The NBA’s Andre Iguodala on What It Takes to Recruit Talent – In Basketball and Business

May 2, 2017

With the NBA playoffs underway, the juggernaut Golden State Warriors are among the favorites to win it all once again. After winning in 2015, coming ever-so-close last year, they then went out and recruited one of the best players in the world to make their team even better.

That player, Kevin Durant, was just the latest in a long line of smart talent acquisitions. Combine that with leadership that creates a culture of togetherness and unselfishness, along with the most important thing—unbelievable players—have made the Warriors one of the most desirable teams to be on in basketball—and maybe in sports.

It helps to have 2-time MVP Steph Curry, who makes unreal moves like this one:

But their secret sauce involves much more than acrobatic layups. We talked to one of their stars, the sage of their team, Andre Iguodala, and he shares his thoughts on how the team’s strong culture and ability to recruit top talent are related and feed into each other like a virtuous cycle.

For insight into how your organization can apply practical recruiting lessons from NBA’s top team, read on.

First, you need to build your culture—and for the Warriors, that’s all about unity

The team always eats dinner together on the road–something surprisingly rare in the NBA, helping to create a family, selfless atmosphere, something that is actually key to recruiting talent.

“The team takes care of a lot of things that other teams that I’ve been on haven’t,” Iguodala said. “We’re always around each other. It’s never two guys, three guys here…it’s pretty much 10-plus of us always together.”

Iguodala explained the team culture. There’s an expectation that players embrace their role to help the team, rather than care about scoring and getting credit. The focus is on winning, not individual achievement, and “our guys don’t see it as sacrifice,” Iguodala said.

The focus on unity goes deeper than dinner. The team’s motto is “Strength in Numbers.” Top-level executives regularly consult the players on whether they think potential recruits would fit their culture. And Steve Kerr, the head coach is known as willing to take an important suggestion from anyone at any level, including a video coordinator who advocated replacing a reliable, 7-foot center who started almost every game that season with the smaller Iguodala in an NBA finals game (it worked).

Players take notice of Kerr’s openness and willingness to listen to all quarters. “I’ve played for nine different organizations,” Shaun Livingston, a Warriors guard, told the New York Times, “and I’ve never seen anything like that.”

For companies this means that bringing employees together through a strong company culture can do wonders for morale and results. Find what makes working for you unique and compelling (in the Warriors case: unity), articulate it clearly and often, and watch good things happen.

If your company shows passion, joy and a desire to make an impact, recruits will notice.

The lesson from the Warriors success isn’t that, to recruit well, you need to work for the company with the biggest budgets, most awards or newest tech. But it does mean that you have show that your company promises personal growth and building towards great things, and that you and your colleagues are having fun along the way.

Iguodala’s decision to join the Warriors in 2013 is proof that having fun, enjoying what you do, and the ability to have an impact (in basketball, that’s winning a championship), all affect a candidate’s decision to want to join an organization. Iguodala, a former All-Star who was used to being the main playmaker on his prior teams, gave up the chance to make more money elsewhere to come to Golden State (though he still earns a cool $12 million a year there).

Though the Warriors weren’t a great team yet, Iguodala said he saw positive signs in 2013. “You could see the way the organization was moving that it was getting there,” he said. He could see players playing with passion and joy under their then-head coach.

These days, other players around the league take notice of the fun, Iguodala said; he sees lots of jealousy, with players telling him it looks like the Warriors are having fun playing basketball. The admiration goes so far that they seem to think the Warriors don’t have any problems, something that’s not true, Iguodala said—it’s just that they work out their issues behind closed doors.  

(Another huge draw for Iguodala was something a bit unconventional—he had a burgeoning interest in the tech scene and saw the opportunity to leverage Golden State’s closeness to Silicon Valley into an off-the-court career as a startup investor).

The best way to recruit is to be authentic and show your true personality

As a recruiter, we know it’s sometimes hard to get resources to build up your employer brand. However, while glitz sure grabs the attention, Iguodala says it’s not what truly matters.

When the Warriors attempted to make one the biggest signings in NBA history last year by going after superstar Kevin Durant, they attacked it full-on. But they also did it by simply showcasing who they are and being upfront about what it's like to be on the team.

At a house in the Hamptons where Warriors executives, Iguodala, and teammates Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green went to meet with Durant, they never even got to the slick video the team’s staff prepared to pitch Durant: there was too much of a natural conversation happening between the current players and Durant that they never needed it. The stars were just hanging out getting to know each other better—and it worked.

Iguodala described the pitch to Durant like this: “There’s really no secrets. It’s just straightforward. We value you here…it’s all honest. Here’s how you can help us; here’s how we can help you. You’re the best at what you do and we feel like you can be the best with us as well.”

“There’s a lot of different ways to recruit guys and we feel that the best way to do that is to let the whole talk happen organically,” Iguodala said, rather than putting on this “huge façade.”

In the end, it worked. Durant, who ended up signing with the team, saw how much the players were in sync, saying the four players walked into the room “like they were holding hands.” One could imagine him wanting to be a part of that.

On a related note, let your best recruiters (your employees!) recruit

Notice that, at the meeting in the Hamptons, the players themselves took a leading role in chatting with and pursuing Durant—a role often associated with a team’s general manager. That would seem like a smart move, considering various surveys show that company’s employees are seen as more trustworthy than a CEO.

“First and foremost, it doesn’t happen without our players,” Lacob told the San Francisco Chronicle, and added that each of the four players had their own unique strength to help pull in Durant.

Commenting on Warriors star Draymond Green, Lacob said, “Draymond is...persistent beyond any recruiter I have seen in business…I just told him, ‘You’ve got a future in sales.’”

The Warriors stars also put in the time needed to recruit Durant—and other hires. The takeaway: While your employees may not have a ton of time to dedicate to recruiting, if they are given more prominent roles in the recruiting process, it seems to pay off. Green, excited about the possibility of Durant joining the team, even sent Durant “way too many” texts over three days to woo him, including setting his alarm at 7 a.m. to send a final text the day Durant was going to announce his decision.

Your employees can be the difference between closing a great recruit or not.

Do your homework before even meeting a recruit and select talent that complements your team

As you can see, the Warriors have a sort of open forum of an organization, a flatter structure that is more reminiscent of a Silicon Valley startup than an NBA team.

Although many talented players could be plugged into the Warriors’ successful system, that’s not true for every guy, Iguodala said. A possible recruit still has to pass a basic character test, something that the players themselves are often asked to help the team’s general manager Bob Myers with.

In other words, just as a corporate recruiter would be tasked with doing multiple interviews and asking for references, players recruiting new talent do the same thing -- in a more informal way.

“What our organization does is homework on the guy before we get there,” Iguodala said. Luckily, in basketball it’s rare to not know about a guy already, considering everyone plays each other, and sometimes knows each other from back in high school. “We know each other. You can get a good feel for the type of person that guy is just by playing ball against them...you know if a guy is a ‘Team Guy’ or a ‘Me Guy,’” he said.

For more information, Iguodala will sometimes reach out to a friend in his network to ask “what type of guy is this guy,” something 50% of professionals do when considering a job.

Iguodala noted how important team chemistry is, and how the GM has done a good job picking players that complement each other: Draymond Green is the perfect complement to Steph Curry, the Warriors have a center who does his specific job exceptionally well, and each player off the bench brings a unique strength—from shooting to rebounding to energy.

Those people that embrace their role, and buy into the Warriors’ team-before-me-attitude, are the ones the Warriors want to recruit, and those are the guys who feed a virtuous culture that, in turn, keeps their reputation and brand so strong.

* Photo credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

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