They say the best ideas are the simplest ones.
At Pizza Express, it was all about the lemons.
It used to be the job of waiters and waitresses, the first task of the day when they arrived for work. That way all the lemons were sliced and ready to drop into orders of drinks throughout the day. If the lemons happened to run out, waiters had to take a break from their usual tasks, wash their hands, clear a space and then clean up after themselves.
Then one of the pizza chefs said it just didn’t make any sense. The chefs spent all morning chopping and dicing the toppings for pizzas. Why shouldn’t they chop the lemons too?
So it was decided that across Pizza Express’ almost 500 outlets globally, chefs would be in charge of lemons.
“Just by changing who chops the lemons, we were able to make a significant saving in hours which translates into a significant financial saving”
The power of marginal gains
Pizza Express’ new lemon chopping regime is a perfect example of how seemingly minimal changes can result in significant improvements.
There are other fine examples too. American Airlines implemented a brilliant, yet simple cost cutting measure back in 1987 saving $70,000 by eliminating just one olive from each salad served in first class.
Imagine what could happen if you made lots of these small yet shrewd changes across an organisation. Taking your existing position from good to great using the power of marginal gains. The result could be incredible. Just like it was in 2012 for Team Sky, the British cycling team.
The idea was famously adopted by Performance Director, Dave Brailsford. He believed in a concept he referred to as the “aggregation of marginal gains.” He explained it as “the 1% margin for improvement in everything you do.” His belief was that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1 percent, then those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement. Every area is explored, including peripheral things like what position to sleep in or the best type of pillow to use as well as more obvious enhancements that can be gained through fitness, riding positions or with gym equipment.
Brailsford believed that if they could successfully execute this strategy, then Team Sky would win the Tour de France in five years. He was wrong. They did it in three years when Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France.
So how can we relate this to our business roles?
By creating a culture where everyone takes responsibility for their actions to collectively make a difference and encouraging the right behaviours that will thrive in such an environment.
After winning two consecutive editions of the Tour de France, Team Sky introduced the newly created role, ‘Head of Winning Behaviours’ in order to focus on continuous improvement and ensure that every member of the team constantly strives to get the best out of themselves. In our own organisations, we can begin to adopt the right attitude by focusing on:
- RELENTLESS COMMITMENT. Overnight change is unrealistic. Play the long game for sustained improvements.
- AGILITY AND FLEXIBILITY. Being responsive to suggestions and implementing change, however small. If your teams could be 1% more effective across ten, twenty, thirty different areas the impact would be significant.
- CLEAR DIRECTION. Develop the right mindset throughout the business.
Adopting a ‘marginal gains mindset’
Consider the result if everyone in an organisation made a personal commitment to move closer to the desired behaviours of the business, making small improvements in the same direction at the same time – creating one organisation that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Together everyone achieves more.
According to this article by Think Brilliant, ‘if a marginal gains approach is one that you’re going to adopt then there’s a distinct mindset that needs to drive your actions and behaviours.’ By encouraging managers and staff to adopt such a mindset, the entire organisation would make a significant shift.
The ‘Marginal Gains Mindset’ encourages a distinct way of thinking:
- I’ve got absolute clarity of the strong foundations that are in place which will be built upon
- I’ve got a real desire to improve and will be seeking out every opportunity to get better
- I’m going to look to make a gain in every area I can that will help me be better in my role
- I’ll be exploring everything that will make a difference, including peripheral things that I’ve not considered before
- There’s much I don’t know and can learn, so will be taking every opportunity to learn from others about how I can get better
- I’ll be committed to my marginal gains approach, irrespective of the attitude of those around me
- I’ll be 100% disciplined and committed to trying out this approach to see how good I can be
“Teams and businesses that want to collectively get better using a marginal gains philosophy would have a united mindset and attitude towards improvement. They would understand the marginal gains principles, know why they’re adopting that approach, and they will have spent time discussing and agreeing on this collective mindset.”
A chain reaction
It’s so easy to underestimate the value of small changes that may seem insignificant in isolation. We tend to seek out the large, highly visible actions to attribute value and success. Yet when we take those smaller, quieter moments and add them all together, the sum of many small choices can amount to something quite remarkable.
With a mindset rooted in the aggregation of marginal gains and a dedication to winning behaviours you can encourage everyone to seek out those lemon-slicing moments.
By encouraging these small yet powerful actions throughout an organisation we could be setting off a chain of events that lead us closer to our business goals.