Make gains like an Olympian

Make gains like an Olympian

“We’re not talking a major overhaul, are we?”

Sustainable improvement doesn’t have to require massive effort. Just making something 1% better can have a dramatic impact. 

Let’s talk about the British Cycling team of 2003. The team had amassed 100 years of very mediocre performance, winning just one Olympic medal, back before our grandparents were born, and never winning cycling’s biggest race, the Tour de France. They were underwhelming at best.

It was only until they hired a new performance director, with a fresh new mindset, that their performance outcomes began to change. The new director believed in the “aggregation of marginal gains.” In other words, his approach was to improve everything they did by just a tiny bit—1% to be exact—knowing that those little improvements would accumulate over time and have a larger impact.

1% sounds pretty manageable, right? No overhaul necessary, just incremental baby steps. “Progress over perfection,” as I like to say.

So, the team set out to evaluate everything they did in search of 1% improvement in each area. They looked in obvious places for improvement and then started looking in unexpected, or not so obvious, places. In the end, a few of the improvements they made included redesigning bike seats to be more comfortable, switching their cycling uniforms to lighter-weight indoor racing suits, using biofeedback sensors to see how each athlete responded to various workouts, asking riders to wear heated shorts to maintain ideal muscle temperature, enlisting a surgeon to teach them how to properly wash their hands to prevent sickness, exploring which pillows and mattresses led to the best night’s sleep, even painting the interior of their travel van white so they could spot and clean any speck of dirt or dust that might get on their equipment and reduce performance. I mean, they looked at EVERYTHING!

So, what happened as a result?

Well, five years into this 1% gains approach, the British Cycling team won 60% of the gold medals in their category in the Beijing Olympics. Four years later at the Olympics in London, they set nine Olympic records and seven world records. That same year, they won the Tour de France.

And they would go on to win the Tour de France a total of five times in six years after that.

Whoa! Mediocre to legendary in continuous, tiny bites of improvement.

This story should bring relief to any leader in search of remarkable change without massive effort. Little steps in the right direction can add up to major victories, especially in your workforce challenges! 


So, how do you apply this concept starting right now? Take turnover of new hires, for example. Here’s an idea: Ask a new hire about their experience onboarding at your organization. Find out what worked well for them and what would have made their experience better. Then take the tiny actions needed to troubleshoot those snags and create a truly memorable onboarding experience!  

This blog was inspired by October’s Continuous Change content in Fully Staffed, my membership program. The entire program is centered around the concept that you can make continual, small improvements to your culture that result in major improvements in your recruitment and retention of great team members. 

The best part is the small investment in Fully Staffed is just ten minutes a day, and I guide you through the whole thing. Interested in becoming a member? We open the doors to join again in January 2023. Jump on the waitlist now and I will send you a terrific 5-Day Recruitment Challenge to sink your teeth into while you wait! Tiny strategies that work to improve your recruitment in just five days? Yes, please! Click here!


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