Businesses can follow Spurs “Good to Great” example

Wright, John_CroppedBy John Wright, Managing Partner, PS&Co.

As I write this article, we are hours away from the San Antonio Spurs beginning the NBA finals against the Miami Heat for the second straight year.  A little about me – first, I am a sports fan and second, a HUGE Spurs fan.  I know many of you, likely most of you, would also say that you are huge Spurs fans, too.  Over the past week, as the finals have grown closer, much has been made of the accomplishment of the Spurs team, the coaching staff, and the organization as a whole.  According to many of the “experts,” few teams, if any, could have recovered from such a devastating loss and had the focus, drive, and determination to return to the finals for a shot at redemption.  Obviously, the Spurs are no ordinary team.  And they are no ordinary organization.

While it can be hard to fully separate the Spurs fan inside of us, we can look at the Spurs and take some great organizational lessons.  When you hear members of the team, the coaches, or even Peter Holt talk about their success this year, you hear them mention the principle of “Good to Great.”  Much of the inference is applied to moving the ball to improve a “good” shot to a “great” shot.  However, that business principle is not new.  The book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t” by James C. Collins must be the catalyst.  Further, in those same interviews, you will hear the players talk about culture, commitment, accountability, teamwork (okay that is one they should say), leadership, development, and on and on.

When you look at them through a “non-sports” lens, the Spurs do what we all strive to do.

  • They hire and retain the best talent. The core of the team has been together for a number of years and stay in San Antonio by choice. Don’t forget how seemingly close Tim Duncan was to becoming a member of the Orlando Magic. He, like the others, has stayed because of the organizational difference.
  • They manage and maintain their culture. And they don’t just announce it – they live it. Their culture is clear and consistent.
  • Leaders lead. Peter Holt simply doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He certainly is in a position to be a dominant voice in Spurs operational decisions. Yet, clearly he lets his leaders do their job. I love coach Pop, but I am sure that there are a lot of owners that might not have been able to check their ego and let Pop be Pop. Similarly, Coach Pop had to set aside some of his own control when R.C. Buford became the team’s General Manager. And the examples go on all the way down the bench. Again, the Spurs demonstrate a “Good to Great” principle in getting the right people in the right seat on the bus.
  • They adapt. Just like in business, the market changes, our capabilities change, and products change. While the Spurs will still hold firm the team’s commitment to defense, they clearly are not the same defensively focused team they were when they won their last championship.   In those days, with the same core players, about the only time you saw the Spurs fly up and down the court was when they were matching the speed of the old Mike D’Antoni Phoenix Suns. Those were fun, high-scoring games, but they were rare. Several years ago, Pop and his staff revamped their offense to better suit their roster. While they are still focused on key defensive principles, today the Spurs are a much different team because of their ability to adapt.
  • Lastly, and today most obviously, they take their experiences for what they are and work to improve. I think the “experts” are right. Few, if any, teams or organizations could have responded so well after last year’s loss in game six of the finals.

Admittedly, I am a Spurs “homer,” however, they are a wonderful example for many businesses on strategic thinking, organizational planning, and execution that we should all look to emulate.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with a couple of quotes:

F. Scott Fitzgerald ~ “Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”

Tim Duncan ~ “We’ll do it this time.”

Go Spurs Go!