Business Lessons from Ice Hockey
What Business Leaders Can Learn from Hockey
Among city residents, government officials and business leaders, there is no shortage of opinions on a new sports arena in Seattle, with the odds of one being built improving in recent weeks. Like many, I’ve been following the issue closely. But while most of the focus, naturally, is on bringing pro basketball back to the area, smart business leaders should pay closer attention to hockey.
Hockey has taught me countless lessons that I’ve applied to my business career. Growing up with a Stanley Cup champion, National Hockey League All-Star and Olympian for a father will do that, as will playing and coaching the game, experiences I have been fortunate enough to enjoy.
As our region continues to weigh the economic merits of a new stadium in the future, here are five lessons from the sport that business leaders would be smart to put into place now.
Beginning efforts help determine the end result.
In hockey, the things you do early in the game pay off as the game continues. Small decisions like dumping the puck and finishing your checks ultimately wear down the opponent and create more chances later in the game. The same applies in business. Little things done early can pay off in the long run. Employees learn more from constant feedback than a year-end review process, for example, and project planners can use early criticisms to strengthen their proposals.
Leading indicators are helpful, but no guarantee of success.
In hockey, shots on goal, hits, and face-offs won are the best indicators of success. We tracked and communicated them throughout every game and, more often than not, the game winner was consistent with the winner of these statistics. Key indicators can help a business or project focused on the things that are important and controllable. Keep them focused on a few key items, but never assume that success is limited simply to those items.
A strong game plan makes a big impact
Two weeks after losing a league game, the hockey team I help coach turned it around and beat the same opponent in the league championship. The difference? Over those two weeks we built out a defensive strategy and game plan to neutralize our opponent’s potent offense. In business, replace game plan with strategy and everyone nods their head. The word “strategy,” however, is often overused to the point of losing meaning. I challenge every business owner to think of their strategy as a game plan. This will force you to define an opportunity, how to win, and to go about achieving your desired result.
Sometimes fighting is OK
Conflict is an important part of progress. Many hockey teams use fighting in games to change momentum. While I’m not arguing for hockey-style fighting in the business community, arguments and disagreements are a natural part of getting things done. I’ve often read about General Electric and the passionate arguments they’ve had in that company all the way up to the board room level. The results speak for themselves.
Good teamwork requires complete focus on your role
When I played hockey, I could discuss everything I did right and wrong after a game. I couldn’t discuss how other team members performed. This was not selfishness, but focus. Hockey requires every team member to learn their role on the ice and focus on executing it to perfection. Strong businesses have similar characteristics. Each person knows what they were hired to do and when it is time to execute. Every person needs to be focused on their role. That is how the best organizations succeed.
We may or may not get an NHL team in Seattle. I hope we do. But regardless of the proposed stadium’s final fate, applying the lessons of hockey will always help business leaders score more wins.
Chris Stephenson is co-founder and partner at ARRYVE, a strategy consulting firm in Redmond, Wash., and a lifelong hockey fanatic. He can be reached by email email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @cjstevie or @arryve.