Sunday, May 31, 2015

What goes into making a winning organization?

Q: Yo, bro ... I'll bet you $5 bucks that my San Antonio Spurs will beat your Portland Trailblazers in the second round of the playoffs. What say you? -- Rod

A: So, did I take my pal Rodney up on his bet? Let's see.

It is true that my Portland Trailblazers had a fantastic season, exceeding all expectations, winning 20 more games than they did last year and catapulting themselves into the second round of the NBA playoffs with an incredible buzzer beater by Damian Lillard that has already been dubbed "The Shot."

And it is also true that the team has a devoted fan base, a committed owner, and they were young and hungry and on a roll. So sure, what the heck, why not take the bet, it's only 5 bucks, right?


As you may know, the Spurs won the series. I would have lost the bet, but that's not the point. The point is that you don't bet against a good business, nay a great business. And that's what the Spurs are – a great business, and one that can teach us all something.

Anyone who follows the NBA knows the drill by now: "The San Antonio Spurs are the best organization in the whole league, maybe in all of sports." So, just what is it they do right? What is it about the Spurs organization that the Trailblazers and a half a dozen other NBA franchises admire and want to emulate?

1. Culture. The first thing is the Spurs hire and retain great talent. Whether it is David Robinson or Tim Duncan or Kawhi Leonard or coach Greg Popovich, the Spurs have installed a system that allows them to identify talent, and then, once identified, they do what is necessary to keep that talent and make them happy.

In the rest of the NBA, stars come and go, coaches are hired and fired. LeBron leaves Cleveland for Miami. Carmelo Anthony bolts Denver for New York. Mike Woodsen lasts three seasons in New York. But in San Antonio, people stick around. Why is that? Well, why do some companies attract and keep great talent, while others lose it? Why do people want to work at Apple?

! Culture.

Great businesses make working for them a hard-to-pass-up opportunity. When employees are respected and well-compensated, when the workplace is fun and interesting, when the work you do is appreciated, when the experience of work is far more positive than negative, employee loyalty is not the oxymoron that it is in other places.

2. Stability. An offshoot of their culture is that the Spurs are also a predictable, and predictably successful, organization. Because people stick around, and because Pop remains the coach, everyone not only knows what to expect, but they know what their roles are in the success of the whole.

Compare that with the small business that is constantly reaching for, but never getting, the brass ring. In response, it is constantly changes policies and employees and systems. This scatter-shot approach means that no one can ever master their job, no one feels secure and employees never really know what is expected of them.

3. The Success System. The amazing thing about watching the Spurs play basketball is that they can seemingly, and seemingly effortlessly, plug new people into their system and it still works to almost perfection. Patty Mills is a fine basketball player sure, but in the Spurs' system, he is a killer.

What is your success system? If you don't have one, you need to get one, and then you need to refine it, teach it, swear by it and stick with it. The more you do, the stronger and more stable your business will be.

4. Luck. Can we all agree that luck plays no small part in business success? For the Spurs, they were lucky that the year David Robinson was hurt, they got the first pick in the next draft, and then lucky again that it was the year that Tim Duncan came out of Wake Forest.

But Dodger GM Branch Rickey once observed that "luck is the residue of design," and Tony Robbins has stated that "the meeting of preparation with opportunity generates the offspring we call luck." Another team, one that did not have a success s! ystem in ! place, that did not have such a great culture, might have lucked into Duncan, but they wouldn't have him around 15 years later.

So yes, a lot goes into winning in basketball, and business, and what we hope is that we learn from the best. And with that, I can confidently say: Go Blazers!

Today's Tip: The latest issue of the Bank of America "Small Business Owner Report" (a company I do some work with) was released last week, and with a focus on women entrepreneurs, the results were quite interesting indeed. Among other things, the report found that female entrepreneurs this year are more optimistic about their businesses than small business owners generally, with 56% saying they planned on hiring more staff this year and fully 70% saying they expected revenues to increase this year. You can check out the full report here.

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