Lessons from the Stanley Cup Finals: Why Your Startup Shouldn’t Skate by HR

The startup world is a fast-paced, highly dynamic, goal oriented and analytical challenge. The same can be said about the stage that’s set for the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals.

This championship hockey series shares some striking similarities with challenges young companies face while trying to grow.  For example:

  • Coaches, like executives, are required to make on-the-fly adjustments.
  • Overexerted players, like workers, will be forced to play longer and harder shifts.
  • And the final objective in hockey, as in business, always remains the same – achieve more goals than your opponent for the win.

And most importantly, teams must prepare for the competition by formulating a well-though-out game plan.

game plan


1.  a strategy worked out in advance, especially in sports, politics, or business

A game plan may seem like a “no-brainer” in the context of sports, but when it comes to business, very few start-ups dedicate enough time to developing one for human resources. Entrepreneurs tend to focus more on growth-related initiatives, such as marketing, selling and improving their product, leaving HR as an after-thought.

This issue is that although HR alone will not drive your business growth, it’s one of the most vital components of a growing organization…and it’s also one of the most underrated. As Marc Andreesen put it:

Refusing to take HR seriously! This issue isn’t specific to just tech-heavy environments; it’s prevalent in any highly creative, highly skilled workplace. At a certain company size, you need both the ability to manage people and an effective HR person. (Even though it is absolutely worth training company leadership in good HR practices, most managers are dangerously amateur at doing actual HR). Without smart, effective HR, terrible internal managerial and employee behavior leads to a toxic culture that can catalyze into a catastrophic ethical — and legal — crisis.

From business function to strategic partner

HR is no longer a purely administrative business function that serves as support within the organization. Between the ever-evolving regulations of the Affordable Care Act and changes to things like overtime exemption rules, salary thresholds, minimum wage and safety rules.

Keeping up with this rapidly changing landscape requires a joint effort among multiple areas of your business including HR, benefits, and payroll, which has transformed the role of HR into a strategic partner that helps drive business forward.

To win in today’s intensely competitive and highly-regulated environment, your HR strategy must combine your business strategy with your people strategy.

It’s time to draw up your own HR game plan.

Here are 5 core components of a winning HR game plan to get you started:

  1. Employee satisfaction
  2. Compensation
  3. Training and development programs
  4. Implementing legal practices
  5. Choosing the right Human Resource Management System

To create a strong game plan, you should start by outlining the short-term and long-term goals for each of these components. Next, prioritize these components based on which ones are most critical for your organization to implement first. Once you’ve got that down, then work with your team to define how success will be measured for each of these initiatives (so you’ll know if and when you’ve won the game).  And lastly, establish who will be the team lead that’s responsible for executing each part of your game plan.

Vision Alone won’t get you to the goal

Most new startups don’t have a designated HR manager or have no HR process intact. Instead, workers rely on the company’s elaborate vision to compensate for lack of basic procedures. That typically works well enough the first few months, and then the dust begins to settle and operational holes become evident shortly after.

“The single largest issue that causes the most emotional heartache in a startup is people challenges. Every organization has them,” says Robert Siegel, the veteran venture capitalist and lecturer in organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Nevertheless, Siegel says, “If you put best HR practices into place in the earliest days and are doing the right things right, you’ll have fewer and fewer issues and blowups.”

Your organization needs a game plan that’ll allow you to make HR management decisions now to support the future direction of the organization. This puts the value of HR right up there with any other impactful business decision. Oftentimes, people are focused on profit-making, and the people side of things ends up coming last.

Don’t establish your HR game plan last, because your most important assets (your people) will be the first to go!