Jan 262013

There are many of you out there who may not be aware of who Dave Brailsford is. You may not be aware of one of the greatest and yet understated coaches in the World because he doesn’t coach in football, isn’t constantly splashed across the front pages and doesn’t search out publicity.

Dave Brailsford is the boss of the British cycling team, a role that he combines with heading Sky Professional Road Racing team. In the last month his riders have won;

The Tour De France (I use the term “team” winning because although it was @bradwiggins that won the TdF, the first ever win for a British cyclist in the event, it was the team supporting him that really won it with him thanks to their support)

They have picked up seven gold medals out of ten available in the Velodrome at the Olympics

They have picked up another gold and silver medal in the men’s and women’s time trials.

The only event where his team didn’t win a medal was because his cyclists were disqualified in the women’s team sprint for a slight overenthusiasm overlapping five metres too early when they had just qualified fastest for the final, another gold for sure.

And it’s no flash in the pan, they won seven golds in Beijing as well and the IOC changed the rules in order to stop the domination of the British team. Good luck with that.

Just before the last day at the velodrome Brailsford did an interview with the BBC about why his team are so successful compared with others in the World who are trying just as hard. Brailsford claims it all boils down to “The Aggregation of Marginal Gains”. His terminology has been known by many names over the years but it is a replication of the Japanese term “Kaizen” which permeated throughout the business culture in post war Japan and made them an economic powerhouse.

Marginal gains mean taking to bits a process into its constituent parts and building in improvements to every part even if the improvement makes that part just 1% better. The cumulative effect of all of the tweaks is huge. In the cycling team he has included the following:

1) The riders sleep in a certain position to make sure they get better rest
2) They wash their hands in a particular way to make sure all germs are taken off meaning the riders get ill less and therefore miss less training.
3) One rider was banned from going to a Rhianna concert in November last year because it didn’t fit in with the training schedule.
4) He found a new supplier of paint for the bikes to make the coating thinner and therefore the bikes lighter meaning they are easier to move for the riders.
5) The tyres, made of silk, are sprayed with alcohol before the race to make them less likely to slip and warm them up.

However, the aggregation of marginal gains is not the be all and end all. As Brailsford mentioned in an interview with the BBC you also need the following

“A team with the skills and motivation to succeed”

“The need to understand what you want to achieve”

“The need to understand where you are now”

“Then, the need to put a plan in place to see how you can get from where you are now to what you want to achieve”

So a simple goal setting and analysis of what your business is, what you want it to be and where you want it to go is necessary before you can start to apply the Kaizen or marginal gains philosophy.

Brailsford famously announced on setting up Team Sky that he wanted a British winner of the Tour De France within five years riding for a British team. The world of cycling laughed. That just doesn’t happen. Well it just has. That was the Grand Plan. His raw materials were the riders who he knew were talented and by setting out this ambitious goal along with the plan of how to achieve it he was able to get them to follow everything he and his coaching team say to get the desired results. He achieved the goal in just two and a half years rather than the stated five.

The question is how much would your organisation benefit from applying the aggregation of mrginal gains. Is there a way to increase your response rate to your emails by just 1% or maybe even more? Could you deal with your customers face to face in a different way in order to get more sales or referrals? Could you change the wording on your website to elecit more interaction? These and thousands of other questions need answering to start making use of the marginal gains but a lot of them over a long period of time make a huge difference.

Anyone up for taking apart their business and putting it back together in a different and much better way?

Dave Brailsford by OTBPhoto

Dave Brailsford by OTBPhoto

Photo via otbphoto on Flickr

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