Oswald Letter

Preds are on the power play! 4 lessons for creating ‘incredible’ work culture

HOCKEYHOCKEYPredFlagby Dan Oswald

You may have noticed that the Nashville Predators are playing in the Stanley Cup Final. Probably not a big deal to many, but it certainly is here in Nashville. This city is afflicted with Predators fever.

There’s something magical about the Predators’ playoff run, and I think I know what it is. Sure, this is the team’s first trip to the final since it was founded in 1998, and until this year, the team had never made it past the second round of the NHL playoffs. That’s exciting in and of itself, but there’s more to the Predators’ story.

A decade ago, Nashville almost lost its NHL team as then-owner Craig Leipold had decided to sell the team. Many “experts” didn’t believe big-time professional hockey could succeed in the South, and there was talk of the team relocating to a more northerly location until a local group stepped in to buy the team.

What has happened since has been very interesting and fun to watch. I must admit I’m not a big hockey fan, and although I’m completely on the bandwagon now, I have a bit of an outsider’s perspective on what has transpired over the last 10 years under local ownership.

When the local group took over, they needed Nashville to become a hockey town, and they set about doing it with a long-term plan. They started grassroots marketing campaigns that included club officials attending local Chamber and Rotary meetings to build support for the team. The local owners also helped develop and support local youth hockey leagues to build awareness and a future generation of hockey fans. And they encouraged the players to be a big part of the local community through participation in charitable and other events.

A decade later, the Predators find themselves in the Stanley Cup Final with a local following that packs the arena AND the downtown streets of Nashville, with fans watching outside on a big screen. The national media and the NHL have taken notice of both the size and the enthusiasm of the Nashville fan base. Hockey has truly arrived in Nashville!

It’s clear that the Nashville Predators have built an incredible culture garnering a tremendous amount of pride from the players, the fans, and the city. They’ve done it by meticulously communicating their message with anyone willing to listen. The Predators organization has immersed itself in the community, interacting with fans on a daily basis. And it has taken a long-term view of success by investing in programs that took years to pay off.

There’s a lesson for other businesses in what they’ve done. If you want to build a strong company culture, do the following:

  1. Communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more. Take your message to every employee who will listen. Tell them what the company is doing AND why. Take your message to others in the community, and let them know what’s going on at the company. They might be future employees or partners. Get the message out to anyone and everyone. Let them know why they should care about what’s going on at your company.
  2. Invest in the young people in your community. Our kids are the workers of the future. Show them what you’re all about when they’re young. Help them understand what you do, and encourage them to pursue their dreams. The vast majority won’t work for your company, but you can still inspire them. With that comes the satisfaction that you’ve shown your company cares. In a world where less than 20 percent of the people trust corporate leaders, you can take one step toward improving that stat or, at least, putting your company in the minority.
  3. Give back to your community. Get involved with local charities. Allow your people to donate their time and talents. Actively encourage company-sponsored charitable endeavors. Sure, it’s great for the charities you’ll be helping. Maybe you’ll even get a little positive press. But the big benefit is the feeling of pride and camaraderie your employees will feel as they work together to do something good for others.
  4. Win. You can’t ignore the impact winning has had on the Predators culture, but if they hadn’t spent the last decade building the foundation through their other activities, they wouldn’t be enjoying the level of support they have today. They created a culture that people want to be a part of. It took a lot of time and effort to build, but the results are really special.

Building a strong corporate culture can’t be done unless you’re willing to make a consistent effort over a long period of time. A great company culture isn’t built overnight. Just look at the Nashville Predators if you want proof. Against all odds, they’ve turned Nashville into a hockey town. Go Preds!