Marginal Gains

Marginal Gains is a concept familiar to many sports professionals, having received significant attention following Sir Dave Brailsford’s deployment of the approach with the British cycling team.

The approach deconstructs performance into its component parts and looks closely at each stage to see what is working and what can be improved. By making a series of careful, marginal improvements, overall success can be significantly elevated. In the case of British cycling, this involved a range of interventions, from transporting mattresses to hotels to improve cyclists’ sleep quality through to improving training as a result of careful performance analysis in wind tunnels.

Applying the concept to business first happened in the manufacturing sector, where processes and production have been subject to LEAN and Six Sigma practices. Some industry sectors have a stronger culture of reflection and continual learning than others, thereby making the process of detailed analysis and review easier. Safety records in the aviation industry are testimony to this approach.

We believe that the Marginal Gains concept can and should be applied at the leadership level – whether for

individuals or teams – to bring about improved performance; a kind of Six Sigma for leadership. Few organisations create sufficient time to review performance at a team level and few individuals create the space for personal reflection. This is not surprising when faced with the urgency of delivering and responding to operational demands – yet this reflection must be the first step to move to the learning mindset required to capitalise on a marginal gains approach.

Six Sigma coaching is just one of our many approaches to coaching and development. It can help leaders clarify their behavioural leadership goals and then reverse engineer the detailed steps that are required to get there. Taking insight from Marginal Gains, your coach can support you to consider the range of factors that will impact on your leadership goals and help motivate you to pursue improvement against each variable. In addition, the process of reflection and detailed review with your coach considers how your behaviours have contributed to past successes and failures. This level of clarity regarding what needs to change and what behaviours need to be leveraged can lead to elevations in performance that can have a significant impact on your business. The first step is the preparedness to challenge ones own behaviour as a leader and leave the ego at the door.