The formula for HR success in business exemplified in Duke Basketball’s Coach K

Last night, Duke University’s head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski broke the all-time record for NCAA Division 1 wins at 903, surpassing Adolf Rupp, Dean Smith and his mentor, Bobby Knight. It’s an unbelievable achievement, solidifying him as one of the top coaches in history.  In watching all of the news coverage highlighting Coach K’s career, there seemed to be a formula for his success that may be applicable to how HR contributes to successful businesses today.

Loyalty – probably one of the most uncommon traits in business today. In a time when employees often jump from job to job for any number of reasons, how often do you see anyone, especially a CEO, at the same job for 30 years? Especially one that struggled in the first few years on the job. However, the amazing twist to this story, is that his employer was equally as loyal. In the early years at Duke when Krzyzewski really struggled, and boosters, faculty, students and alumni all petitioned for his release, the AD at Duke stuck by him, keeping him on when firing him would be easy and accepted. How much patience would a Manager, Executive Committee, Board of Directors or investors have with a new hire in your business?

Recruiting & Developing Top Talent – A key to Coach K’s success was his early commitment to recruiting “the right talent”. Duke not only focused on recruiting top basketball players, Coach K insisted that the character and integrity of each recruit needed to be equally important. His model still applies today, as his teams boast an extremely high graduation rate and GPA. At the same time: K’s success was built on a foundation of great players. That’s an observation that Krzyzewski would gladly acknowledge. He’s coached seven national players of the year – the most of any coach in history. He’s coached six national defensive players of the year, also the most by any coach. He’s had 38 All-America selections and 23 first round NBA draft picks.” Those players also led Duke to four national championships in 1991, 1992, 2001, 2010. (Personally, I’ve adopted this approach in my career as a manager and seen great results… personality fit and character are just as much if not more of a focus as pure skill set and experience when hiring.)

Management Promotion/Succession Planning – often times in business today, senior management is hired from the outside. The hope is to bring in “free agents” that can immediately step in and apply their experiences from past roles. Coach K exemplifies the concept of success planning and promotion. His assistant coaches are all former players. Chris Collins, Steve Wojciechowski, Jeff Capel, Nate James and Johnny Dawkins are just a few of the current or previous assistant coaches that also played for Coach K at Duke. His model for success is known better by his past pupils than any outsider, no matter what their past track record may be. The consistency in his management style is a key component in his overall success.

Leadership – there is clearly no substitute for hard work. Not in business. Not in sports. Preparation, leadership, passion, humility and work ethic – are traits that any hiring manager would want in an employee, and any employee would want in a manager. Coach K is one of the most demanding coaches in college sports, but yet he leads by example.

What are you looking for when hiring? Is your management team build from internal, succession-plan candidates? There are dozens of comparisons that can be made to Mike K’s success at Duke and how his approach can be applied to HR success in business. Even if you are not a basketball fan (or even if you are a Tar Heel) I encourage you to learn more about Krzyzewski’s approach to building a successful team and sustaining that success over nearly three decades:

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