The San Antonio Spurs may not have rock star players like LeBron James – they don't have the resources. They might not have the youngest lineup, either (to say the least). And no, they're not flashy.
But the Spurs succeed so often – both on and off the court – they're now considered the top ranked team in the NBA, picked by many to win a fifth championship this year. They must be doing something right.
They do so much right they could teach business managers a thing or two, says Mark Lengnick-Hall, a business professor at the University of Texas in San Antonio.
In a conversation with Texas Standard host David Brown, Professor Lengnick-Hall says this year's playoffs show great parity among the teams – just like in business. "If you think about the current marketplace it's highly competitive, especially in the knowledge-based companies and some of the Internet companies, where every edge makes the difference," he says.
Although Professor Lengnick-Hall admits he's a dyed-in-the-wool Spurs partisan, he also says there are eight distinctive ways San Antonio plays it smart that translate to managing human resources. His tips:
1. Build teams around key players, like the Spurs do with their 'Big 3" (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli). "Those guys have played together now 13 years. This provides a certain stability," Lengnick-Hall says. "In business, these are the people you invest more in, you pay more for them … these are the people that make things zing so you want to take care of them."
2. Compliment your key players with support specialists. The Spurs brought on Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter to add to the mix, giving the team strength and the flexibility to make them key players – or not – when necessary.
3. Grab the talent others overlook. The Spurs don't have the resources of the Miami Heat. They have to play the recruitment game smarter. Similarly, businesses should look for "diamonds in the rough", recruiting from lesser-known schools.
4. Prevent employee burnout. This season, very few Spurs players were on the court for more than 30 minutes a game. Coach Gregg Popovich's strategy of "managing the minutes" helps keep his team healthy, preventing fatigue and injury.
5. Create opportunities to develop rising stars. In this year's playoffs, the Spurs bench has been as active as it has been productive. Managers should rotate employees into new assignments – letting others on the team show their stuff, develop new skills, and learn new processes. The team will be stronger for it.
6. Mix the older with the younger. The Spurs may be the oldest team in basketball, but they're schooling the upstarts. By rotating in younger players on the roster, the Spurs add energy and enthusiasm. Managers should learn to leverage wisdom with energy.
7. Create a spirit of interdependence. The Spurs aren't "hot dogs;" they pass the ball constantly, always looking to make a good shot better. Businesses need to find a goal that brings employees together in a common pursuit of a larger mission or objective.
8. Review, restore and upgrade. From season to season, the Spurs make many fine tuning adjustments to shore up weaknesses. Businesses need to assess their own capabilities honestly, and constantly adjust to keep up with the competition.
Download an extended version of the conversation on iTunes for free.