Business Lessons from the Syracuse Comeback
As a long time Syracuse Basketball fan, I feel compelled to comment on the first-ever visit to the final four by a number 10 seed. What business lessons can this comeback teach us?
10. Don’t believe what everyone is saying about you.
There are countless naysayers that criticized the selection committee for including the Syracuse Orange for even making it to the tournament. With the depth of talent in Division 1 basketball it is hard to know where to draw that line; keep teams from power programs (7 ACC teams this year) because they have a good track record at the dance, or keep the dream alive for shiny unknown mid-major teams (in the history of the tournament only two mid majors teams have been crowned – UNLV and Louisville). The truth is you probably need a little of both to keep the tournament interesting.
The important thing is to take inspiration from the criticism and push ahead. Fortune 500 companies will regularly provide products that are main stream successes but once in a while there are surprise runaway successes. There are case studies of failed businesses that just kept trying until they made it work. Hershey went bankrupt multiple times until he finally got the formula right.
9. It’s hard to beat a good system.
Jim Boeheim has reinvented the zone. It is the only system he runs. Long criticized as a system that gives up too many 3 point opportunities, the Orange play a version that holds teams to their worst shooting percentage from the arc. He recruits players to play the system and he makes adjustment after adjustment to make it work.
If your company is committed to a different way of doing business then it is important to staff for that system, understand the weaknesses of that system and continue to improve and expand on it. Keep your competitive advantage.
8. Focus on the problem at hand.
In SU’s run to the Final Four, each team has required a little different approach. Good coaches are good because they put their teams in the best position to win. Playing Dayton, make sure to keep them from scoring in bunches from the arc. Playing red hot Middle Tennessee, don’t let them get confident or let one guy beat you. Playing Gonzaga, drive it to the basket and win from the line. Playing NC, speed up the tempo and make them play out of their comfort zone.
Good management will look at each challenge and its unique requirements to determine what is needed to make sure that you are going to succeed and do it in a way that sets you up for more success, either through repeat business or improved team performance going forward.
7. Rookies have to step up.
It is clear that Senior Michael Gbinije is the heart of the team, but during the games there has been a great freshman squad. Richardson, Lydon, and Howard have provided a spark. The zone is only as good as its weakest point and it is important that new players hold their assignments and when called on to do so, finish their shots and make their rebounds.
Your team needs to have mentors bringing the new team members into the system and pushing them to meet the challenge. It’s the overall strength of the team things that makes all the difference.
6. Don’t give up.
Down by 16 points in the second half, Syracuse took a page out of Jimmy Valvano’s book…don’t give up, don’t ever give up.
There is nothing worse that finishing second in a bid for work. After all the preparation has been done sometimes a gap will develop. With relatively little more effort or a slightly different plan, the gap can be closed and all of the planning and development can be converted into a win.
5.There’s nothing like applying pressure.
The full court pressure that Syracuse used in the second half against UVA – one part athleticism and one part panic -managed to erase a 51-37 lead with 9:47 left on the clock. They attacked, got turnovers and turned it into points.
In business, kaizens or continuous improvement projects are a popular way to step up the emphasis on a particular productivity issue. By putting extra attention and having all resources focused on a change goal it is often very effective in making a meaningful difference.
4. Rally behind someone.
The freshman Richardson played like a champion in the second half of the UVA comeback, scoring 21 of his 23 points and the whole team found the confidence from his play to pull off one of the biggest comebacks in college history.
It is great when someone on the team has a new idea or a breakthrough concept. These events need to fuel success across the organization. It is particularly nice when it is a new contributor with a fresh approach.
3. The margin of error is small.
Looking back on the road to the final four, during the Gonzaga game, if Syracuse had not blocked the final shooting attempt in the last 16 seconds of the game, there may never have been a chance to move on to play for a chance in Houston. The truth is the block was made and the team moved on.
It is astounding how small events in the course of a project can have significant impact on its success or failure. If a Factory Acceptance Test goes badly or training is inadequate in the handoff to the client, all of the work and effort can be eroded. Normally it is at the very end of a project effort with more opportunity to make changes or adjustments when you have to perform your best.
2. Leaders recognize others.
During the postgame interview Michael Gbinije was asked to comment on how it was won. He immediately reached back and pulled Richardson to the microphone and said, “This man right here….he put us on his back today.”
Good leaders will make sure to recognize the achievements of others. Everyone is made stronger if success is shared. The press and trade journals usually point at the executives and the leaders. The good once will make sure that the contributions of others are remembered.
1. There is always more.
In sports and in business the beat always goes on. After any big win there will be another day or another year where you have to show up with the competition more fierce and the prize bigger. Strong organizations will put their head down and meet each challenge fondly looking back on earlier successes in the “big ones.”
**In fact, Syracuse has TWO teams headed to the Final Four this year! The Syracuse Women beat Tennesee on Sunday to get to their first ever Final Four. GO CUSE.**