Organizations can achieve routine success by defining and employing the right process or system – which can be a true competitive differentiator – and having the discipline to stick with it. This post gives an example of a successful system from college basketball…and reflects how systems can work for your organization or division.
It is safe to describe the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball Program as legendary. The program has been led by Coach Geno Auriemma since 1985 and over that time has won eight NCAA Division I championships, advanced to 14 Final Fours and won over 30 Big East regular season and tournament championships. The UConn Women’s basketball program also has the longest winning streak, for women’s or men’s basketball, in the history of the game.
Why are they so good?
I attended a Middlesex Chamber of Commerce meeting where Coach Auriemma was the guest speaker. As expected, he gave his appreciation to the Chamber leadership, people in the community, the UConn athletic program and the people who were and are influential to the program. He then spoke about the current season, the upcoming NCAA tournament and his thoughts on winning. He wasn’t concerned about UConn’s placement in the tournament brackets. He also wasn’t terribly concerned about the competition. Why was that?
When he scouts for talent, Coach Auriemma travels throughout the country and it is an understatement to say that he watches a lot of high school basketball games. In his address to the chamber audience, he said he just returned that day at one in the morning from a scouting trip. Someone in the audience asked: What kind of player do you look for?
One may conclude that he must stack his team with the best talent in the land to win so consistently. But that assumption is simply not true. Sure, he does find very talented players–but he answered the question admitting that there is a threshold for talent. So, beyond the obvious talent and physical attributes necessary to be able to play college basketball (height, speed, court sense), what does Coach Auriemma look for that is perhaps different from other coaches?
“All of the players I consider are good enough to play competitive basketball at this level”, Coach Geno answered. “What I look for is someone who is unselfish. What do I mean by unselfish? A player that passes the ball to another teammate on a chance to score, one who doesn’t complain and doesn’t argue with a ref over a call, one who doesn’t have to play 40 minutes of every game. Our players usually are not in the top national ranks for individual scoring. They are team players. Our outcome is winning.”
Jim Collins in his wonderful book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t” writes about the critical importance of having the right people on the bus–staffing your team with the right people, letting go of the wrong people and getting people in their proper seats. The approach to employing the right people, however, is only one part of a larger system. Not a complicated system, just a system that includes, as a component to it, a distinct method of considering talent. The system includes rules that, when followed with discipline, ensures the accomplishment of a desired outcome.
Coach Geno is not concerned about competition. Other great teams recruit star players–players who feel they need the 40 minutes on the court. Those star players undoubtedly help their teams win some games. That kind of player does not fit the criteria of Coach Geno’s system. His desired outcome is the win, every time. His system dictates a certain kind of input (player) and it is this system that creates UConn’s competitive advantage. Coach Geno is highly disciplined in working his system–which is clearly defined and aligns with his desired outcome–and his system rewards him.
Do you have defined systems of success in place? Here are some introspective questions to ask yourself about your organization, company or division:
• Have you clearly defined your desired outcomes? Are they communicated? Do they align to the company’s vision and strategy?
• Do you have systems (people, processes, procedures and technology) in place and are they aligned to accomplish those outcomes? How do you know? Are they documented, have you measured them, are they working, are they effective, are they efficient?
• Are you disciplined in working your system? Is your system rewarding you–by resulting in your desired outcome? Have you set yourself up to win–consistently, every time?
Jim Harper is a director in BlumShapiro’s consulting group, Jim specializes in middle-market/large client offerings including CFO solutions, shared services, process re-engineering and business process outsourcing (including control and internal audit) for the firm’s business solutions and technology consulting practices. He has diverse experience in finance, finance transformation, accounting, reporting, controls and operational management.