In 2012 Sir Dave Brailsford was knighted for services to cycling and the London 2012 Olympics.

However, prior to 2002, the last time the British won two gold medals was 1908.  What changed?

Actually, it’s not quite a one man story.  The transformation was started by Peter Keen, but these days it seems that Brailsford gets the limelight.  Brailsford finishes the story, as Peter moved on to his current role as elite performance director for UK sport.

Brailsford is widely known for his then-innovative concept of ‘marginal gains’:

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.

The difference was astounding.  Britain’s Olympic team led the cycling medal table in both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.  Brailsford went on to manage a private cycle team (Team Sky), who went on to win the 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 2017 and 2018 Tours de France.

Brailsford would consider each minutiae of any process, and ask the question: can this be improved?

How does this relate to business?

I think the answer is obvious, but maybe not commonly considered in any practical sense.

If you consider any business process, you are almost always going to be able to break it down into its constituent parts.  If you then consider each of these building blocks and ask a few questions, you’ll get a picture of whether this piece of the process is being done in an efficient way.  Questions to ask include:

  • Is this being done in a standard way? – If the answer here is no, you might as well go no further.  Until you can do things in a standard way, you can’t measure or improve things.
  • Could this way be improved to delight the customer more?
  • Could this way be improved to cost less money?
  • Could this way be improved to cost less time?
  • Could inputs to this step be improved?
  • Could other steps benefit more from the outputs of this step?

If you go through this analysis, you’ll understand how the end process (often referred to as a Standard Operating Process or SOP) might look.

But then the next step is to consider who is best to carry out the tasks.

Am I a robot?

An interesting question, asked by Harrison Ford in that classic 1982 film, Blade Runner.  But you should be asking a modification of this question too.

There are two types of task:

  • Ones that humans perform better than computers.  These are typically ones that require emotional intelligence, ‘common sense’, decision making around non-standard situations, conversation, conflict resolution, innovation, writing ability… you know, all the things that make us feel more clever than computers!
  • Ones that computers are better than humans at.  These are typically things involving lots of structured (and these days sometimes unstructured) data, cutting, pasting, not falling asleep when repeating thousands of tasks, not forgetting to do things, and reminding you to put the rubbish out on Monday night.

In any one process, there are often elements that are better done by humans, and elements that should almost definitely be done by a computer.  And these days you can use Dave Brailsford’s marginal gains approach to give your ideas a go – test and see, at very little expense.

A case study of real numbers

But come on now, what can really be achieved by such close scrutiny?

Well Fusion has been on this journey.  We’ve been taking a magnifying glass to our processes – both internal and customer facing.  We’ve been looking at the inputs needed for each step, where they come from, how they are currently passed on, how they could be done better.

The results?  In a matter of months, we have:

  • More consistently executed processes
  • Standard delivery processes that we are able to execute more reliably, in a fraction of the time it used to take
  • Teams that are enjoying their work more
  • Clients that are receiving a better level of service, and consistently.

The end of the story?

Is really the icing on the cake.

Your business will benefit in terms of brand, reputation, client satisfaction and profit.  This is fantastic.

But if you are careful in your execution and tool selection, you will end up with a system where both your Standard Operating Procedures and your workflow execution platform are one and the same.  Why is this so profound?

It is because it is impossible for your team to not be following the process!

When someone finds they can’t follow the process, they can go no further – they have to raise their hand.  One of two things is wrong:

  • The individual is trying to do something they are not supposed to do.  Improve the training, and train the individual.
  • The process is wrong.  Change the process.

The documented process evolves over time as necessary.  Continuous improvement is encouraged, but in a controlled way.

And when you demonstrate this amazing thing to a potential acquirer and the penny drops, they can actually believe you when you say that you have complete SOPs.  Desirability goes up.  Value goes up.  Exits happen.  The end.


Jake Liddell, Head of Digital

Fusion Consulting is a multi-disciplinary consulting firm focused on fast growth and entrepreneurial businesses. We work closely with business owners assisting them with business advisory, accountancy services, tax, legal services and digital marketing.

We would be delighted to arrange an initial free consultation to help you plan out your route to aligned SOPs and execution.

For more information, please give us a call on +44 203 841 7010, or contact us here.

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