NBA Champs: 5 Consulting Lessons from the Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA Champs: 5 Consulting Lessons from the Cleveland Cavaliers

Sunday marked a historic day for the city of Cleveland as the Cavaliers defied odds to capture their first NBA Championship. As consultants, here are five lessons we can learn from the Cavaliers.

1. Know your opponent (client) and have a strategy going in, but don’t hesitate to adjust the game plan

“I had to change my approach. I wasn’t that good in the first two games. I watched a lot of film, detailed it out, changed my blueprint, and was able to put together some spectacular games after being down three to one.”
– LeBron James

The Cavaliers certainly came into Game 1 knowing their opponent – after all, the Warriors had a record setting season and the attention of basketball fans worldwide. Unfortunately, the Cavs strategy and approach in games 1 and 2 simply didn’t work. Rather than sticking with the formula that led them to the finals, lots of 3 pointers with LeBron attacking from the top, they realized they needed to get Kyrie Irving the ball early in the shot clock. In game three, they had Kyrie running the pick n’ roll from the top with LeBron on the wing – it opened up the floor. In the first two games, Irving averaged 18 points and went 33% from the field. In the final five games, he averaged 31 and 51%, respectively.

Adjustments are critical on client engagements. While a deliberate strategy and approach is always necessary before starting a project, it doesn’t always work as intended during execution. What may have been successful with a previous client may not work at your next client. Realize when and why a strategy isn’t working and make adjustments.

2. Unsung teammates excelling at the unglamorous tasks are stars too

“Be a star in your role. I like to look at a championship team as a puzzle. Everyone has their role. Some have the role to score; me, I have the role of doing the ‘dirty work.’ Just be a star in your role.”
-Tristan Thompson

Did you know that Tristan Thompson averaged a double-double in the Finals? Did you know he shot 63.6% from the field? Without Thompson, the Cavs aren’t World Champions. Just sayin’.

Consulting is chalk full of unglamorous work. Use cases, observations, testing, requirements gathering… great teams have members that star in these roles. Role players aren’t the ones mentioned by name in a post engagement client sat survey that comes back 10/10… but without your star role players, that sat score isn’t a 10/10. Just sayin’.

3. A bad start doesn’t mean a failed “Finals” Result

Games 1 and 2 were abominable for the Cavaliers. By Game 4, they were down 3-1. Aside from the ever-optimistic fans in Believe-land, no one gave them a chance. The Cavs defied all odds becoming the first team ever to recover from a 3 to 1 deficit to win the NBA finals.

Some projects have a rocky start. Maybe a high-ranking client blows up the kickoff meeting… or key stakeholders aren’t willing to participate in discovery because they don’t trust you. Great teams don’t get discouraged; they work through the tough start to achieve success at the end of the project.

4. The end goal is bigger than the team

-LeBron James (while crying)

The starting five for the Cavs earned an average of $16M per player… and there’s no doubt that each of those players wanted a championship ring on their finger. But their motivation for winning went beyond the men in that locker room. They were playing for a city… a city that, until Sunday, had gone more than 50 years without a title. At the end of the day, the biggest winner is Cleveland.

The biggest winner at the end of a successful consulting project is the client, not the consulting firm. These are the types of projects where consultants are acting with a “we” mentality (consultants + client) and are passionate about furthering the client’s mission, not selling the next project.

5. Finally, make sure to celebrate the big team wins

According to a 2013 census, the population of Cleveland proper is 390,311. On Wednesday, after the Cavs returned home from a party in Vegas, 1.3 Million fans were waiting to greet them at the celebration parade. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??

Just like a basketball season of 100+ games, consulting projects can be a grind. With travel, demanding clients, and long hours, it’s important to take a step back and avoid burnout. When a successful engagement wraps, recognize accomplishments and celebrate as a team. Learn from the pros, take some time off for a trip to Disney World!

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