R.C. Buford shares the Spur’s winning formula for long-term success

Therese Dunphy

March 21, 2013

R.C. Buford
R.C. Buford

Whether in an aggregates operation or on an NBA basketball court, having a team that is well aligned and focused on the same goals helps build sustainable success. That was the message I heard during R.C. Buford’s keynote address during the closing session of National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association’s (NSSGA) annual meeting.

The general manager of the San Antonio Spurs knows a thing or two about building long-lasting team success. The Spurs are the only NBA team with a minimum of 60 wins per year for 16 straight years. Since 1997, it has had a winning percentage of 70 percent.

When Peter Holt, of Holt Caterpillar, joined the Spurs ownership team, he challenged it to become a values based leadership organization. Those values became integrity, success, and character.

The team spends 170 to 200 days together each year and functions like a family, Buford says, so coach Gregg Popovich sought high-quality individuals who wanted build something significant and sustainable and were willing to “pound rock.”

He shares the story of the stone cutter who pounded on a rock for 100 days, to no avail. But, on the next day, the rock broke. The stone cutter realized that it wasn’t that day’s effort alone that fractured the rock, but that of all the days before.

The metaphor serves to underscore the team’s philosophy of investing hard work, good people, and long-term effort to achieve success.

Buford says the Spurs uses its values as the blueprint for all of its decisions, including ones that are not always popular, such as sending former Spurs star Dennis Rodman to Chicago.

Although Rodman had undeniable athletic skills, “his character habits were in misalignment with what we wanted to build,” Buford says. “The way he acted in the media, the way he acted in the locker room was tearing us apart. Pop (Popovich) made the decision that this guy was going to break down what we want to build. He couldn’t be part of what we wanted to build here.”

The team certainly benefitted from the NBA lottery system, Buford says, “the real strength of an organization is to take your moments of opportunity and take advantage of them.” That meant finding individuals who wanted to build something “bigger than their egos.” Having high-character individuals, both on and off the court, helped the team build the trust necessary to achieve long-term success.

“As we recruit and scout players, we’ve built a system of eyes, ears, and numbers — what we see, what we hear, and what their production is,” Buford says. “It should give us a good opportunity to know how (potential players) fit into our system of values.

“We’re doing everything we can to find who the high-character people are, who want to be part of something that is bigger than themselves, and who are going to come to work every day,” he adds.

On the court, the Spurs have clearly had a winning formula, but what happens off the court is every bit as significant.

David Robinson started a charter school in one of the impoverished San Antonio neighborhood. Buford says they are seeing great results from kids coming out of that program.

Tim Duncan plays basketball in a wheelchair, among other activities, with local Wounded Warriors.

The Spurs Foundation has funded dozens of programs with local students, including one in which a high school girl places memorial wreaths on the tombstones of the area’s fallen soldiers. That program is taking off around the nation.

“Culture change doesn’t take place overnight. People need to have a clear vision of why a change needs to happen, what it means to them, what will be required for them to be successful, if they will have the tools to be successful, and how they’re going to be evaluated,” Buford says. “The longer you allow your belief system to grow organically, the more people will recognize what’s important to your company and why you’re successful.”

Consider these criteria in your business. Do your employees have a clear vision of the company’s values and goals? Do they know how it impacts them? Do they know what your expectations are? Do they have the tools necessary to meet goals? Do they understand how they’ll be evaluated?

Finally, one last question: Do you want to see the same type of sustainable success in your operation? If so, get moving. The ball’s in your court.

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