Every little thing

In 2010, Dave Brailsford, Great Britain’s Performance Director for British Cycling, set a goal to win the Tour de France in 5 years. Quite the ambitious goal since no British cyclist had ever won the Tour.

In 2012 Bradley Wiggins became the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France - two and a half years sooner than the goal.

Aside from having a great team, what was Dave’s secret? Performance by the aggregation of marginal gains. In Dave’s words:

The principle of marginal gains came from the idea that you break down everything that could have an impact on a cycling performance. Absolutely everything you could think of. Then you improved every little thing by 1%. When you have clumped it all together you are going to get a significant increase.

Every little thing included items you would expect. Nutrition, fitness, biomechanics, equipment. It also included things on the periphery that you might not normally consider such as taking your own pillow to hotels to help ensure that your posture was not affected.

As discussed in the post “What problem are you trying to solve?”, well over 50% of change programs fail. In that post the idea of creating urgency around a problem is the first step in a change program.

A sense of urgency is a good start. Change may not also be at risk if too many changes or too large a change are attempted in a short time frame. What if, just like Dave Brailsford, you found a number of “1%” improvements that align with the problem you are trying to solve?

There are many benefits to the 1% change program. For the organization small changes:

  • Carry a lower risk in terms of cost and chaos.
  • Allow for incremental learning; either from a successful change or even from a failed change. Great learning can come from failure.
  • Test out improvements and get feedback quickly.
  • Greater innovation from the faster feedback.
  • Easier to plan. Easier to try.
  • Easier to assess the results of the change.

For the employees:

  • More stability; a small change is easier to understand and integrate into your daily life.
  • Happier and as they see their work and environment improve.
  • More engaged to help create more change (assuming they are given the responsibility - a subject of a future post).

Indeed many of the benefits are the same that agility can bring to an organization.

Repeatedly focusing on the “1%” improvements can add up to a larger change. Before you know it change becomes the norm.

What is your experience with changes in your organization? Have you seen something such as a 1% change program work?

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