Have you ever heard of Dave Brailsford?
You probably won’t have, but he’s the man who’s responsible for guiding the British Cycling team towards their most successful run in cycling history.
So, how did he do it?
His strategy was to make small 1% improvements on every aspect of the team, from how they washed their hands to what pillows they slept with.
Now that might sound a little extreme, but bear with me…
He referred to his strategy as “the aggregation of marginal gains”.
Basically, the build-up of lots of small improvements into one, massive overall improvement.
But what are marginal gains?
Well, it’s the act of working towards a tiny 1% margin of improvement in everything you do.
Brailsford and his team began making small adjustments designed to make minor increases in obvious areas. This included redesigning the bike seats, rubbing alcohol on the tyres, redesigning the cyclists clothing and much more.
In addition to this, they also worked on identifying where they could make marginal improvements in overlooked and unexpected areas too.
They tested massage gels to see which ones led to quicker muscle recovery and hired a surgeon to show the riders how to wash their hands properly to reduce the chance of catching a cold or other illness.
These and hundreds of other tiny improvements all added up and the results came faster than anyone could have imagined.
5 years after Brailsford was hired, the British Cycling team won 60% of all the gold medals available at the 2008 Olympic Games.
4 years later at the Olympic Games in London, the British Cycling team set seven world records and nine Olympic records.
In the same year, Bradley Wiggins became the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France – kicking off a period where the British team would celebrate 5 Tour de France victories in just 6 years.
How amazing is that?!
If that’s not proof of the power of marginal gains, I don’t know what is!
It’s widely regarded as the most successful run in cycling history and is largely down to the work of Craig Brailsford and his application of the marginal gains theory.
Applying the aggregation of marginal gains to your accountancy practice
“Great story, Rudi, but how does this translate to me and my accountancy practice?”
That’s a good question.
Think about how often you can become overwhelmed by thinking about everything that needs to be done in your practice.
All of the ‘working on your business’ projects on your to-do list seem so big and daunting.
You don’t have the time for them – you’re barely able to keep your head above water and keep all of the plates spinning.
You don’t possibly have time to think about making improvements in your practice, let alone implementing them.
So, you get overwhelmed and as a result, nothing happens. You just keep your head down and get on with the everyday tasks that keep your business afloat.
This is called fighting hard to stand still. It’s exhausting – I’ve been there.
But, what about if instead of thinking of these projects as daunting, overwhelming mountains, you instead think about small changes, of marginal gains?
If you take the lead of Dave Brailsford and the British Cycling Team and think about making small 1% improvements, it somehow seems much more achievable, doesn’t it?
The first step to doing this is to look at your overall goals, whatever they might be. This is essential, because without goals you have no direction.
Once you’ve written down your goals, break them down further, and then further again, and think about the small changes you could make in a short space of time that’ll help you move 1% closer to these overall goals.
If you’re not sure exactly where to start, I would suggest picking 3-5 KPI’s that you want to improve and aim for a 1% improvement in all of them.
If you improve each of these even by 1%, then you will see a significant increase when you put it all together. And when you see how easy it is to make 1% improvements, you’ll start making 2%, 3% 4% improvements – and that’s when you’ll really start to see things changing.
Smaller goals are easier to work towards and achieve, as they seem much more reachable than those large, lofty goals.
Of course, we’d all love to be smashing huge goals and targets each week or month, but that isn’t always likely or possible.
By breaking down larger goals into smaller more manageable chunks, you’ll find them easier to achieve. Because they’re smaller, they don’t seem as overwhelming or as insurmountable as the larger goals they count towards.
But, as Dave Brailsford has shown, improving many aspects by just 1% can have a massive, life-changing difference when put together.
The British Cycling Team are proof that making 1% improvements can have an enormous impact on overall performance. What areas of your practice will you begin making 1% improvements in? What little steps are you going to begin taking this week to work towards your larger goals?