Sir David Brailsford (former Performance Director of British Cycling) ‘professionalised’ the “aggregation of marginal gains.” He explained it as “the 1 per cent margin for improvement in everything you do.”...
His belief was that if you improved every area related to performance by just 1 per cent, then those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement. Organisations have been searching for those marginal gains ever since.
However, as three of the most studied generations converge on the workplace at the same time: Generation X, the age cohort born before the 1980s but after the Baby Boomers; Generation Y (Millennials), typically thought of as those born between 1984 and 1996; and Generation Z, those born after 1997, trying to find and leverage those marginal gains within an organisation’s people, is proving ever more complex.
Engagement at the macro level v the micro
It is common knowledge that engaged employees are more likely to perform better and improve organisational success. But it is important to remember that engagement is an outcome emanating from a variety of inputs: it can be improved by understanding both macro and micro levels of engagement and then by taking appropriate action. In our experience at Open Blend, this action is too often done at the macro level. Management tend to devise and deploy generic engagement initiatives resulting in a worker’s individuality being lost within a business. Only the most basic (however well loved!) of expectations are met: think staff beanbags, free breakfasts, ping-pong tables or even lunchtime kick boxing classes! These are, of course, just some of the brilliant enablers of a happier workforce and more often than not the first things people talk about when they are asked what their work is like. Companies populate pictures of these initiatives on their social media newsfeeds and are a common HR ploy to talk about when attracting possible new talent; but happier does not necessarily mean engaged and therefore does not necessarily impact positively on performance. Furthermore, it assumes that what engages people today, will do so tomorrow. We know that engagement at the individual micro level, is very much more fluid than this.
Who can unlock potential at the micro-level?
Regardless of which work generation one is labelled as, the desire to be engaged at a micro level does not change. Our 2015 research (250 senior leaders) identified that 80% felt that their line managers had the greatest impact on their engagement and performance; only 20% identified any form of macro influence. This makes complete sense because people are individuals and want to be treated as such. However, if people managers are seen as the key to creating engagement, impacting that person’s performance, this puts an incredible amount of pressure on them to be competent and confident in having and holding the right conversations with their talent- a capability so often overlooked or, at best, very much under estimated.
What have we learnt?
Since our inception 2 years ago, we have been working with brilliantly forward-thinking companies who are creating quite remarkable organisational cultures and teams with a true ‘people’ focus. Our tech captures live, continuous and comparable data on individual talent, focusing on understanding an individual’s wellbeing (a combination of happiness, confidence a ability to manage stress) and then unearthing what the key drivers are for that individual at a micro level. A unique coaching framework enables and continues to support managers to talk to their people about the things that really matter to them, focusing on the ‘whole person’ and not just on a person’s output.
Across all our client’s data, to date, the impact of holding regular coaching conversations between the manager and their talent has seen individual key drivers’ fulfilment scores increase from 64% to 81%. The impact on performance tracking has increased from 62% to 85%. This live, micro level data is now also influencing, with far greater agility, how organisations can tailor and implement bespoke engagement initiatives at a macro level, depending on expectations of specific employee segmentation. For example, by understanding that the key drivers of people are segmented by a variety of differing factors such as age, gender, parental status, leadership level and pay grade, organisations can now adapt for example, their learning and development strategies, career navigation, compensation packages, flexible working polices and childcare policies to meet what specifically drives their employee cohorts. As employees from across varying ‘work demographics’ feel listened to and understood, organisational wide engagement strategies can subsequently land with greater impact and with increased sustainability- the ‘marginal gains’ at a micro level significantly impacting performance and success at a macro level.