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Marginal Gains: The Keys to Success

Posted On - 17/12/2013 11:33:00


Guarantee Success with Marginal Gains
Everything in this series has been about the principle of aggregating marginal gains and the huge performance changes that result.

And it is – genuinely - a tremendously powerful approach that truly does deliver.

With all that now understood this issue looks at the implications of using the technique and, in particular, considers the requisites for successfully applying it.

Applying marginal gains to your business will likely throw up dozens, possibly hundreds, of improvement opportunities. But don't take this as criticism - just recognition that every business can improve pretty much everything marginally. And whilst it's great to have so many chances to make things better, it's also daunting. Because where do you start?

The process of applying marginal gains itself flushes the answer – at least part of it. Because as cause-and-effect gets broken down things start to repeat. And those things occurring most are those with greatest impact.

Consider both impact and ease/difficulty when prioritising your marginal gainsBut impact alone can't dictate where you put your effort. You have to tackle what gives you biggest impact most easily. So you need to not just consider improvements by the scale of what they achieve, you need to take account of how hard they are to do as well. You have to prioritise and decide what's more - and less - urgent. For more on this see the video.

Another requisite for marginal gains is resilience, a certain strength of mind. Brailsford expresses this as simply accepting ‘you will lose more than you win'. Because the essence of competition is competing - not always expecting to win.

For you this means tolerating that sometimes some things will work much better than others. And sometimes they might not work at all. Practically speaking this means things like accepting that just because a leaflet drop with an anticipated success rate of 1% didn't work first time doesn't mean leaflets don't work. Because it could take 100 drops to prove the point.

But more, marginal gains isn't framed as a quick fix, something you can just do and forget. It's a philosophy, a credo, which you adopt for the long term. Because the belief – and indeed the proof and reason it's used by some of the biggest and most successful businesses in the world – is that great things are achieved when everyone in the organisation continuously improves a little bit every single day. And that demands persistence, grit and determination. A commitment to not do anything half-heartedly or because someone else told you in was a good idea, but because you believe in it truly 100% and will stick by it.

It also demands structure. Because to take on the commitment amongst everything else you do, the day-to-day of customer problems and running your business, you simply have to have and be able to maintain a clear view of not just what you're trying to achieve but how you intend to achieve it. Being honest, this is more than you can hold in your head; it's something that needs writing down as a plan.

In preparing for battle I have always found plans are useless but planning is indispensableIt can be tempting to think of plans as pointless – the instant they're created, they're out of date. The moment you start implementation, circumstances change and the unforeseen materialises.

But this isn't grounds not to have them, it just makes plain the point Dwight Eisenhower made when he described planning as ‘indispensable' – see the video for more on this.

Having a plan – or more accurately documenting one - also serves to validate it. Because what can seem to make sense in your head doesn't necessarily when written down. And if you can't do that you'll find it difficult to explain. And without clear explanation what hope do you have of getting your staff on-board? Or maybe persuading a business partner to agree? Of setting expectations of what's going to happen when and how people are involved? So while plans and planning may seem a luxury or waste of time, the truth is they are anything but.

But if you decide to get behind marginal gains, to go after it whole-heartedly, you can and will achieve great things. And to remind you of just how good it gets, of the utterly breathtaking changes it can deliver, the video includes highlights of British Cycling's triumphs at the London 2012 Olympics. You too could achieve great things. You too could move your own mountains. The only thing stopping you is your belief you can. Don't be irrational, don't make excuses, vow today to adopt marginal gains. Because you can turn ambition into reality. You just have to choose to do so.

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