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How your business is like a hockey game

Part 2: Make your company more successful with lessons from Canada’s favourite sport.

The hockey world is full of clichés.

“Just take it one game at a time,”…"Keep your stick on the ice,"…"That was a gutsy play,"…"This could be the turning point,"…"It's coming down to the wire,"…"And the crowd goes wild!" These lines are part of the vocabulary of the game — helping unite teams and keeping fans on the edge of their seats.

Recently, Winnipeg hosted the Heritage Classic weekend featuring games between the Winnipeg Jets and the Edmonton Oilers, which drew sellout crowds of over 30,000 cheering fans. We love our hockey. It's fast-moving, constantly evolving and goal-oriented — much like operating a small business. 

In part one of our hockey series, we saw how sales teams can use lessons from hockey to improve leadership and teamwork. Now we'll look at even more hockey lessons, and how you can apply those to growing your small business.

1. Get a step ahead of your competitors

Wayne Gretzky once said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” This philosophy can also be applied to the business world.

Staying one or two steps ahead of the competition and having a sense of what will happen next can mean the difference between success and failure. Before you launch a new product or service, pay careful consideration to how your customer base and your competition will react.

2. Competition is the greatest motivator

Whether it’s from within your organization or from your rivals, competition is a tremendous motivator. In the hockey world, if you aren’t performing you could spend your time on the bench. In business, it may mean being shifted to other responsibilities or trying to find a new customer base.

In hockey, we see management pair underperformers with leaders. Younger pro hockey players are often inspired by the work ethic of the leaders who wear the C or A on their jerseys. In the business world, working with top performers can also inspire people to give it their all. But make sure your employee's improved performance is recognized in some way so they can develop their skills while also gaining a valuable sense of belonging and commitment to the team.

3. Take it one game at a time

Each day is brand new, with a chance to be better than the one before. Pro hockey teams set their sights on the Stanley Cup, but in order to get there, they must focus on achieving short-term goals.

You might think “one game at a time” is a cliché, but it’s the truth. Just like the hockey player who has a bad game, your employees have to put that aside and focus on ways to make tomorrow better than today. And as a business leader, ask yourself what tools or strategies could be used to make a difference for employees. A great start is a regular team meeting that keeps people on track and aware of what's happening in the company, both good and bad, so that every day can build on the experiences of the one before.

4. Roll with the punches

In professional sports, teams have to adapt when players get hurt or when others are traded. Everyone must do what’s necessary to ensure the team chemistry remains competitive. Pro teams bring in players from the minors when needed and even small changes to a roster can help capitalize on existing players’ strengths.

In business, you need to adapt to volatile markets, new offerings from competitors, fluctuating exchange rates and changes in governments or financial crises. Whether you’re a business owner or an employee, you need to learn to adapt and set new goals — both long and short term. Focus on how you can make tomorrow a better day and build on that momentum each day after.

5. Get out there and win

Every pro hockey player has a winning energy deep inside of them, and it's been there since they were first learning to skate. It's that intrinsic motivation that makes them work harder and try to improve every day on the ice.

In business, it should be no different. Your team members need to be hungry for success, whether that's in sales, marketing, HR or other areas of the company. Ultimately, if you can get all members of the team to understand the goal and ‘skate in the same direction,’ you can find success in both hockey and your business.

Don't miss part one: How hockey taught this sales leader that selling is a team sport.

Brian Kozak

Brian Kozak is a Winnipeg writer who has been working online since 1997 when he developed content for Manitoba’s Flood of the Century website. Recently retired from MTS, he keeps his finger on the pulse of current tech trends. He's long said goodbye to the fax machine and overhead projector, but needs more time to think about ditching his trusty fountain pen.

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