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Marginal Improvements: Why You Need to Think Small to Have a Big Impact

Marginal Improvements: Why You Need to Think Small to Have a Big Impact

Apr 16, 2019 « Back to The Skinny

Kendall Ramirez, Naturally Slim’s Chief Experience Officer, shares why making marginal improvements is an essential part of growing any business or program.

When growing a business or program, we often gravitate toward big-picture strategies. How are we going to allocate our resources to maximize improvement? What innovations will create the competitive differentiation we need to spark conversation and generate buzz? What can we offer or change to attract, retain, and impress talent?           

We’re thinking big, focusing on visible, press-worthy changes that communicate our expertise and innovation. After all, we’ve got to make big changes to see big results, right?

Not always.

While small incremental improvements might not sound (or look) sexy, they compound over time to up-level our businesses in big ways. In fact, these small enhancements often lead to greater competitive differentiation than one sweeping initiative. And, they’re easier to implement.


How Making Marginal Improvements Leads to Big Wins

If you’re a cycling fan, Sir Dave Brailsford may sound familiar. He’s the General Manager and Performance Director of Team Sky, Great Britain’s professional cycling team.

When he became Team Sky’s manager in 2010, Dave’s goal was to make a one percent improvement in everything they did. He worked with the team to improve obvious areas like upgrading the riders’ equipment as well as optimizing their nutrition and training regimen. He also insisted on changing seemingly trivial things like the kinds of pillows and mattresses his athletes slept on and the types of recovery massage gels they used.

He looked for one percent improvements he could make everywhere, and his efforts paid off.

In just over two years, Team Sky cyclist Bradley Wiggins became the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France. Since, Team Sky’s cyclists have claimed six Tour de France titles. They’ve also won countless other competitions and accolades, including Olympic gold medals.

The team’s seemingly small changes led to big wins.


Ways to Make Marginal Improvements in Your Organization

You can leverage the power of small changes, too.

Establish KPIs

Meet with the key team members in your organization to establish success metrics. Focus less on a timeline and more on what these long-term goals will look like in your organization or department. Once you have big-picture targets, establish what steps you need to take to achieve them. From there, determine the small improvements you need to make to start taking these steps.

Rally the Team

Hold a company- or department-wide meeting and share how important it is for everyone to work on making small, one percent improvements. To help them do this, consider automating processes, investing in job-specific training, outsourcing tedious tasks, and using project management software.

At Naturally Slim, our Program Success Team recently automated some of their time-consuming, non-client-facing tasks to increase the amount of hands-on time they have with both new and existing clients.

Assess Progress

Meet quarterly to review how the improvements you’ve made are impacting your team and bottom line. Remember, the goal isn’t to see sweeping changes immediately. But there should be progress, or promise of forward motion, however small. If you don’t see progress, you may need to revise your improvement strategy. 

Celebrate Wins

Acknowledge your company’s or department’s wins and all the hard work your team’s put in to achieve these successes. Similarly, you don’t need a grand gesture to show your appreciation. Calling out your team’s accomplishments in a meeting or sending a sincere email really do communicate how much you care. 

A tortoise and hare look at one another.

Adopting this approach in everything you and your team do will pay off in both your bottom line and your team’s morale. Looks like “slow and steady wins the race” isn’t just a mindset for tortoises and hares, anymore.