Having Great Players Isn’t Enough

by Apr 4, 2016Culture

Kevin Knaack, Chief Culture Officer

Kevin Knaack, Chief Culture Officer

Arguably, the Cavaliers have the most talent in the NBA. When the Cavs signed their big three – Lebron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving – everyone believed Cleveland was guaranteed a championship.

Except for maybe David Griffin – the team’s GM – who in a press conference on Jan. 22 shocked the nation with the announcement that the team’s coach, David Blatt, had been let go.

The Cavs had been winning plenty of games and general consensus was that Blatt was doing his job well– in fact, the Cavs made it to the 2015 NBA Finals and currently have the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Then what’s the problem? The team’s culture.

In my 15 years in the recruitment industry, I’ve seen one truth play out time and time again. There are two primary elements that support elite success– the type of success that makes good companies great.

Great Employees Will Help You to Succeed

The first is the concept of top talent. Whether you’re the Cavaliers Basketball team, a small privately owned business, a hot tech-start up, or any other organization looking to excel in business, you need great employees to help you succeed.
Finding highly skilled employees and recruiting them to your organization will make you a good company. If I had to guess, with the best employees money can buy, you’d be a solid B-player in your industry. Yep, that’s right– you’d be pretty good, but not great.

And that’s exactly what the Cavaliers experienced. Their team consists of the absolute best players money can buy – leading to an unprecedented team payroll for the organization, and the second-highest team payroll in NBA history. But what did their $109M roster get them? According to Griffin, a “pretty good” team.

Griffin judges his team not just on their record, though. Instead, he compares performance to the mission of the franchise, which is to win championships. Griffin said that every decision, including the decision to let Blatt go, is made with that purpose in mind.


The Right Environment Turns Good Into Great

But if it’s not a problem with securing top players or winning games, what then is keeping the Cavs from reaching the franchise mission of securing championships for the city of Cleveland?

Its culture, which is the second major element that supports a truly elite company. And more importantly, it is culture that allows a good company to rise above and become truly great.

In his press conference, Griffin shared: “I’ve never seen a locker room not be as connected after wins as they need to be. We’ve only been galvanized when expectations were not high and circumstances were somewhat artificial. Otherwise, we’ve been a group of tremendous individual talent with individual hopes and dreams. That’s not a winning formula.”

In this moment, Griffin described something that all organizations can relate to: Great talent alone does not lead to great success if the connectivity and continuity isn’t there.


In business, we experience greater success when we’ve built a collective spirit and a collective will supporting the same goals. Developing your culture in a meaningful way that brings your company’s talent together is the only way to go from good to great.

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