At 25 years old, after a failed attempt at playing some pro hockey…
I returned home to Michigan after a 14-hour drive from a tryout in North Carolina and the question hit me…
I knew I wanted to coach hockey. And my terrible college experience with the lack of human connection from my coaches was drawing me that much closer. I wanted to make the game better for players. I wanted them to never experience the things I did in college.
My College Experience
After my freshman year, we had a coaching change. The new coach ensured that he wasn’t going to blow everything up when we left for summer break. We graduated 3 seniors and he said he was going to replace them and move forward with what we had.
“I’m not going to bring in a bunch of guys, go home and train hard and be ready for captains practice in the fall.” The new coach said in a meeting, assuring us to pay our tuition and come back.
Not going to blow it up… But…
That’s exactly what he did.
10 freshman showed up at captains practice to replace 3 seniors from the year prior.
Yes, that doesn’t add up.
After tryouts, he emailed us a list later that night. Those were the players that made the team. I got cut in D3 hockey over email with the rest of my sophomore class. And after all that integrity and class… that coach was promoted to D1 this summer…
After the semester I transferred. It didn’t get much better there. If you want to read part of that story, click here.
My user experience in college… Not great.
I just got off the phone with my buddy who coaches 18u AAA hockey.
His first two questions in his exit meetings:
Did you get better?
Did you have fun?
This is thinking with the user of your service in mind. How many games did your favorite NHL team win 5 years ago?
Don’t have the answer?
His kids aren’t going to remember how many games they won 5 years later. But they will remember that he developed them into great junior players and extended their careers and accomplished all that while they had fun doing it.
User experience matters. And I didn’t learn that coaching hockey.
I learned it selling chicken sandwiches…
The “Guest” Experience at Chick-Fil-A
I had my first lesson in culture as an assistant coach in tier 3 at 25. I was making zero money from the team and had to pay my student loans and other bills.
A Chick-Fil-A was opening down the road so I swallowed my pride and threw an application in the mix. I’d eaten there once and was shocked about how pleasant “the experience” was.
Getting an inside look at how all that comes together taught me my first lessons in:
Mark Bennett has a term for his coaching, “needs centered.” It’s not “player-led” or “player-centered” but instead based on the player’s needs. And every player is different.
That’s how it is at CFA. It’s “needs centered” based around the guest. Provide service in a way that is meaningful to them. What do they want? How do they want to be served? In coaching terms, how do they want to be coached?
Finding out what they want allows you to work backward from the result. The behaviors CFA team members engage in are based on the type of experience the customer wants. And if they want that experience, we “need” to provide it, because that will be meaningful to them. They’ll remember how they felt, and come back.
Culture is all about aligning behaviors. Behaviors are:
What you do
What you don’t do
How you do them
There were certain behaviors that set CFA apart from other fast-food restaurants.
The list wasn’t exhaustive, you don’t need to do 100 things better than your competitors to have a cultural advantage. I can remember 4 (there might be one more)
They aren’t “customers” they are “guests” and to be treated as such
Go out of your way to improve the guest experience(check-in, ask how their day is, offer to refill their drink so they don’t have to)
Create connection(smile at guests, use warm and inviting language)
Make it a fun place to work(talk to co-workers, laugh, joke, smile, etc)
Learn From Outside Sources
I’ll keep this one short.
Everything is a learning experience. And as my friend Tanner says, “All the best coaching books aren’t “coaching books.”
There are lessons everywhere. Take time to slow down in seemingly meaningless moments, like working a 2nd job in a fast-food restaurant, and extract the lessons that will make you better at your current vocation.
If you want to prime your brain to start making these outside connections, check out my e-book on mental models. Click here