After 20 games, the Golden State Warriors have the best record of the National Basketball Association's 30 teams, and others are taking notice. Rapidly building momentum, with exciting young players and a new head coach with a great pedigree, the Warriors are trending fast.
This is relatively new territory for the Warriors. Until a few years ago, they were perennial also-rans. That all changed in 2010, when venture capitalist Joe Lacob and entrepreneur Peter Guber purchased the team and made a series of drastic (sometimes controversial) changes.
What business lessons can we learn from the progress this team has made in recent years?
Here are three:
1. Pay the price to keep top talent.
How much motivation would $70 million provide you? That's how much the Warriors offered their fourth-year star shooting guard, Klay Thompson. He's now one of the highest paid players at his position. More important, his contract locked him in to the Warriors organization through 2019.
How did Thompson respond to signing the contract? With a 41 point game (his career high). He's now putting together what looks like his best season yet (statistically) in the NBA.
There are plenty of ways to show employees appreciation, but you can't deny this:
Nothing says "we want you" more than a big, fat paycheck.
2. Hire old.
Say what? The Warriors are one of the youngest teams in the league.
True, but they recognize the value of experience. Ever heard of Jerry West? Voted as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, West's list of accomplishments is extensive. His contributions and reputation in the NBA are so great, they used his silhouette for the official league logo. That's right, the NBA logo. That's him.
Much more important to the Warriors franchise, though, are West's accomplishments as an NBA executive. The Los Angeles Lakers won six NBA championships under West's leadership as general manager. Looking for a new challenge in 2002, he joined the Memphis Grizzlies and subsequently led that team to its first ever playoff berths. For his contributions, West has won the NBA executive of the year award twice.
The Warriors ownership wanted to change the team's reputation for losing, so they hired Jerry West as a consultant in 2011 and put him on their executive board. West was 73 years old at the time. He's since contributed in various ways, from sharing instrumental observations about potential draft picks, to giving basketball tips to the team's best players, to giving advice on major organizational decisions.
In this age of use 'em up and throw 'em out, it takes true insight to identify the experience and value someone like this can give your organization.
3. Culture's important. So is chemistry.
After making it to the postseason only once in the previous 18 years, new Warrior coach Mark Jackson led the team there in consecutive seasons. That was the first time the team had done that since 1992.
So what would you do to reward that type of performance?
The Warriors fired him.
Lacob and Guber have not shied away from making changes they feel necessary. Their new head coach is the organization's fourth in as many years, but this is the first time they made a change after a winning record.
Among other reasons, Lacob claims he fired Jackson because he couldn't get along with the rest of the organization. They replaced him with Steve Kerr, a first year coach, who comes with an impressive list of accomplishments as a player. But Kerr's also well known for his versatility and ability to mesh with others. He played back seat to such superstars as Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan in his playing days, and he also succeeded as the boss in his former job as general manager of the Phoenix Suns.
We all know that culture starts at the top. As a business owner, the No. 1 way to control your culture is through good hiring: Put people in place that fit your ideals, your values. You have to be able to hold everyone accountable, from the CEO to the rank and file.
People that don't fit your values might achieve a level of success, but at what cost? That's the question every business owner should ask.
So, will the team's long-term performance match the early excitement? It's definitely too early to tell.
But for now, the Warriors are winning. And it seems that Lacob and Guber's decisions are finally paying off.