Managing behavioural change

The 'Marginal Gains' philosophy

Sir Dave Brailsford was appointed as Performance Director of British Cycling.  He is credited as one of the principle architects in transforming Great Britain's track fortunes over the last decade.

To create an elite performing team, Brailsford championed a philosophy of Marginal Gains.  As well as looking at traditional components of success such as physical fitness and tactics, the approach focussed on a more holistic strategy.

"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.  There are a whole host of tiny things that, if you clump them together, makes a big difference" - Sir Dave Brailsford, Team SKY 

The outcome was of course phenomenal.  Brailsford oversaw a sensational season for British Cycling which saw Team SKY capture a one-two finish at the Tour de France before going on to win eight gold medals at the London Olympic Games. 

Marginal Gains, Behaviour Change & Elite Performance  

The marginal gains philosophy is underpinned by Quo Group's unique approach to managing behaviour change.

  • The performance of any organisation (be it the British Cycling Team or a large multi national business) is determined by the collective individual behaviours of its people.
  • To create an elite performing team an organisation needs to change the way it performs.
  • To change it's performance an organisation needs to change what its people say and do (behaviour change).


Influencing Behaviour - The ABC Model of Behaviour Change

The ABC Model of Behaviour Change highlights some very basic - but critical - principles when it comes to the science of understanding why people do what they do and how behaviour is influenced.



An antecedent (A) prompts a person to perform a behaviour.  This is the ‘telling’ part; for example when a manager tells a person what will be required from them to achieve a particular goal or target.  This could include how the behaviour is achieved, when to do it and why it is required. 

Antecedents are obviously crucial.  Sir Dave Brailsford examined hundreds of desired behaviours that would lead to improved performance for the British Cycling Team.  Effective antecedents would be needed to communicate these effectively with the team.

The person then performs the behaviour (B).  The behaviours prompted by Sir Dave Brailsford were focussed on inputs that would positively impact (even by as little as by 1%) the performance of the team

For many managers and leaders in organisations today, this is where the intrinsic analysis of behaviour concludes.  However, there is a third and crucial behavioural law which applies in 100% of instances:  after delivering a behaviour, a person receives a consequence (C).  Something happens to them. 

We either:

  1. Get what we want (positive reinforcement)
  2. Avoid getting what we don't want (negative reinforcement)
  3. Get what we don't want (punishment)
  4. Don't get what we want (extinction)

The consequence that occurs following a behaviour can vary from person to person 

For example, consider a situation in which a colleague is asked to deliver a speech to an audience of people about a recently successful project (the combination of many behaviours) they have delivered.  The consequence for the person (if they relished the attention of audiences) would probably be positive reinforcement.  But if the person was shy and reserved the consequence could very well be punishment - effectively reducing the likelihood of those successful and desired behaviours happening again! 

Alternatively, if the colleague simply wanted their successful work to be acknowledged but this didn't happen at all, the consequence (certainly if this was a regular occurrence) would become extinction and ultimately the behaviours would be less likely to be repeated. 

Of course, in a different situation, the colleague may have been told in no uncertain terms that failure to complete the project successfully would result in dismissal.  In this situation the person delivered the behaviours in order to avoid getting what wasn't wanted (negative reinforcement).  However, they are likely to have done so because they had to rather than wanted to.  The difference in performance (discretionary effort) between 'have to' and 'want to' can be considerable!

Leaving consequences to chance?

Comprehensive behavioural studies have demonstrated that the consequence is 4 times more likely than the antecedent to impact whether a behaviour happens again - and becomes habit - or not  

Yet most managers and leaders in organisations today do not intrinsically appreciate the impact that is created by consequences.  As a result, many organisations have consequence environments which are left to chance - sometimes with devastating impacts on employee engagement, performance and customer experience. 

Quo have helped to address this imbalance, helping managers and leaders to create effective consequence environments by introducing them to the principles of behaviour change, why people do what they do and how behaviour can be more effectively influenced. 

The impact of successful consequence management can be phenomenal

  • Up to 30% of organisational performance is determined by the use of effective behavioural consequences.
  • The development of effective consequence environments has helped organisations in 12 seperate industries to become the highest rated provider of customer service in their respective league tables.
  • A major UK energy supplier has achieved 10+ years of continuous improvement in contact centre performance by placing consequence management at the heart of its manager development and training activities. 
  • A global professional services firm increased fees per consultant head by over 100% after equipping team managers with insight into the use and application of consequences.
  • A leading global healthcare insurer increased productivity in it's largest contact centre by 25% following the introduction of a behaviour change programme for its team managers