Chair’s Corner: Marginal Gains - learning from Team Sky

30 August 2016

As an avid cyclist, one recent sporting event gripped my attention these last couple of weeks: the 2016 Tour de France. The winning team, Team Sky, has won four of the last five tours. Interesting for me is not just the money (which is substantial) and the science that the team uses (which is significant and covers everything from athlete diet to performance measures). More than that, I’m fascinated by the team philosophy around the idea of ‘Marginal Gains’.

Marginal gains is about looking for and making small incremental adjustments in any process that contribute to a significant cumulative improvement. Performance gaps are viewed as opportunities for learning and process change. The foundation for success is based on alertness to data and an inquiring spirit to uncover untested assumptions for why things should be. Success is built over time and not gained through quick addressing of ‘symptoms’. (See BBC Viewpoint: Should we all be looking for marginal gains?)

I think it is a useful concept suitable not just for sport, but also for the IAF as we seek to be relevant to members and markets. Over the course of the last twelve months, the association has not merely been opportunity-seeking but also putting in place elements of our own marginal gains and tweaking the way we do things. One such element is our partnership with Managing Matters, who manage the IAF Office. Another element is the way the website is being harnessed. Yet another is in how this channel is being used to communicate with members. Also, just 2 days ago at the Asia Conference in Taiwan, for the first time too, CPF assessment was carried out in Mandarin. There are more tweaks done in the background and yet to come, because the Marginal Gains philosophy is about continuous improvement to stay in the game and to do well at it.

The Board and I were delighted to learn that the global membership of the IAF crossed the 1600 mark last month. We are now 1642. This is a historic high for the association and all the more significant as professional associations worldwide are facing membership decline. Kudos to everyone!

Are we in a numbers game? Yes and no. Yes, because membership subscription is a key supply-line for our financial resources, we have to grow membership numbers in order to do more. We have been able to do more with our limited kitty because of targeted spending on key initiatives by previous boards, which are now contributing to the pay-offs. Yes, we have to be concerned about membership numbers also because it is data about the size of the association’s footprint in markets and society.

On the other hand, my answer is also ‘No’. If we are also clued into being relevant, then we need to be concerned about the impact, individually and collectively, we are making in our markets and contexts. How are we using the resources and connections available that the IAF offers to enhance our own value proposition to clients and prospects? We should likewise be equally interested also about whether our friends and fellows in the association are renewing, why and why not. This would be an equally useful indicator of the strength of the association’s relevance to members.

There is much to do still and I encourage all of us to seek out areas where we can experience and exploit Marginal Gains at different levels and keep going forward to promote facilitation worldwide!

Noel EK Tan
IAF Chair 2016-2017

Noel E K Tan