How to Stickhandle a Declining Employer Brand: HR Lessons From the Vancouver Canucks

“To have two of the top ten goalies in the league and you turn around 12 months later and you don’t have one of them? That is a little strange.” Martin Brodeur, March 14, 2014

“To have two of the top ten goalies in the league and you turn around 12 months later and you don’t have one of them? That is a little strange.”
Martin Brodeur, March 14, 2014

What do you think it would be like to work for the Vancouver Canucks’ organization right now? To say it has been a rough few months for the Canucks’ employer brand would be an understatement. From the outside looking in, the organization appears dysfunctional and in disarray. A few questionable management decisions have been made, which unfortunately, became very public and highly scrutinized. The on-ice performance of the team has suffered a dramatic nose dive, and they will most likely miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Ticket demand has been declining and it appears as though season ticket renewal invoices have been delayed due to the high likelihood of lower than normal renewal rates.

Some recent management behaviours and decisions that have contributed to the downfall of the Vancouver Canucks’ employer brand include:

  • John Tortorella, Head Coach, was suspended for 15 days without pay for his unprofessional behaviour in attempting to enter the visitors’ dressing room during the intermission of a game in January;
  • Mike Gillis, President & General Manager, who often appears surly and arrogant when dealing with the media and fans, made several questionable player trades with perceived less than market value being returned, especially when it came to the trading of what had been arguably the best goaltending tandem in the NHL;
  • Francesco Aquilini, owner, is rumoured to be interfering with personnel transactions and, unfortunately, his personal life became media fodder during his high profile divorce; and
  • There have been several employee relations disasters with high profile players allegedly requesting trades due to how they were being treated by the coaches and/or management.

What leadership lessons can be learned from the slide of the Vancouver Canucks’ employer brand? How do you stickhandle problems when your workplace morale is down in the dumps – employees are jumping ship, clients stop working with you, and social media is abuzz with negative reviews? Here are some lessons small businesses can learn from the Vancouver Canucks’ situation:

1. Leadership starts at the top: We’ve written this before in a prior article about the Canucks and we’ll say it again – leaders set the vision and tone for the company. Owners, senior management, and coaches all play a part in leading the company. They need to set a positive example for how the company and its employees should work and operate to achieve company goals. When it is perceived that the common vision has been lost, or worse, when leaders don’t appear to have a consistent vision and are “flying by the seat of their pants”, confidence in the company deteriorates.

2. Rebuild trust & credibility internally: Mistakes happen – that’s normal. It’s how we handle them that is a demonstration of effective leadership. Address the problems head on and accept responsibility for what has occurred. If the mistakes are egregious or performance significantly impacted, communicate what actions will be taken to turn things around. Employees need to trust their leaders to lead them. Trust that has taken a career to build can be eroded with one mistake. To maintain credibility, leaders must conduct themselves with equal parts humility, authenticity and honesty.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate: Have regular communication with your staff, clients and suppliers about your vision and your plans to make course corrections. Your staff are on the front lines, so make sure they are armed with information so they can respond appropriately to inquiries from others so they can do their jobs effectively. Hold regular staff meetings and/or one-on-one meetings so they hear company information first-hand, without it being filtered through other staff or media first. This is also an opportunity for employees to discuss any concerns they have and for leaders to share feedback and offer support.

Whether the rumours swirling around the Canucks are true or not, unfortunately, doesn’t matter. Every decision that the organization makes will be dissected in some public forum and will influence public perception about what it would be like to work in the organization. Perception is often reality when it comes to employer branding. To position your company as a great place to work so that you can attract the best employees, leaders need to recognize that their decisions and behaviours are the most important influencer on a company’s employer brand, and will determine whether people want to work with you or not.

For assistance in ensuring your leadership team is leading your small business effectively, please contact us.


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