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The power of Marginal Gains

Dream big by starting small!
3 mins


February 2024

How are you doing with your New Year’s resolutions? According to Time magazine as many as 80% of people fail to keep their resolutions by the time we hit February, and only 8% stick with them for the entire year.

Why is this? Do we set ourselves up to fail by setting unrealistic targets? Ones that seem too big or difficult to change when we’re consumed by day-to-day life.

This got me thinking about taking a different approach, about how, for me, smaller, bite-sized changes always feel more achievable and sustainable. If we focussed more on smaller improvements that add up to much bigger achievements. Which led me to Marginal Gains and the 1% effect.

A pioneer of the Marginal Gains theory is Sir David Brailsford, cyclist and former performance director of British Cycling and the principal of professional cycling team INEOS. “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 improve it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”

Sir David Brailsford and his team didn’t try to make lots of drastic changes, but small incremental ones that on the surface didn’t seem significant.

They looked at every aspect of their training. Every small, seemingly insignificant detail. They tested several types of massage gels to find the one that led to faster muscle recovery, hired a surgeon to teach each rider the best way to wash their hands to reduce the chances of catching a cold. They determined the type of pillow and mattress that led to the best night’s sleep for each rider. He believed that by making small improvements in many different areas (equipment, nutrition, training, recovery, support etc.) a team or athlete could achieve significant overall performance improvements.

Crazy as it seems, marginal gains helped Sir David Brailsford and his team transform British Cycling from a mediocre team, to one of the most successful in the world. The British Cycling team won 60% of the gold medals in the 2008 Olympic Games and set nine Olympic and seven world records in 2012. Resulting in victories for Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome in the Tour de France and other races.

Smaller, incremental improvements can have a significant impact on driving continuous improvement in other worlds too. Think about your role and business. By focusing on several small improvements across various aspects of your operations, you can improve overall business performance. Dream big, by starting small!

The Marginal Gains approach can be applied to all areas of any business, from productivity and team morale to cost reduction and customer satisfaction.


Identifying and implementing small process improvements can lead to an increase in productivity. This can include streamlining workflows, reducing waste, adopting new technology tools, or providing targeted training to employees.

Customer Satisfaction

Making slight improvements to customer service interactions, product quality, or delivery processes can positively impact customer satisfaction. Enhancing communication, personalisation, or offering additional convenience can go a long way to develop stronger customer relationships.

Speed to market

Continuously finding small ways to cut costs can contribute to significant savings over time. Analysing expenses and implementing cost-effective solutions, such as energy-efficient equipment or smarter inventory management, can help drive profitability.

Team morale & engagement

Focusing on employee well-being and engagement can lead to better productivity and retention. Providing opportunities for growth, recognising success, and building a positive work environment through small gestures can make a significant impact on employee satisfaction.

Innovation & creativity

Encouraging employees to suggest small improvements and share ideas across teams to stimulate innovation. Promoting a culture that embraces experimentation, collaboration, and learning from mistakes can lead to breakthrough ideas and continuous improvement.

Data-driven decision-making

Utilising data and analytics to identify areas for improvement and measure progress can drive continuous improvement. By implementing data-driven approaches, businesses can make informed decisions and track the effectiveness of their initiatives.

To reap the benefits of Marginal Gains, it is crucial to establish a culture that values and encourages continuous improvement.

Try a test and learn approach. If it works, great, roll it out. If it fails, great, stop, take the learnings and move forward. This involves empowering employees, promoting collaboration, and dedicating time and resources to review, measure, and implement small ongoing improvements.

Over time, these Marginal Gains build up, resulting in monumental results.

At Sun Branding, we’re relentlessly seeking to improve and do things better. With the right culture, process and data, we can help our clients achieve their business objectives. In a recent client review, we reported a 33% time saving in their packaging launch process.

Get in touch if you’d like to chat more to the author, Kevin McAulay, our Business Development Director, about Marginal Gains for your business across your packaging processes.

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