In 2015 Chris Froome won the Tour De France for a second time bringing the overall tally for Team GB to three wins in four years! Team GB had not won the race in the preceding 99 years and then three wins came in quick succession – how?
The meteoric success of Team GB was in no small part due to the doctrine of Marginal Gains instigated by Sir Dave Brailsford, the then performance director for British Cycling. In this article you can see that he believed that it was possible to make 1% improvements across wide-ranging areas and by doing so the cumulative gains would become significant – he wasn’t wrong…
So how can we apply these principles to business? The application of Lean and Six Sigma for continuous improvement is well recognised by many, but the processes involved can often seem daunting and lip service is all too often paid to what is an important factor in business improvement. A cautionary tale lies with Facebook; in January 2012 the social media company conducted a week long test on approximately 700,000 users – the aim was to change the sentiment of users’ pages ever so slightly to examine if this affected the posting rate on those pages. The test was a success and they concluded that a more positive page attracted more positive feedback and this led to further posts. Most importantly for us 1000’s of the affected users complained that something had changed on their pages; it was less than a 1% change, but because they were not informed beforehand, they were not happy customers.
Small changes should never be under-estimated and their potential effect should be known and understood. However, when used correctly, Marginal Gains theory is a fantastic way to make fundamental, long-lasting changes to a business. The key to success is in using a framework to implement the changes – this is where Red Teaming and its family of structured analytical techniques become invaluable.
Firstly, a clear goal must be defined and communicated. This can be accomplished by structured brainstorming and open conversation around the subject.
Secondly, a road map must be made of where the company is and where it needs to be in order to achieve the goal. Traditional continuous improvement techniques then often come unstuck due to resistance and misunderstanding at almost every level within the business. At the heart of this resistance to change we usually find conscious and unconscious biases at play, leading to unwillingness to undertake the effort to find even even small improvements. However, carefully structured analytical techniques can be used to uncover those hidden biases and misconceptions that have built up around the business. Once uncovered, they can be challenged and replaced with truth and clarity. Only once a clear, honest road map exists can the journey can be broken down from start to finish. Then, each of the steps can be examined and tested.
Finally, the plans can be implemented using clear communication and example-creating leadership and empowerment.
Marginal Gains is not an instant lottery win; it is a gradual change in the corporate mindset in order to progress from the start point to the goal. As with all businesses the goal may change during the course of the journey so there needs to be true insight to recognise this,backed up with flexibility and communication to realign to the new destination. Red Teaming, with its proven structure of analysis, creative thinking and a controlled and moderated challenging of deep-rooted consensus, is the perfect tool to realise those marginal gains, whether as a stand-alone, or as an adjunct to Lean and Six Sigma.