History Was Almost Made

Last night was almost a historic moment for Vancouverites, Vancouver Canucks’ fans and of course, the Vancouver Canucks.  The Canucks came oh so close to winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in their 40-year franchise history.  The moments leading up to the Cup’s deciding game have been pretty exhilarating.  The feel-good energy level in the city has been palpable.  We wanted the win but even without it the memories of the 2011 Playoffs will remain.

What will also stay with us and hang over our heads for years to come is the devastation and rioting that began as soon as the Bruins won.  We will not soon forget.  But will we learn?

The Canucks played hard and lost.  The game was over, and, as is the norm with competitive sports, you congratulate and shake hands with your opponent.  Canucks’ goalie, Roberto Luongo, even though visibly upset about his team’s loss, gives his peer, Boston Bruins’ goalie, Tim Thomas, kudos on the win.  It was just a simple, single gesture yet it portrayed sportsmanship and so much more.

The rioting took from what the Canucks gave the city leading up to and during last night’s game and devalued the Canucks’ efforts to get to that pivotal game.  Understandably the media coverage since the event has been about the riots.  But in the vein of focusing this blog on how to build business value, I think there are some things we can learn from the Canucks’ as well as competitive sports to make us ‘play’ better.

Play to be the Best

Last night’s game underscored again how tough the world of competitive sports is and how much the pursuit of excellence is top-of-mind every second of every game.  Could we not play in our own respective fields and lives the same way?  If so, what would it look like?

Let’s first consider what was required for the Canucks to have a chance at winning the Cup.

Getting the Cup

To play for the Cup means that the Canucks advanced in each of the previous three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the 4th and final round against their opponent, the Boston Bruins.  To win a round each hockey team must win a total of 4 games out of a possible 7 played against a single opposing team.

During the Stanley Cup Playoffs the Vancouver Canucks played a total of 25 games over a period of almost two months.  But to compete for the Stanley Cup the Canucks needed to first qualify to ‘play’.

To qualify to compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs a hockey team must rank in the top 8 of either of the two NHL conference leagues.  Each team plays 82 regular season games, 41 are home games and 41 are away.  The regular season runs roughly from the beginning of October until mid-April (the exhibition season runs during the month of September).

So, excluding the exhibition season, by the time the Canucks got to the final game for the Stanley Cup win they had played a total of 107 games over 9.5 months.  Roughly half of the total games played were away so that requires travel to and from a city.  And, of course, there is preparation and practice required in advance of a game and/or season.

Key Takeaways

What does this mean in terms of practical day-to-day ‘stuff’?  What are the key takeaways?  Well, my thoughts – and I’m by no means the first person to make observations about competitive sports in relation to business practices – are there are a lot of things that we could apply in the business world.

Here are just a few:

  • camaraderie;
  • team-work;
  • urgency
  • united front;
  • goal driven: to win a game, a series, a conference, etc.
  • flexible strategies that adapt as the external conditions change;
  • never-ending scrutiny & assessment;
  • changing team make-up & plays based on results;
  • incessant sharpening of skills;
  • fall but get back up;
  • defined roles;
  • ranking of players, teams, geographies;
  • play hard from the first to the last second;
  • shake hands when the game is over & congratulate each other on a ‘good game’.

3 Pillars to Build Best Practices

Essentially competitive sports comprise a competition to test who is best and keep score of everything else.  I think we can consider 3 pillars as the backbone of competitive sports and apply them in building best business practices:

  1. Know Your KPIs
  2. Reward & Recognize Performance
  3. Play for Excellence

You could also keep achieved KPIs visible on-site so they are kept top of mind by your ‘team’.

In competitive sports KPIs are used to assess performance and performance is rewarded and recognized.  Recognition is per game and per season.  Each game recognizes a winner and an MVP (in hockey it’s “3 Stars”).  A team or individual’s performance is ranked over a season.

Depending on the complexity of your business, as an owner you could reward performance (based on your KPIs) weekly and/or monthly, quarterly and yearly.  Recognition shouldn’t be only to those who ‘scored’ (i.e. sold) but to those who contributed to the required KPIs needed to realize corporate goals.   You can also rank your business performance against competitors.  By identifying gaps between your business and other companies you can determine how to focus efforts to improve overall performance.

  1. Know Your KPIs
    In competitive sports everything is measured.  Moreover, from the long laundry list of metrics there are specific KPIs used to rank individual players and games. 


    For example, in hockey KPIs include:

    • games played;
    • goals;
    • assists;
    • points;
    • game winning goals;
    • shooting percentages.

    Metrics are tabulated real-time and historically.  Metrics are also comparative vis-à-vis other individuals, teams, divisions and leagues as well as averages for each of these.  Further, metrics are not only accessible after the game or season ends but they are also prevalent throughout the game.  A business could apply similar practices.

    As a business owner you could identify the KPIs for assessing how well corporate goals were achieved.  And keep record of these KPIs including historical and comparative data.

    For example, as a business you could track the below historically and even compare against market rates:

    • end-of-quarter results;
    • YE (Year End) results;
    • individual sales performance against averages;
    • number of customer complaints;
  2. Reward & Recognize Performance
  3. Play for Excellence
    The very nature of competitive sports and its constant assessment of performance creates a culture of continued improvement and excellence.  Individual players and teams consistently strive to perform better. 


    As a business owner you can foster a culture of consistent improvement through a cycle of:

    • setting goals;
    • evaluating performance;
    • modifying tactics;
    • starting the cycle anew.

    You can use this cycle at an individual, departmental or corporate level.  You can also invest in professional development with a special focus on your ‘stars’.

Moving Forward

So, it’s been just over 24 hours since the Stanley Cup loss.  Unfortunately the focus quickly shifted from assessing the games to the riots that took place post Game 7, Round 4.  What we should try to remember is that the Vancouver Canucks not only gave the city the ride of a lifetime but also an example of how we can excel to be the best in our own fields.

Play like champions, lose like winners. When the game is over, start preparing for the next one.