Stop The Vanilla Blog

Making The Right Hire Led To The Stanley Cup

Brendan and I

It was March 2008 and Brendan Bruss had just become the team president of the Green Bay Gamblers. Like most sports franchise leaders, the most important decision lay ahead of him: the hiring of the head coach. And it was no different for Brendan.

He and his team completed a typical search that resulted in three finalists for the position. The candidate pool included a coach from a respected Division 1 Program, a second well-respected and tenured coach, and a coach with much less name recognition.

After the last interview, Brendan feared that if the committee reconvened without a clear decision model, the group dynamics would not be unanimous behind the candidate that Brendan’s gut was telling him fit the vision for Gamblers Hockey. He was struggling with the decision so he reached out to SM Advisors to help him walk through a proven interviewing and hiring process.

The first step in any search is to define what you are looking for in the position – to establish a target. Job benchmarking defines what an optimum performer looks like in the position.

An optimum performer for the Gamblers head coach at that time was summarized as follows:

  • Someone who knew the landscape of junior hockey.
  • An identifier and developer of talent.
  • A proven winner.
  • The organization needed a new face. A charismatic leader that the players, the organization, the community and the fans could believe in and would follow.

Once we had the benchmark completed, we used three behavioral sciences to assess each candidate. We then used a gap report to compare each candidate against the benchmark.

After I had completed a behavioral analysis of each candidate, I held an assessment debriefing with Brendan. We discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate’s behavioral style and their fit to the benchmark.

The “safe” decision was to hire the experienced, well-known coach. But it became apparent the right decision was the coach who matched the job benchmark — and that coach was Jon Cooper.

Like most team presidents, the toughest decision became his first hiring decision. Based on the confidence he gained through the process, Brendan made the tough decision. He made the right hire, not the “safe” hire.

Brendan said the process really helped him gain confidence in his decision because it defined the traits they were looking for in a head coach. The process clearly identified which attributes were most directly related to success. “We needed to develop a culture of winning for the Gamblers. We needed a team with some swagger,” he said. “We could see from the analysis that Cooper was wired to be a persuader, a leader and a team builder. He was more than a technician. You can always get that with an assistant coach.

“When it came to making the decision with the hiring committee, we had the factual behavioral science evidence, not just the emotional feeling about the hiring of Coach Cooper. The process really confirmed for us that we were making the right decision.”

When the Gamblers hired Cooper, the results were immediate, posting the largest single season turnaround in USHL history, with a 26-win differential. The next season, the team had the third most wins in USHL History, they won the Clark Cup and Coach Cooper was named Coach and GM of the year. After his two highly successful seasons with the Gamblers, Cooper went on to be a head coach in the American Hockey League and then to the NHL. As you know if you follow hockey, his Tampa Bay Lightning team is now an elite team, after going all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in a close, hard fought series.

Making the right hire the first time is essential to winning your Stanley Cup for your organization. Every business leader wants a winning team, and to do that you must know what attributes drive success in each position to make confident talent decisions. Like building a winning team, you must stick to those attributes and not allow justifying that you can adapt someone else to fit that role. That singular decision to hire the right coach and leader has led to the Green Bay Gamblers becoming one of the most respected hockey organizations in the league. Remember: Those who plan, profit!

Connecting With The Younger Generation Through Their World


As an employer, do you find it difficult to connect with the younger generation? If you’re a parent, do you sometimes wonder how to reach your young adult kids? The Millennium Generation (born between 1981 and 2000 and also called Generation Y) is now coming into the workforce which is creating some interesting changes in our behavioral science research and results.

In the past few years, SM Advisors has provided behavioral assessments to over 1,000 Millennials as they interview for positions and we have met with many of them. Through those discussions and from having four millennial children of my own, I have made several observations and learned several techniques to effectively communicate and work with the younger generation.

People in every generation have been influenced by things and events going on around them in the world during their formative years. Every generation has its unique characteristics and influencers, so I am not suggesting that this generation is any more or less unusual than any other.

The Millennial Generation has been shaped by the Internet and social media. Facebook (started in 2004) and other social media platforms have given this generation the ability to create their own world or space. Literally, every person owns their own space, their own world. They can select who they want in their world and communicate with them about anything that they want to at any time. They determine how their world interacts with the real world and to what level. They see the real world as it relates or does not relate to their world.

What is most important to millennials? Behavioral science research has shown there are six workplace motivators that drive our actions, decisions and behavior. The importance of these motivators changes from one generation to another. Here are the six workplace motivators, in order of the highest to lowest national mean.

1) Theoretical – Motivated to learn/to discover truth and knowledge

2) Individualistic – Motivated to advance and get ahead in the work/be victorious

3) Utilitarian – Motivated to discover utility/efficiencies/money

4) Traditional – Motivated by a tradition or principles in your life/system of living

5) Aesthetic – Motivated to value each experience in life/natural/creative side of life

6) Social – Motivated to help others

The national mean for workplace motivators was recently updated, and there have been some interesting changes. For the past fifteen years that I have been in talent management, the aesthetic motivator has always had the lowest national mean. But now that has changed, with the aesthetic motivator moving one notch above the social motivator.

Why is this important to you as an employer? Feeding an employee’s primary and secondary motivator is essential to retention. Talent retention is all about engagement and you engage an employee when you are meeting their primary and secondary workplace motivators.

The younger generation is motivated by enjoying each experience in life, the aesthetics of life, if you will. Life is not all about getting ahead in the world or being wealthy like previous generations, but enjoying each moment as an experience. To attract and retain Millennials, provide them with a work environment that provides an engaging experience. Google and Yahoo are good examples of companies doing this.

As an employer or parent if you want to connect or engage with a Millennial, speak to them through their world. Help them see how their world connects with your world. Show them how the vision for their position, company and/or home aligns with their world. Based on this approach, the younger generation will then interact with the real world and accomplish what it is you or they need to get done.

I recently validated this theory when a client asked me to develop a career path for two of their high potentials.   When I started talking to them about their future and their world you could see their energy and engagement increase dramatically. We then discussed how their career path fits into the vision and the strategy for the company. They now have very high role clarity because they understand how their world fits into the company and larger world. The process significantly increased the value these two future leaders are bringing to the organization now and likely for a long time to come.

I am not suggesting that everyone has to completely adapt to the Millennials. Millennials need to pursue increased self-awareness and understand the larger world. But members of the Millennial Generation bring incredible talent and energy to the workplace. If you can appreciate what has shaped their generation, it makes it easier to understand and work with them. And once you have connected with them, help them understand what shaped you and your generation.

All of us have been shaped by the world we grew up in. We can’t control the world and the influences that shape us, but we all need the self-awareness to understand who we are and what motivates us. I promise you: it will be worth it to meet the younger generation first in their world.   Remember, those who plan – Profit!

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