The Aggregation of Marginal Gains

In an increasingly competitive landscape, high-performing organisations in the sporting and corporate world are striving towards perfection.

In this environment, opportunities to yield tangible improvements in both wellbeing and performance are worth their weight in gold.

A concept proven to be immensely impactful, withstanding the test of time, is known as ‘The Aggregation of Marginal Gains’. Popularised by Sir Dave Brailsford, performance director with British Cycling, it has been replicated extensively throughout sporting and corporate domains.

The philosophy is beautifully simple. Seek a one percent marginal improvement in everything that you do; when the marginal improvements are added together, they ‘aggregate’ to form substantial results over time.

In a recent interview, Mercedes AMG Team Principle and CEO, Toto Wolff explained his approach to integrating marginal gains. He described his first day on the job, touring the multimillion-pound Mercedes AMG HQ. As he was shown to a waiting area before a formal meeting to discuss his ambitious plans for spearheading the team toward success, he spotted newspapers that were a few days old and coffee cups with dried coffee. Immediately, he knew that this was the first of many signs that small one percent opportunities to improve were not being taken. He saw this as a violation of what the organisation was trying to achieve.

In the years that followed, Mercedes AMG enjoyed dominance over the competition. However, it’s worth noting that from a strategic and leadership perspective, this started with small, accessible changes.

In my experience in high performance environments, everyone wants the quick fix. They want earth-shattering results that transform wellbeing and performance overnight. Few seemingly want to work on small, accessible changes that get them there. This explains why the concept has yet to be widely monetised. For most, putting in groundwork to get long-term results isn’t as attractive as the lure of finding an easy quick-fix.

Now, you probably won’t find yourself on the F1 grid at Silverstone, or gearing up in the velodrome with British Cycling – but the concept of aggregating marginal gains can be extremely powerful in increasing wellbeing and performance.

When engaging colleagues through behaviour change theory, I’ll often encourage action planning. This breaks down the big things they want to achieve into tiny actions, habits and behaviours that will help get them there. This approach ensures that individuals are focused on creating a realistic path towards what they want to achieve. It helps the individuals ‘buy-in’ to the wider concept of marginal gains.

What are the one percent improvements you could make?


By Sam Cooper
Health and Wellbeing Lead

Before joining as Health and Wellbeing Lead, Sam worked in high-performance sport with professional athletes for over a decade. In that time, he has managed multidisciplinary teams in a range of disciplines geared towards finding opportunities to improve in some of the most competitive environments in the world – most recently working with Newcastle United.

In recent years, Sam has worked in private, public and voluntary sectors consulting on evidence-based health and wellbeing interventions designed to improve wellbeing and increase performance. This involved working with some of the biggest businesses in the region, including FTSE 100 companies.

Alongside this, Sam worked closely with the NHS, Public Health England and clinical commissioning groups to develop health outcomes of the wider population. This covered a range of interventions including key research, development of projects, commissioning new initiatives and direct delivery of NHS health checks across the region, including blood testing.

In his new role, he is responsible for designing and implementing a full health and wellbeing provision geared to give colleagues access to the best support possible, increasing wellbeing and performance to maximise potential. Alongside this, Sam brings his expertise from Health and Wellbeing into other areas of the business, lending his perspective from a strategic and leadership viewpoint.