On February 18, 2010 the Boston Celtics edged out the L.A.Lakers 87-86 in a tightly contested road game. Celtics coach Doc Rivers called a team meeting in the locker room immediately after the game. At the meeting he demanded $100 from each member of the team’s 26 member traveling party (players coaches and support staff). Rivers stuffed the $2600 in an envelope and then stashed the envelope in the ceiling tiles in the visitor’s locker room of the Staples Center. He told his team they could get the money back the next time they play the Lakers inside the Staples Center. Here’s the hook, this took place immediately AFTER the team’s last regular season game in Los Angeles. The only way they could make it back into that locker room was by earning a return trip to the Staples Center by making it to the NBA Championship 3 months later.
At the time, the Celtics were an average team at best. They were ranked third in their own conference and in the minds of many pundits dropped to number four by the end of the regular season. Rivers used this tactic as a motivational tool for his then-inconsistent squad. He used the $2600 as a means to challenge his team to show how committed they were to getting their season back on track.
Why did something this crazy work?
Quite simply, Rivers knew his team and knew his opponent. He took the chance because he knew Los Angeles was the odds on favorite to make it back to the Finals and he believed his team had the talent and ability to get back there as well. Rivers got it right because his team did indeed make an unexpected run to the 2010 championship series and claimed their money back when they returned to the Staples Center.
The key was that it wasn’t even about the money. It was a demonstration of faith and a method of gaining buy in. Multimillionaires aren’t motivated by $100. None of them would feel the loss of $100 if they never saw it again. It was a symbolic method of gaining buy in. Doc Rivers was banking on their consistency from that night forward. His message to them was an unspoken one. By demanding that they ante up $100 each he was in essence saying…
“I believe in you even, if you don’t believe in yourselves yet.”
“I see the talent inside you, even if you don’t see it in yourselves yet.”
As I mentioned in the past, you have to figure out what will motivate your team. Rivers knows there is a certain magic to motivating professional athletes. After all he is dealing with millionaires on guaranteed contracts who are grown men that get paid to play a game for a living.
What motivates employees? Research indicates that appreciation is the number one ranked workplace motivator. Money is a distant number three.
Some people would call what Rivers did a gimmick. I would argue that it’s only a gimmick if it doesn’t work. If it works, its good strategy. So instead of requiring your people to fork over a hundred bucks, try actually speaking Rivers unspoken message. Let your people know you believe in them let them know you see the talent in them. The return on your investment will be way more than $2600.