The 1% Transformation

Change. For many leaders it’s a loaded, terrifying word.

If you approach it incorrectly, and without consideration, it can quickly feel overwhelming, even debilitating. And in many organizations that inherent human fear of change can lead to failure before even starting. Yet change is crucial in order for companies to not get left behind in an era where the world is changing at an unprecedented rate.

So where should do we start?

Change always starts small.

We’ve all changed big things in our lives.

Take for instance everyone’s favorite New Year’s resolution: ‘This year I’m going to get healthy, and lose weight.’

We’ve all said it at some point. Even if it was a lie.

Yet the astonishing thing is that those who do commit to changing their life, exercising more and getting healthy — 80% of them have quit by February.

The question is why? And what makes the other 20% stick to their vision?

The answer is simple.

Those that succeed and go beyond February, all have one thing in common — they all think small. They don’t try and overhaul their entire life from day 1, minute 1. They don’t go from couch potato to gym addict. They look for the small wins, and change little habits in their day to day.

“They don’t go from couch potato to gym addict. They look for the small wins, and change little habits in their day to day.”

Applying the theory of marginal gains.

This methodology of thinking small in order to create change was something that you might have witnessed yourself if you have had one eye on the Olympics and Tour de France over the past 5–6 years. Let me explain.

Back in 2010, British cycling was in dire straits. The team hadn’t won anything for years, and the system was broken. Added to that, in 2 years the Olympics was going to be hosted in the UK — and no Team GB athlete or coach wanted to be embarrassed coming in last in front of the Queen! The pressure was at its boiling point, so something had to happen. In walks cycling coach, Sir David Brailsford.

And like our successful 20 percenters before, he chose not to overhaul, but to think small. He examined every detail that went into racing, from technique to hardware. Then he figured out how to improve each bit by just 1%.

The theory of marginal gains — which Brailsford champions — suggests that you’ll get big results by adding small improvements together. And it worked. In 2012, Team GB destroyed the competition, winning 25% of all the medals available, and since then they have continued to compete and win against the world’s best.

“And like our successful 20 percenters before, he chose not to overhaul, but to think small. He examined every detail that went into racing, from technique to hardware. Then he figured out how to improve each bit by just 1%.”

Applying the 1% rule to create change in organizations

Fortune 500 companies are notoriously resistant to change — size, structure, legacy processes, and culture can create paralyzing inertia. But thinking small, and considering the 1% rule can have a profound effect.

An example from my time at Coke: When we first started the brand revitalization, there was pressure to make big changes right away. Instead, we pulled apart every step of the marketing & creative process and changed a multitude of small things that wouldn’t cause earthquakes, in and of themselves.

We instituted a unified briefing for our agencies, and got rid of the inefficient, individual briefings that had become habit. We changed hiring policies, so our teams could stay fresh and our agencies could be agents of change. We overhauled compensation, to reward innovation and collaboration.

Each adjustment barely raised an eyebrow. But together, they changed everything.

Within three years, we drove the seismic shift we needed to raise not just the quality of our marketing, but also create a culture of creativity and innovation. All driven by the ability to think small in order to create big change.

To read more about the journey we went on, check out this article in Adweek.

5 lessons to begin your own 1% revolution

  1. Audit everything that goes into making your product or service. The experience, the process, all of it.
  2. Identify your long-term vision, and what changes you’ll need to get there. Then prioritize by importance.
  3. Test your ideas on small-scale projects that you manage directly. Your successes will make senior management confident in how you’ll handle the bigger transformations you’ve identified.
  4. Re-assemble the pieces and introduce change to the broader company one digestible chunk at a time.
  5. Set expectations that change won’t happen overnight. Otherwise, people might think you’ve failed before you’ve really even begun.

A 100% change can cause trauma and rejection but a 1% change can create a deep lasting transformation.