“Mission Accomplished: Lessons from the Return of the NHL to Winnipeg” By Mike Fernandes, StrategyMakers

Jun 9, 2011 | Corporate Member News

Further Proof That Real Missions are Lived, Not Just Stated – A Winnipeg Story

Like most Manitobans, I’ve been following the media blitz about the return of NHL hockey to Winnipeg. If you’re from Canada, or just a hockey fan in general, you likely know what I’m talking about and why it’s such a big deal. If you’re not, bear with me here. This blog isn’t really about the return of the Winnipeg’s NHL hockey team. It’s more of a real world case study on what I wrote about last time – that real missions are lived, not just stated. 

The return of Winnipeg’s hockey team offers a rare opportunity to analyze, in real-time and in a very public way, what it takes for a business/organization to successfully “complete” their strategic mission. And for anyone involved in leading a business or organization, the lessons are both compelling and especially relevant. 

A (Very Brief) Background – A Mission is Born 

There is much, much more to this story but here’s what you need to know for our discussion…The City of Winnipeg is a hockey town through and through. This community’s history and connection to professional hockey goes very deep but in 1994, for economic (and other) reasons, our professional hockey team (the Winnipeg Jets) left for new ownership in Phoenix. We lost our connection to professional NHL hockey which broke a lot of sports fans’ hearts but also bruised the collective ego of the entire community (i.e. we lost our claim to being a “world-class city” – at least according to some people).

Like any good conspiracy, there are lots of stories about what led to the demise of the Jets franchise in Winnipeg (http://www.manitobamythbusters.com/articles/day_jets_died_1.htm) but the important thing here is that in response to these events, and for reasons which I won’t presume to know, a group of individuals, led by a gentleman named Mark Chipman, made it their strategic mission to bring professional hockey back to the City of Winnipeg and here’s where the story becomes a valuable lesson for all of us. 

A Mission Comes to Life 

The lesson in all of this is that we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that missions are about statements. Missions are about ACTION!! You live them, you don’t talk just about them. Don’t get me wrong. Planning is important. Vision is important too. But, unless you’re rolling up your sleeves and getting to work you are not on a mission, you’re simply daydreaming out loud. Here’s my (simplified) observation of how Mr. Chipman and his leadership team put their mission into action… 

* The mission is to bring professional hockey back to the City of Winnipeg where it belongs

  1. Mr. Chipman’s group bought an AHL (“minor league professional hockey”) team and moved them to Winnipeg.
  2. Mr. Chipman’s group and its private and public sector partners built the MTS center, widely recognized as a world-class sports and entertainment facility (and built specifically to house NHL hockey).
  3. Then they executed their professional hockey/entertainment business, experimenting, learning, and refining their business model throughout.
  4. They also patiently but actively monitored events around the NHL and engaged in a series of inquiries, discussions, and pitches with the intention of moving their mission to the next level.
  5. When the window of opportunity finally opened, they jumped through it with the energy, confidence and commitment that you would expect from a group that had been preparing for this day from the moment their mission was born.


You can also find a more complete timeline and Mr. Chipman’s account here… http://m.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/tracking-the-nhls-return/article2042456/?service=mobile 

It’s What They Did That Counts Most! 

Many in the media and business community will point to Mr. Chipman’s vision as the reason for his team’s success. Others will speak of his patience for the right opportunity. I agree with both sentiments but in my view it was the ACTIONS taken by him and his team that eventually led to the opportunity. After all, Mr. Chipman’s team didn’t spend the last 15 years planning and debating on paper. They were too busy executing and preparing.

The bottom-line is this…When it comes to your mission strive for less talk and more action!

Bonus tip: Think about breaking your mission down into achievable chunks and milestones. This way every end is a new beginning. Success is defined as a milestone achieved. Build this into your culture and mindset. Take time to celebrate successes and milestones achieved. Never stop growing. (Mr. Chipman’s group has already moved on to executing the next part of their mission, making NHL hockey in Winnipeg a viable and sustainable business. I congratulate them on their success to date and wish them all the best as they move ahead!)

PS I also apologize to Mr. Chipman and all of his partners for any inaccuracy or misunderstanding in my observations. This blog is intended with the utmost respect for what they have achieved as strategic leaders.

“I love it when a plan comes together” (Hannibal, The A-Team)

About Mike Fernandes, StrategyMakers

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Building on a 18 year career, most of it in a senior management role, I now work with a growing list of organizations, entrepreneurs/small business owners, and public sector agencies to help them apply a focused and strategic approach to a wide range of activities and opportunities. My educational background includes an MBA from Manitoba’s Asper School of Business as well as an undergraduate degree in Economics and Environmental Studies from the University of Winnipeg. I also enjoy volunteering in various community organizations, coach local youth sports whenever I can, and share my experience through a number of youth leadership and entrepreneurship coaching programs.

Visit the StrategyMakers website here.

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