Richard Pearson: Marginal Gains, noticeable Results

Since 1886 when Willhelm Steinitz gained advantages over his opponent through careful analysis of how his opponent positioned the chess pieces, the marginal gains theory has been used by teams all over the world to achieve success.

The theory of marginal gains is based on the idea that by improving every component part of an action, the collective increase will secure a significantly better result. During your lifetime you’re constantly evolving, but too often these essential changes are overlooked and only the big, obvious shifts are noticed. When you’re losing weight, although the process is constant, it only becomes meaningful once other people notice or you can fit into a smaller size.

With increasingly hectic lifestyles, it can be hard to truly value the importance of the small decisions that you have to make every day. Although the small changes that you make may not seem visible, over a long period these one percent improvements can transform your performance.

The theory of marginal gains has most recently been accredited for the outstanding success of the British cycling team, Team Sky. Sir Dave Brailsford established a firm strategy that would secure the best results the British team had seen for a long time.

Marginal gains were an essential component of this winning strategy as according to Sir Dave:

“The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike and then improved it by one percent, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”

Embracing the theory, Sir Dave suggested that cyclists bring their own pillows and even own expresso machines when competing or training away from home. Through careful analysis of the team’s existing practices and improvement at such a granular level, he enabled the Team to achieve incredible success at the Tour de France and the Olympics.

There is more insight into Team Sky’s principals and key goals in this downloadable eBook from Resource Bank.

Improving the one percent in HR

Marginal gains is a theory that works just as efficiently in human resources as it does in sport to secure business success. By improving every aspect of your HR team’s practices by just one percent, an increase in performance and positivity will soon be apparent.

Your office is something you quickly become immune to but, given that you spend over eight hours a day there, this is an area where marginal gains can increase job satisfaction by as much as 24 percent. Alterations to the brightness of the lights, the design of the chairs and even the distance employees sit from their screen will, over time, bring noticeable improvement.

Everyone is familiar with the phrase ‘a busy worker is a happy worker’ but you should always consider how content your employees are and how to improve on this. Marginal changes in the working environment and culture, such as a better equipped kitchen area or ambient music to work to can improve an employee’s wellbeing.

A vital part of making those marginal gains within your company is by establishing the right tone with your employees. As Sir Dave Brailsford explains:

“If you get behind them [employees] and encourage them and listen to their world and give them a bit of ownership about how to approach it all, I feel that’s the best way to get the best out of people.”

Indeed, 84 percent of highly engaged employees believe they can positively impact the quality of their organisations, compared with only 31% of those who are disengaged. By giving your employees ownership of their progress and productivity you are actively engaging them in their own success, a mentality that will always produce the best results.

A fundamental aspect of human resources is to source and employ the people who are most suited to a specific role. By investing an increased amount of time studying prospective CVs or interviewing potential candidates, the quality of people you employ will undoubtedly improve, which will boost overall efficiency.

Conversely, there is no point dedicating significant time and effort to securing marginal gains if you are not going to analyse and resolve inefficiencies within your team. Predominately, poor performance is not a consequence of one mistake but rather lots of small decisions that have been executed badly in the past.

An incorrectly made decision may seem insignificant but a constant stream of these errors will soon make the gap between yourself and those who make better business decisions extremely evident. If these problems are arising with an employee on a few occasions, then it is your responsibility as an HR worker to intervene with disciplinary action.

Every member of your team needs to be working towards one business goal and striving to improve their personal practices to match your business enhancements. As tough as it is, the dismissal of employees is something that every HR representative will have to face during their career. It is this constant commitment to maintaining a high standard of employees in your business that will contribute to its overall success.

Following the theory of marginal gains forces you to really scrutinise your company, your employees and business practices. Every individual element of your commerce needs to work as efficiently as possible in order to ensure that you are constantly reaching new levels of success.

The simplicity of the theory is what makes it so easy for businesses to implement. According to Jim Rohn, success is fundamentally “a few simple disciplines, practised every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgement, repeated every day.”

The key to succeeding in business is no longer the grandiose and expensive changes, but rather it is the attention to and improvement of all the finite, day-to-day decisions that will create outstanding success.

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