – the tiniest of modifications and improvements to anything and everything that might affect overall performance, from the obvious (such as nutrition plans, equipment and race strategy) to the most tenuous (such as handwashing techniques, cleanliness & appearance of the team bus, and rigorous dusting beneath hotel beds on arrival). If it all sounds a little OCD, Brailsford is unapologetic. Basically, in short, he and his team sweat every inch of the small stuff, and in so doing, made damn sure that the big gains were within much closer reach. And, let’s face it, this obsession with detail worked – each improvement on its own might have been very small, but the cumulative effect was massive, resulting in a team that was equipped physically, psychologically and logistically to succeed.  They smashed it, and by 2012, British Cycling had gone from big fat zero to national hero.

Marginal Gains In The Corporate World

Take a walk around every workplace and you could probably compile an endless list of tiny shortcomings.  There’s so much that falls under the radar (possibly eventually going unnoticed because it has become the accepted norm), taking a back seat to the bigger, more pressing issues at stake. The link between the big stuff and the end goal is, of course, very immediately obvious (for example, the very direct correlation between client acquisition and sales turnover).  The rest – the detail that goes on in the background of all that –  can be too readily dismissed as trivial by comparison. But what if, bit-by-bit, you paid attention to those minutiae, turned your collective hands to the pump and dealt with those details. After all, few of them fall into the ‘too difficult’ box. But most of them probably land in the ‘it’s not important enough’ box.  But they are.  Because these, folks, are the marginal gains.  And, according to David Brailsford, they matter more than you think.  Fix every area related (even loosely) to your overall performance by 1%, and those small gains will add up to one remarkable improvement.  Building a thriving business doesn’t just rely on earth shattering changes and moments of genius. It’s also about the sum of many small choices – which is why it’s crucial to make sure the endless little decisions you make for your business are as well considered as the big ones. In the end, the sum of many carefully maintained parts make for one extremely well-oiled machine, and, on the flip side, it doesn’t take many small but ill-judged decisions to hold your business back.

Organisational Assessment

The first step, though, surely has to be in breaking your business down into its component parts.  When was the last time you took a detailed look at your business and analysed it from all angles, all at once, down to the very last detail? Sure, you’ve probably at some stage in the past couple of years rolled out an employee opinion questionnaire.  No doubt you regularly review sales performance against targets.  And probably, by necessity, you’ll have tweaked and changed the odd process and procedure here and there. Every one of these things (and much more besides) is, of course, important, but they are interdependent, not mutually exclusive.  Looking at these things in isolation will only ever give you a limited window into the overall health of your business.  The fact is that there will be myriad 1% gains to be made in every corner of your organisation, but you need to recognise what and where they are, and also be able to prioritise when and how to tackle them.  In order to do that, you need to place your entire business under the microscope.

The WinningFormula

At great{with}talent, we believe that every business decision you make is critical, however seemingly big or small.  We see the value in creating an organisation that is fine tuned to operate to its maximum potential. That’s why we have developed The WinningFormula. Designed with every detail of your business in mind, The WinningFormula provides a holistic assessment of your organisation; demonstrating where the missing links are that could prove the secret to unleashing discretionary effort, improving employee engagement, unlocking potential, and creating a true alignment between your people and your vision. The WinningFormula can help you identify where you can make gains (major or marginal), thereby ensuring that your employees and your whole organisation perform better together.

Our online questionnaires can be sent business wide, or to specific teams. We’ll convert the resulting feedback into reports that tell you, direct from the hearts and minds of your employees, exactly what would make their jobs more fulfilling, more productive and more engaging – be that through changes to the strategy, the way it is communicated, the prevailing workplace culture, or simply the physical environment in which they work. You can trust in our combination of psychometric knowledge and web based technology expertise to deliver an organisational assessment that is seamless, hassle free, and piercingly insightful, down the finest of details. We’ll tell you exactly what your people are thinking, and we’ll give you recommended and prioritised solutions. The rest, as they say, is up to you.

For further information about how The WinningFormula can help your business reach new heights, view our websitecontact us, or view a sample report.

Previous Post
The Link Between Organisational Alignment & Change Management 
Next Post
Does Your Structure Help or Hinder Your Business Performance?