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Transformation has always been heralded as the route to a much-needed step change in performance. Now supplier-enabled innovation (SEI) has burst onto the scene and is being positioned as the next great hope.
Do either actually deliver the headline changes in performance that everyone has hoped for? Rarely. If they did, we would have to ask what everyone has been doing for the last few years.
Rather, it might be better instead to look for those multiple, marginal gains. Although they might not necessarily be headline-grabbing on their own, when they are added together they can really drive performance forward.
While marginal gains might not have been invented by Sir Dave Brailsford in his role as head of British Cycling and Team Sky, the professional road cycling team, it was certainly popularised by him.
Brailsford took on the role as head of British cycling at a time when there had been no UK winners of the Tour de France and Olympic cycling wasn't really on the nation's radar. Cycling had also been beset by numerous doping scandals.
He set himself a target of five years to win the Tour clean. He accomplished that goal in three. He went from marginal success in the Olympics to winning more than 70% of the available cycling gold medals in 2012.
How did he do it? He looked for marginal gains in everything he, the team and the cyclists did – from aerodynamics, to food and logistics. One per cent improvement was his target.
But that 1% was in everything where improvement could be found. One per cent delivered quickly and robustly with the support of the whole team. One per cent achieved without sacrificing other stakeholder needs or performance achievements.
Procurement sits at the hub of multiple stakeholders, all with competing and conflicting priorities. No wonder improvement is a minefield that can quickly lead to lots of change action and little change impact. Building the aggregation of marginal gains into the function may not win any awards for heroics. It will, however, enable procurement to become a trusted partner to those who come to rely upon the function and recognise its sustainable journey of enabling the creation and delivery of value to multiple organisations and their customers. And improvement will do that efficiently.