How Important is Culture? Lessons from the NBA

Updated: Jul 25, 2018


One of the big buzzwords in business for the last few years has been “culture”, in all its many iterations from “spend culture" to “change management” to the actual word “culture.” A google search of the words "business" + "culture" shows that it has become abundantly clear that a company's culture is really important in how successful a business can become.


One recent real world example of culture being pushed to the forefront of a business was with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. With the dismantling of their team at Thursday's NBA trade deadline they believe they have shifted their culture. Koby Altman, the GM of the Cavs stated "I think, in large part, we addressed the culture of the team and the building" Altman assessed that there was a culture issue with his team and decided to make some bold moves to alter their path.

With what essentially amounted to firing most of their disgruntled team members who did not “fit”, the Cavaliers organization hope they can infuse new talent and shift their culture to fit into what they believe is needed to be successful. While it is true that radical steps like this one can energize your team, you must be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Your culture is essentially the people who comprise your company or team and how they act. Your culture ALWAYS starts at the top. Firing and replacing those who “don't fit” won't change anything if those leading don't emulate the culture that you are trying to be build. New personnel will follow and imitate the behavior they see and firing and replacing will become just a stopgap measure likened to applying a band-aid to a gaping wound.


As leaders you must always be at the top of your culture game; it's a tough pill to swallow for sure. People like LeBron James and Tyronn Lue, the de facto player leader of the Cavs and the head coach, and Dan Gilbert and Koby Altman, the owner and GM of the Cavs, must constantly portray the culture they wish to have and must live their professional lives and set their personnel and policies to reflect that. Almost everything you do as a leader sets the tone. For example, if you set a policy and allow someone to slide but enforce it for everyone else you're creating a culture of favoritism.


As a leader, you have to decide if you want to let your culture develop naturally or intentionally design your culture. Do you trust that you and your employees will travel in the right direction or do you become a culture architect, where you go with nurture over nature? One look at some of the newer titles in business such as Chief Culture Officer and VP of People Operations tell the tale of the path that those companies chose. This is certainly one of the toughest and most important decisions you can make for your company and team and this is where the experts at Advisable can help you! Reach out to us here at Advisable, where we can help you figure out the best path to give you and your company the best chance to have an enviable culture and the best chance at success.


About the author



As the founder of Advisable, Gregg Perez combines his love and passion to help law firms, start-ups, and companies of varying size reach their best potential with the experience gained from working with Fortune 500 companies, law firms, and start-ups. As an Administrator, COO, VP and consultant, he brings years of consulting and real life experience to the table for his clients. Gregg is also a former US Army Cavalry Scout and once beat Contra without the Konami Code.