What being the NHL’s Western Conference Bubble Barber can teach you about building a winning culture.
When the NHL asks you to cut hair, you suit up and head out.
As the owner of Weekly Hair, Craig Boa gives trims to some unexpected people. Operating across the street from Edmonton’s Roger’s Place, his salon has seen its fair share of celebrities in need of quick cuts before their big events. When it happens, it is a fun boost for everyone working at the salon.
Craig might never mention this, but we will. It’s not just proximity that brings big names to Weekly. It’s also the quality. When anyone operates at a high level, showing a deep appreciation for their craft, and continuously honing their skill, word gets out. So when the NHL came to Edmonton to finish the strangest season in sports history, Craig’s services came recommended by some good friends to the NHL’s top brass.
A few weeks into the playoffs, it was business as usual for Craig and the Weekly team. On Craig’s end, there was no expectation he would be asked to clip the heads of some of the world’s best hockey players—leaving the playoff beards alone, of course. But then it came.
Craig got called up to the big show.
For six days, he was privy to an experience only a handful of people would ever see in person: playoff hockey during a pandemic. It was a spectacle unto itself, but what truly struck Craig was the culture of NHL’s second newest franchise: The Las Vegas Golden Knights.
“From the top down,” says Craig, “they impressed me with every facet of the organization.”
For some on the outside, it may seem that all hockey organizations are the same. But as Craig’s unique experience—and the standings—teaches, not all teams are equal. The Golden Knights’ culture stands out. And for good reason. The lessons they taught Craig are useful for anyone looking to build a high-functioning, fun, and successful culture.
Here’s what he learned:
Leadership sets the pace
From the getgo, Knights’ President, George Mcphee—who now has an amazing haircut—instilled a culture that focuses on taking care of each other. If you want the people on your team to produce at a high level, it’s important to empower them to be who they are while recognizing that they’re part of something bigger.
Be community focused
Shortly after they arrived in Edmonton, the Knights team sent pizza to the Boyle Street Community Services shelter for five consecutive Mondays. On the north side of the arena, the shelter and its people have often felt shuffled aside since the arena’s arrival. This wasn’t a PR move on the team’s behalf, it was a good deed on their own time. The media ended up hearing about it because it’s a feel-good story. But the impetus for the kindness was to help where they could. When you do good things when no one’s watching, your true character shows—and the people in your organization are always paying attention.
Look after your people and they’ll be there when it counts
Every two weeks, Knight’s General Manager, Kelly McCrimmon—who now also has an amazing haircut—arranges the detailing of every player’s car. While they’re working hard practicing, McCrimmon brings in a crew of detailers and they make sure everyone’s whip shines like new by the time practice is over. Few of us have pockets as deep as the Golden Knights, but taking care of your team pays off when it matters most.
“Door is always open” only works if your door is always open
When Craig was cutting off the pandemic locks of the team’s assistant coach Steve Spott—who is now the proud owner of a great haircut—the coach talked about his time in Toronto. The difference between the two cultures is night and day. In Toronto, Spott would have to schedule a meeting with the GM—even for a simple chat. In Vegas, the story is the complete opposite: open doors and open dialogue.
It might not be intentional. But making it hard for your people to reach you can hurt your culture and slow your goals. Maybe even to the point of having the current longest Stanley Cup drought in the league. That’s just a hypothetical example. Embracing an open door policy like the Knights leaves room for spontaneity. It opens everyone up to meaningful dialogue and great ideas.
Keep morale high to keep performance high
For being the newest team in the league, Vegas has an outstanding record. Part of that can be attributed to investing in the morale of the players and staff. Options for fun in the Edmonton bubble are limited. But the Knights have used every opportunity to keep the team together and entertained. A prime example of that is when Knights’ Director of Team Services, Rick Braunstein—a guy who has a great head of hair—rented out the Rec Room for a day of fun, or booked a golf course for the team, or time at Commonwealth Stadium so the team could get a fresh-air workout. This is an organization that values the mental state of their players because it directly relates to their success.
Treat your customers and fans like they’re part of the team
Your organization’s culture doesn’t stop with your people. It extends to your audiences and customers. The city of Las Vegas is known for its world-class entertainment. When the Knights formed, they had to live up to that reputation. Putting on a good show is part of the organization’s DNA, but the Knights go past that. It is the responsibility of every member of the organization to make sure fans have an exceptional experience. The club goes all out to keep things fresh with a rolling entertainment schedule for each of their 41 home games. They reward their season ticket holders at every opportunity. And in three short years, they’ve created a loyal fan base that will follow them wherever they go—minus the bubble. The Vegas Golden Knights never take their customers and their hard-earned money for granted. They pay it back with a great experience every time.
Out of the bubble, back to reality
After Craig’s short stint in the NHL, he headed back across the street to resume his duties as a stylist at Weekly. The time was quick, but the lessons he gleaned will last well beyond this historic season. And kudos to the Weekly staff for not allowing any short-handed goals while their captain was in the bubble.
Leadership sets the tone of the culture, but the team reinforces it. This can only happen when you empower your people. The vibe of the Vegas Knights is noticeably different from any other team Craig had the honour of working with. From his perspective, and ours, it’s easy to see that properly investing in culture is a key component to success in any game.