By Jim Sullivan, CEO and Founder of

Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day. --—Jim Rohn

After presenting a leadership workshop in London last month, an attendee shared the story of Dave Brailsford with me. In 2010, Mr Brailsford became the new General Manager and Performance Director for Team Sky, England’s professional cycling team. No cyclist from Great Britain had ever won the Tour de France, and Brailsford was hired to change that.

Brailsford believes in a system based on seven key principles: Ensure Clarity, Focus on Process, Get Back to Basics, Practice Winning, Stick to Your Principles, Control the ‘Chimp’ (minimize performance-inhibition by the emotional part of your brain) and Aggregate Marginal Gains, which he described as “The one-percent margin for improvement in everything you do.” He felt certain that by consistently achieving marginal improvements (one-percent gains in every area related to competitive cycling) he would yield exponential results in his team’s performance.  

Brailsford and his team began by mapping every step/piece of the performance process. Then they identified and applied one-percent improvements in the critical areas that cycling teams must master like strength, stamina, nutrition, and training regimen. But they also sought one-percent improvement in peripheral areas of the process overlooked by other teams like sleep, uniforms, and even hand-washing.  They researched and applied innovations from other sports, science, industry and even the military. For instance, they learned the best ways to wash and disinfect hands to minimize training downtime brought on by illness and infection, designed electrically-heated “hot pants” inspired by Formula One tire warmers to keep tired muscles active, and even found the ideal pillow that afforded the best night’s sleep. A rested athlete performs better. In short, they analyzed and re-evaluated every single facet of the process and defined useful one-percent improvements in every competitive touchpoint.

He also had the following motto inscribed on every bike and the team’s clothing: “This is the line. The line between winning and losing. Between failure and success. Between good and great. Between dreaming and believing. Between convention and innovation. Between head and heart. It is a fine line. It challenges everything we do. And we ride it every day.”  The results speak volumes: In 2012, Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins became the first Brit to win the Tour de France, the British cycling team won 70 percent of the gold medals in the category at the 2012 Olympic Games, dominating the competition, and last year, rider Chris Froome again won the Tour de France for Team Sky.

The parallels to foodservice teams and leadership are clear. One-percent improvement in Process leads to exponential gain in Profits. Consider your current systems, processes, and leaders: when is the last time you reviewed each area, assessed your performance gaps, and identified the incremental changes that could improve your people, performance and profits? Here’s a short list of the areas where one-percent improvements can yield dramatic results:  

Team. The majority of service, selling and cost-control issues in foodservice directly relate to people issues or having the wrong people on your team. What are your training and talent gaps? Where can you improve the hiring process by one-percent? Where can you hire tougher so that you can manager easier? 

Cleanliness. There are two types of clean: organized clean and sanitary clean. Excel at both, because you sell more in a clean restaurant. Have managers and chefs brainstorm ways to get one-percent better at organization and cleanliness in your kitchen, dining room, prep areas.

Friendliness. Every customer-facing team member has a private reservoir of “discretionary hospitality” that they can either heap on a guest or hold in reserve. Help them to give one-percent more smiles, kindness, and service every shift.

Cost control. Wherever there’s waste, there’s opportunity. And waste is regrettably abundant in foodservice, which means that opportunity abounds as well. Find ways to cut costs—not corners—in every process and system. Solicit your hourly team’s advice on how and where to improve. Consider the financial impact a mere 1% improvement in food or labor costs would have on your bottom line.

Discipline and accountability. One-percent improvements in these two disciplines can supersize productivity and performance in any restaurant. Assess the “professed vs actual” performance standards you hold team members accountable to.  Improve by one-percent. The best leaders are tough on standards, easy on people. They know that what they permit, they promote. Keep rules to a minimum, and enforce the ones you have. The best companies have a strong culture and thin rulebook.

Energy. Energy—not time--is the fundamental currency of high-performing foodservice leaders. Every shift, crank up the energy and enthusiasm you spread to your team and guests by one-percent. Effective foodservice leaders bring energy, they don’t take it away.

Get better by the Shift. Habitually consistent application of the Fundamentals is the key to establishing a results-driven shift, day-in and day-in. A profitable quarter is not the result of a profitable spreadsheet, it’s the cumulative effect of 180 profitable shifts in a row. Know where the game is played and profit is made: shoot for one-percent improvement by The Shift.

Consistently improving performance by one percent is a competitive cultural value to instill in your company and teams. And consistently under-performing by one percent will also make any team or business worse. Getting better at a hundred “little” things is the secret to achieving all the big things whether you’re cycling or serving. After all, “Good enough,” never is.

Want to hear more from Jim Sullivan? Check out his exclusive free webinar, Outlook 2020: Forecasting Major Trends and Smart Strategies For Success, on September 29. Register here now. 

Jim Sullivan is a popular keynote speaker at foodservice leadership conferences worldwide. Get his new book Fundamentals, apps & insight at and follow him on Twitter @Sullivision.