There was no hiding history as the British cycling team prepared for the 2004 Athens Olympics. In their 70-plus-year history, the team had won a single Olympic gold and no British cyclist had ever claimed a Tour de France victory.
Under new leadership, the team began to make gains in both the Athens and Beijing Olympics. Even still, they had yet to see success in the Tour de France. In 2010, team coach Dave Brailsford announced Great Britain would set out for a Tour de France win within five years - and they’d do it through what he called “marginal gains.” The idea was to optimize every piece of a rider’s training.
Improvements were made in obvious areas, like nutrition, bike mechanics, and aerodynamics. But Coach Brailsford didn’t stop there.
He found the mattresses and pillows that produced the best sleep outcomes for riders, transporting the sets to each hotel riders stayed at during their training to ensure consistent sleep habits. A 1 percent gain.
The floors of the trucks hauling the race bikes were painted white. That way, any impurity could be found, making it easier to maintain the bikes. A 1 percent gain.
A surgeon was brought in to teach riders how to wash their hands because healthier riders have more training days and a better chance of avoiding race-day illness. A 1 percent gain.
No one action was a game-changing decision, but taken together, they gave Britain the competitive advantage.
By 2012, Britain had their first Tour de France win, a victory they would repeat in 2013, 2015 and 2016. That same year, the team took home 70 percent of the Olympic gold medals in cycling.
I'm convinced every organization could benefit from adopting a similar strategy of marginal gains. After all, it likely doesn't take long to come up with a long list of areas where optimization could produce at least 1 percent growth for your business, non-profit or group.
Most organizations recognize a single change in 2017 probably won’t produce massive growth without a little luck. What successful organizations have also recognized is that thinking small while implementing smart, incremental changes will typically produce the sustained growth and competitive advantage we’re all looking for.
Where can you implement marginal gains in 2017? Please share your thoughts by commenting below.