This week marks the 69th annual player draft held by the National Basketball Association (NBA). The draft is the major mechanism by which teams re-stock their bench with new, young talent, either from college or abroad. While we won’t truly know how the various teams fare in this talent grab until draftees lace up their sneakers and get onto the court in a real game, I do know this: Many of us entrepreneurs will spend considerably more bandwidth debating the various permutations of how our favorite teams made out in the NBA draft than we do thinking seriously about how our own business is going to restock its bench with next season’s top talent.
A Grizzlies fan for better than a decade, I’ve seen a lot of change happen in the friendly confines of the FedEx Forum in downtown Memphis, most of it for the better. However, two things won’t ever change: Our dislike for the Los Angeles Clippers, and our fear of the San Antonio Spurs. The first one’s easy. Every team has a rival, even if you have to invent the reason, but the fear thing is real and rational.
Every right-thinking team in the NBA fears the Spurs. In the last twelve seasons they’ve compiled a 71.6 percent regular season winning percentage, capped off with 12 trips to the playoffs, four trips to the NBA Finals, and three sets of championship rings. Gregg Popovich, aka “Pop”, the Spurs’ head coach for 19 years, is the longest tenured active head coach among all the major U.S. pro sports leagues, and certainly one of the winningest. At 67 he still works his magic with players easily 40 years his junior, seemingly without whining about millennial entitlement.
When recruiting new players, it’s obvious from a glance at the team’s demographics that Pop is looking for more than just the brightest flash in the talent pan. Not to mention that the team usually falls later in the round (the Spurs have only enjoyed two top-20 draft choices in Pop’s tenure and with the 29th choice this year, that stat will remain intact). With average roster tenure of 5.4 years (half the team has never even played anywhere else in the NBA), Popovich and company clearly take the long view when assembling their team; preferring, of course, players who are talented , but also coachable.
From my own game-time observations, Coach Pop makes no distinction between veteran stars and rookies when doling out praise, or voicing his thoughts about a missed opportunity or game-time errors. Players with outsized egos, thin skin or excessive neediness don’t seem to last long around Coach Popovich. Ask Dennis Rodman. Conversely, those who are willing to work exceptionally hard in a “no star system” and develop their talent to take advantage of changing styles of play in the league seem to have a happy home with the Spurs.
If your business, like most, relies as much on internal teamwork as it does pure talent, you would be well-advised to seriously consider a talent strategy that, not unlike the Spurs, features a higher percentage of home-grown, long term players. By playing heavy minutes together, your employee teams gain competitive edge by adapting to one another’s capabilities and tendencies, just like players do on the court. They know instinctively where their teammate is going to be, and stand a much better chance of completing a no-look pass, or getting defensive help, thereby improving the odds of winning.
When it comes to your talent development strategy, aim to strike a balance between recruiting talent and developing it in-house. Study its suitability relative to the needs of your business over the next several years. If your company is at all labor dependent, you should be up to your eyebrows in both the talent acquisition and development process. Those are responsibilities that should be well shared with the entire management team. Don’t neglect to extend this to your leadership bench; the level that likely keeps you up at night more than any other.
Well-meshed business teams can be as much of a joy to watch as well-meshed basketball teams. Yet, they require skilled coaches who can keep people on their toes and sort thru a mountain of data to identify and adopt incremental performance benchmarks. So get on with it. Time is not your friend when it comes to recruiting top talent to help your business’ future, and your player draft marches on.