“If you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”
What would it take to become the number one in the world at what you do? For example, how long would you need to train a winner of cycling’s most famous - and gruelling – race, the Tour De France? How would you even begin to plan for that?
The Accumulation of Marginal Gains is a strategy to do precisely that, credited to Dave Brailsford, Performance Director of both British Cycling and Team Sky. And one which has undoubtedly played a huge part in the successes of recent times for Team GB.
As well as the obvious factors such as the nutrition of riders, their weekly training programme, the ergonomics of the bike seat, and the weight of the tyres, Brailsford and his team searched for potential improvements in areas so seemingly insignificant that they were overlooked by almost every other team. From discovering the pillow that offered them the best sleep and ensuring they had it with them whilst staying away, to testing for the most effective type of massage gel, and teaching riders the best way to wash their hands to avoid infection. Every possible area that could be improved, by even 1%, was targeted.
Initially, the belief was that with these minor improvements, the Sky team would be in a position to win the Tour de France in five years time. Does your business have a five-year plan? Possibly at a high-level, but I am willing to bet not at the level of detail that is looking at such tiny, marginal gains as the road to growth and outperformance of your competitors.
Brailsford’s philosophy is a proven success, and one that can be applied by anyone, to anything. The emphasis on constant measuring and monitoring of key statistics, and developing training interventions which target any observed weaknesses is also key in the management of a mobile workforce.
More often than not, the improvements expected of us and our teams are immediately noticeable and easily recognisable - only meaningful (supposedly) if there is a large, visible outcome associated with it. Improving by 1% may not be particularly notable but can be very consequential, especially if considered over a longer period of time.
A worker will not become a top performer overnight - rather they will have worked hard, and made many small but good decisions over a number of months or years. The same can be said for poor performers - a 1% decline here and there eventually leads to a problem - an aggregation of marginal losses, if you like.
In the end, the difference between those who make slightly better decisions on a daily basis and those who don’t, will become startlingly obvious.
Don’t overestimate the importance of an incident and underestimate the value of making better decisions on a daily basis - our Worker Scorecard helps ensure you’re on the winning team.
And as for winning the Tour de France in five years, well, they didn’t – they won it in three!