Wins And Losses Aren’t The Only Measures That Matter
I love to win. Love it. In most situations, I’m the most competitive guy in the room. I’m riveted by stories of victories, wins, and success.
But, watching the unified Korean women’s hockey team play in the Olympics challenged me to redefine my definition of success beyond simple wins and losses. They played their last game Tuesday, losing 6-1 to Sweden, finishing the Olympic tournament without a win.
Up until January, the unified Korean women’s hockey team was just the South Korean women’s hockey team. Then, through political efforts between the two countries, a dozen North Korean players were suddenly added to the South’s roster. The unified Korean team was born.
For a South Korean team that had been playing together since 2013, it was a hard transition to integrate twelve new players, less than a month before their first Olympic matchup. There were language barriers, new game plans to learn, and of course the looming political situation between two countries still technically at war. The stakes were high, and eight of their players are just teenagers. Team chemistry is important to any successful team, and unsurprisingly the chemistry on the new unified team wasn’t looking good.
The team was thrust into an untenable situation. Hockey is a sport that relies more on team cohesion than individual skills to win and when you throw new players onto a team that’s been playing together for years, the results are seldom pretty. Granted, not much was expected of the South Korean women’s hockey team from the outset but playing against teams that had gelled over years of practice and competition seemed like an impossible task.
It was. The Swiss annihilated the Korean’s in their first matchup, 8-0.
If it was just the South Korean women’s hockey team playing the Swiss, I probably would have found something else to watch. However, as lopsided as the Swiss victory was, I couldn’t stop watching. I loved it. There was something more happening on the ice than goals and more at stake than Olympic gold. This was a greater storyline. It was about a collective, separated by a near-impenetrable border, coming together. That’s the hallowed ground that sports allow us to walk on, giving us the room to have a larger discussion about what success really means.
This lesson is as true in your boardroom as it is on the ice. Profit, wins, loses, and being at the top are not the only metrics that matter to your success. Sometimes your bottom line needs to include larger moral, and symbolic, victories as well.
In their book, Why the Bottom Line Isn’t!: How to Build Value Through People and Organization, Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood tackle this subject head-on. They ask a simple question: How can two companies in the same industry with similar earnings have vastly different results? Their answer is that today’s successful leaders must understand the role that intangibles play in a company’s success and work to consistently build those values within the company.
“In fact, the bottom line isn’t what business is all about. It isn’t the clear and precise number that managers have been led to believe… they need to discover a new bottom line, one focused on creating value through people and organization. When they do so, they will find that remarkable things happen. Employees are more committed, customers are more satisfied, and investors are more confident.”
Yes, we should strive to win in business. We should strive to win in everything (there goes my competitive streak again!). But we also want to make room for the moral and symbolic victories that will create bigger and more satisfying wins down the road. If we obsessively focus on the bottom line of wins or losses, then we are missing out on what makes winning worthwhile and the intangibles that can give us even more success in the future.
The Korean women’s hockey team lost every single matchup in the 2018 Winter Olympics, scoring only two goals during the entire week. But after the game ended, the unified Korean team formed a circle in the middle of the rink. They slapped their sticks in rhythm as the crowd chanted, “We are one.” Just a few months ago, this would have seemed a fantasy. Now, some are calling it a diplomatic victory.
The final standings don’t matter, the Olympic Korean women’s hockey team this year was wildly successful.