Ah, yes, August–the perfect time to think about hockey. I do that quite frequently, it’s my favorite game of them all, full of great parables for life. Sure, everyone wants to romanticize their sport as a metaphor for something, but the stick-and-puck game works best: The world is cold, things happen fast, and you can’t just give up every time you lose a couple teeth.
One of the most universal hockey quotes comes from Fred Shero. The late Philadelphia Flyers coach was known for a certain gruff mysticism, often leaving simple messages on the chalkboard for his teams rather than actually speaking to them before games. One of his most famous is both highly specific and widely applicable, particularly at work. It goes as follows:
“Take the shortest route to the puck and arrive in ill humor.”
In the hockey context, that’s pretty simple: “Don’t screw around, find the puck carrier, confront him, ideally emerge with said puck.”
But as a generality, the mantra works as a general problem-solving concept. In hockey, your problem is that you don’t have the puck, and you need possession of the thing to score. In business life, that “puck” can represent any problem: A lack of resources or direction, miscommunication, inadequate systems or processes, you name it.
That’s where “taking the shortest route” is key. The problem gets worse if you don’t get to it. If it’s something that can be fixed quickly with a phone call or a brief face-to-face, then there’s no reason it shouldn’t already be fixed–and if it’s going to be a longer process, there’s no reason not to indicate your intention to address it ASAP, take any steps you may need to initiate the process, and call on the best minds you have in the company for input (not to delegate, but to collaborate). Find the people who can address the issue and get after it.
It also means fostering an environment where all employees can be involved. I’ve had the fortune (or misfortune) to have worked in a number of industries, from restaurants and retail to marketing and publishing, and seen every manner of backwards workplace inefficiency you can imagine. Typically, fixable problems fester when day-to-day employees are either unmotivated to take action or dissuaded from doing so.
It’s one thing for senior staff to have open doors, it’s a whole other thing for them to actively invite people through. Here at PCG, I’ve already gotten to see a whole lot more openness to suggestion, and have been invited through more doors than I was at quite a few other jobs combined. Our content team still finds unnecessarily difficult processes and oversights now and then, but rather than complaining amongst ourselves, we meet to compile them, alongside suggestions and solutions, to take into meetings with us–and we take the opportunity frequently.
The “ill humor” part might seem ill-fitting, particularly in the professional world, but it doesn’t have to be. Obviously, you don’t want to be rude or violent about anything, perhaps don’t drive your shoulder into anyone’s sternum, but you do want to approach the problem with the same swaggering determination that Shero wanted out of his Flyers players: A resolve to absolutely defeat whatever obstacle was before them, with a certainty that they would.
Is it pragmatic? No. It’s aggressive. But as in hockey, as in life: It’s never worth it to play nice with your problems, especially when there’s dollars at stake.