If you live in Canada I certainly do not need to tell you about the level of anticipation, excitement, passion and collective hopes that were riding on yesterday’s men’s Olympic hockey team selection. For my non Canuck readership the things I can compare it to include the lead up to a national election or for the techies, speculation on the next product from Apple all with coverage more intense than that of the flight of Balloon Boy. Just the selection of the team is a national moment and one which I’ve decided to turn into 5 business lessons you can learn from Steve Yzerman and crew.

So here goes my attempt at 5 business lessons from Canada’s Olympic Hockey Team selection.

1. The Roster Announcement – Build Buzz By Being Quiet

Of course not everyone is able to garner the media attention that Hockey Canada achieved but one of the major take aways from Yzerman and crew is that regardless of the amount of speculation (again think Apple Tablet hype) surrounding the Team Canada roster there was a set time and place where the team would be revealed and nobody from Hockey Canada would remotely comment on the roster before yesterday’s press conference. The secrecy only lead to more people talking about the press conference and just like an Apple media event, the take away is that giving pre-interviews or sharing tidbits prior to launch might be appealing, if you can build a buzz by setting a firm date and time for the magic reveal, then allow your launch (roster announcement) to truly be an event by sticking to your guns and not letting loose lips sink your ship.

Take Away: Pick a launch date and stick to it, it might be tempting to talk to reporters or analysts about your product pre-launch but nobody’s interested in the launch of a product that you’ve already essentially launched via a collection of bits and pieces in multiple spots. Build a buzz and make your reveal the main event.

2. Players In Uniform – Show The Product & Have Media Available

People all across Canada were not only excited about today’s roster announcement but were instantly given a jolt of national pride by seeing all the selected players pictured in their red and white Team Canada jerseys. I can’t tell you the number of times I saw news orgs using these photos and of course they were flying around the blogosphere.

In the same way that people were clamoring to not only hear the Canadian roster but actually get a glimpse at what it looked like, you too should never launch a product with a flashy video or presentation and not have product shots and other media ready for press and blogger consumption. In fact, the more you can provide, the better. Taking a page from the playbook (and they’ve provided a good one) of the smart people @Hubspot, you want to provide as much media and as many inbound hooks as possible. Dropping a press release is simply not good enough, you should be prepared with images, a podcast (why not use video), something for YouTube, a blog post, at least a few Tweets (try CoTweet for the ability to allow multiple people to Tweet under your corporate identity – there is power in using different voices) and at least one custom landing page on your website.

Take-Away: If you want people – reporters, bloggers, customers etc – to talk or write about your product (and why wouldn’t you) then make it easy for them. By giving them media to share with their audience you not only make it easy for them to tell your story, but as importantly you get to have way more control over the way (wouldn’t you rather people see your high quality product shots than something a blogger shot on his iPhone) in which that story is told.

3. Balance Your Roster – Surround Yourself With Greatness

Looking up and down the Team Canada roster one of the things that becomes apparent is that there is a mix of young (Sidney Crosby) and older (Scott Niedermayer) talent, players with pure speed + finesse and those who don’t mind grinding it out with some physical play. The team is comprised of not only terrific players but also players that compliment each other’s skill-set and looking at your own management team, why should it be any different?

While the Olympic roster needed to be set by a certain date and is not supposed to change, in business you want to always be evaluating your team and it is important to get the right people on that team and get the wrong people off it – more on that in Jim Collins “Good To Great”.

Taking the analogy a step further, although the Team Canada alternates (in case of injury) have not been named yet, it is safe to assume that a couple of those spots will be filled by young up and coming players like 19 year olds Steven Stamkos and John Tavares. These guys are not quite ready to crack the roster today, but they’ll be counted on in 2014 and so giving them some experience now is in both the team and their best interests That same idea easily applies to business and your management succession planning. Evaluate your company and find out who your future 50 goal scoters are, who will you want at the table in the future? It’s not only an important exercise to identify these people but it’s more important to let them know you recognize their talent and to offer them experiences, training and other ‘perks’ that not only benefit them but will pay off for you and your company down the road when they’re ready to fill the shoes of someone heading out the door via free agency (i.e. another job), waivers (i.e. necessity when they’re not right anymore) or retirement. By recognizing this young talent today you signal to them and the rest of your organization that you’ll always reward top talent and will both cut the risk of losing that talent and have the benefit of more fruitful recruiting of other young budding superstars.

Take-Away: You can’t do it alone in either hockey or business and in both it’s extremely important to ensure your team has a mix of levels of experience and skill-sets. It is also vital to your business that you too identify your future superstars and start bringing them along today, in doing so you will be positioning your company as one that not only can challenge for your equivalent of a gold medal today but (like Team Canada) is a contender each and every time you compete.

4. Everyone’s A Critic – It’s Best To Have A Passionate Base

In the months leading up to todays roster announcement everyone had an opinion on who should wear the Maple Leaf and who should be watching from their couch. In the weeks from yesterday’s selection all the way to beyond the Olympics (especially if Canada does not win gold) the decision of Yzerman and Hockey Canada will be as hotly debated as the ongoing US healthcare reform.

My point being that whether you’re Barack Obama making decisions of national importance or Steve Yzerman picking a team that feels nationally important, people will always second guess you or be quick to point out what they would have done differently and it’s not necessarrily a bad thing. First, remember why you became the boss. At some point wasn’t it so the buck would stop with you and you’d be able to stand up and say this is my decison and I stick behind it? Second, I can’t imagine anything better than having passionate consumers (fans), employees and other stake holders. The people who comment on blogs, review your service on Yelp or converse with you via Twitter are your equivalent of Canada’s army of hockey fans – these people are the ones that will be first to tell you when you piss them off or they disagree with a decision you’ve made, but they’re also fiercely loyal and given the alternative of having people who just don’t care trust me when I tell you that you’d rather have a few pieces of opinionated feedback than a business that is full of yes men and women.

Take-Away: Creating a brand where your customers, employees and other stake holders are passionate is one of the biggest achievements you can strive for. With passion comes opinion and while you might not always appreciate being second guessed remember that it comes with the territory and it’s a thousand times better than nobody giving a damn about you or your brand.

5. Go For Gold – Second Place Is The First Loser

While we might be ok telling our kids that there are no winners or losers in life, let’s be honest and say that there is indeed a scorecard in hockey, life and business. Someone is going to win the gold medal (or be the global market leader in your space) and if you’re going to go to the trouble of putting together a team it should be with the goal of being number one. Yes I am sure there are teams (and businesses) that are content or even thrilled at just getting a medal, but ask any elite athlete (CEO) what they’re striving for each time they lace’em up and the answer will always be the same – “I (we) play to win”. Your business is no different, you should get up each morning with the goal of taking one step more towards the goal of market leadership.

The other major point to note here is that while Hockey Canada has not always returned with a gold medal that has never changed the goal for the next Olympics. Again this applies directly to business in that the recognized leader in a space today is not necessarily going to dominate that space forever – heck of the 500 companies on the Fortune 500 in 1995, less than half remain on the list.

Take-Away: Always go for the gold and strive to do better each day – you may not win today’s competition but you’ll certainly lose tomorrow’s if you’re not in the mindset of a champion.

I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t end this post in true Canadian fashion and let you know that it’s gold or bust for our boys in Vancouver so Go Canada Go!

Thanks for reading, your comments, feedback and Twitter retweets (here is the tinyurl – http://tinyurl.com/ybvmwz7) are always appreciated.


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