Bring game day to your work

Pre-game focus and energy. Image from LA Times

There’s nothing like getting up for a big game. This is true as a fan, but even better as a player or coach.  Game Day is a source of inspirational and motivational energy you can tap into for super powers and unbridled passion.  Things happen on Game Day that you never thought were possible in practice. Players who prepare carefully and focus their energy on an upcoming game tend to have a sharper physical, mental and emotional state than they do on a practice or rest day.

This is all true for regular working folks too.  People who put a red circle on the calendar around events like a proposal meeting, or a sales call, or a product launch, and prepare for those events as a Big Game, show up far more ready to do their best than those who see every day as the same old grind.

The key here is to make sure everyone around you knows about your upcoming Big Game and are involved in getting you prepared, building enthusiasm, and holding you accountable for your results. Wouldn’t it be great if people working around you cheered and gave you high fives when you walked into the office on Game Day?  And what if people stuck microphones in your face afterwards for a quick download on how the game went?  Now that’s effective performance management!

There is more risk involved in this transparency (that’s the whole point). If nobody else knows about your Big Game, how will they cheer you on?  More importantly, if nobody else knows about your game, you can simply write it off as “no big deal” if you don’t win. If there’s no risk, you won’t have the same intensity and focus.

Winning: Very few teams win every game.  Even Michael Phelps doesn’t win every race.  But every team or individual athlete competing in an elite category is expecting to win every time. The desire to win and keeping track of your record are essential elements of high performance. If you don’t keep score and you don’t know your W-L record, you won’t achieve the intensity and focus of Game Day.

Losing: I saw a great interview with USC Quarterback Matt Barkley after they lost their second game in a row in the last second of the game. This kind of loss can devastate a team and ruin their season. Or, it can be seen as a step in the process of getting better. His response was to compare the losses to a dropped pass or getting tackled. It’s part of the game, and you have to overcome adversity and use each experience to grow stronger and get better.

Pacing: I had a game day experience putting on a big event at Hulu this week, and it was emotionally and physically draining for our team. I remember driving to work that day with U2, Led Zeppelin, and The Who blasting the whole way in. You can’t get pumped like this every day, it’s got to come in cycles and leave room for recovery.  The Olympics come every four years… the NBA and NHL play over 80 games in their seasons. You have to design a game strategy that fits your business and keeps you at your best. But beware, there is no off-season!

Hockey is life #1: keep your stick on the ice

Hockey is a great source of life lessons, and making arcane references to hockey is often a good connecting point for people I meet from the Great White North (hoser).  So forgive me a few posts that draw lessons from hockey as we enter a new season on the ice and wonder who will be hoisting the cup when it’s all over.

Hockey is a fluid, fast paced sport with lots of changes in direction and unexpected breaks emerging from what seems like chaos.  Lesson number one to all young players is to keep your stick on the ice.  This helps make sure you are ready for the unexpected, and can capitalize on it with a will timed pass or shot on goal.

photo from Hockey USA

photo from USA Hockey

It’s simple to say, but takes years of practice to keep your stick down while skating fast and mixing it up with other players.  You always want to lift up and rest your back, which gets very sore after an hour or so of drills. And during games you find yourself cruising along with your stick up while your not directly in a play. I had a coach who used to make us “take a lap” if he found us with our sticks across our knees during a scrimmage.

Eventually it sinks in if you keep practicing.  But it really clicks after you get a goal or an assist in a game because your stick was in the right place at the right time.  You get a lot of credit for being smart, but really your stick was “just there.”

So this lesson is about being prepared, and training yourself to be ready BEFORE the situation demands you to respond.  How do I “keep my stick on the ice” now?

  • Have a well prepared elevator pitch for what I’m working on and why I’m doing it.  This helps me connect with others and get spontaneous “random acts of assistance”.
  • Have regular touch base meetings with close colleagues even when we don’t have an urgent agenda item.  This helps us share ideas, intelligence, and feedback that improves our work.
  • Mystery shopper or Freaky Friday experiences.  Empathizing with clients or customers by walking in their shoes brings unexpected ideas and opportunities for performance improvements.
  • Twitter and Facebook.  Staying connected in social networks brings unexpected ideas, connections, and opportunities that I could never have found without these social exchanges.