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Goal setting for marginal gains

August 23, 2012

I was completely obsessed with the Olympics and fascinated by some of the stories and insights into Team GBs outstanding performances, particularly the insight into the cycling team’s ‘Marginal Gains’ philosophy.  Dave Brailsford, British Cycling’s Performance Director  in a BBC interview  said “The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”

From my work as a sport psychologist and executive coach, and my own sporting achievements I know that attention to detail and ‘Marginal Gains’  is critical to success.  It reminds me of a saying my father would often use to encourage me to save pocket money ‘look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.’

So how do we break down business or sporting performance to the micro level that will help you focus on and deliver marginal gains?  My top tip is to focus on how you set and achieve your goals:

Top tip 1: Set your goals using a top-down approach – as Stephen Covey suggests in his book 7 habits of highly effective people   Habit #2 ‘Begin with the end in mind’:

  1. Vision, Outcome Goals, Performance Goals, Process Goals, Marginal Gains GoalsWhat is your vision/dream goals?  e.g. to be the best in the World, the company vision
  2. To achieve your vision/dream goal what outcome goals do you want to achieve?  e.g. to set a world record, to be top 3 organisation in industry by revenue
  3. To achieve your outcome goals what performance goals do you want to achieve?  To beat the World record by 1 second, to increase revenue by 10%
  4. To achieve your performance goals what process goals do you want to achieve?  What do you actually need to do?  e.g. strategic, financial, technical, behavioural, environmental, psychological, physical, etc e.g. better cycling position, improve client retention,
  5. To achieve your process goals – what are the ‘marginal gains’ goals you want to achieve? e.g. 1% improvement in aerodynamics (bike, athlete, helmet, etc), 1% improvement across all client satisfaction ratings.

Top tip 2:  set about achieving your goals in a bottom-up approach.  Focussing on and achieving your ‘marginal gains’ and ‘process’ goals will provide solid foundations on which to improve performance for the achievement of your higher level goals.

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