I was watching the hockey playoffs last night and had a thought about business. You might not find that strange given that for several years of my life hockey WAS my business. However, what occurred to me has both broader application and a less-obvious path. It has to do with obstruction.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, obstruction (and its cousins hooking and holding) is what players do to decrease the flow of the game. An easy way to think of it is as a player preventing another player who doesn’t have the puck from skating, obstructing their ability to play. Almost a decade ago, the NHL cracked down on the practice by enforcing the existing rules against it in an effort to improve the flow of the game and allow the more skilled players to show those skills. As one might expect, teams adjusted their rosters over the years to emphasize great skating and stick-handling over the clutching and grabbing that was so prevalent .
Watching the game last night, I was struck by how little free-flowing skating was going on. Many of the other games I’ve watched during the season have seemed the same. The rules, or at least their enforcement, seem to have changed. Which is the business thought.
If you’ve built your team to play the game a certain way and the rules change, how do you compete? If you’re a media company that’s built on ad revenue for eyeballs, what do you do when the audiences you’re selling evaporate to other channels? If you’re selling SEO, what happens when the algorithms change and everything you do is now wrong? Even if you’re in online commerce, what do you do with inventory when tastes change?
Ultimately, I think our success and failure revolves around change management – what happens when the rule book gets modified. We need to be thinking about that as we bring on new hires – how well have they dealt with change in the past? We need to maintain flexibility in our planning – why spend money to a budget that’s based on old rules?
I’m sure it’s frustrating to the coaches and managers when they find a different set of rules on the ice than in the rule book. I know it’s frustrating to find a different set of business conditions and consumer preferences. What do you do when the rules change?