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Jeff Herr's Blog

Jeff Herr, a finalist in the 2011 Big Gig Contest on 610 Sports Radio, was born and raised in Kansas City. Following the Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks all his life has led him to blog about all three extensively at He has also spent time covering the Royals for the blog site as well as serving for a period as the lead editor of a blog covering the Kansas Jayhawks. When not writing about the local sports scene, he pays the bills by serving as an accountant.

Jeff Herr: What is Going On At One Arrowhead Drive?

This past Sunday as the NFL playoffs continue to roll on without the Chiefs, Kent Babb wrote an interesting article about what’s going at One Arrowhead Drive.  The article talks about the increasing level of anxiety at Chiefs headquarters.  In Babb’s article the methods of Scott Pioli and the new era of the Chiefs organization is explored.

According to the article, former employees have described the atmosphere as one of intimidation and paranoia.  Employees are told not to fraternize with others from different departments, they are reprimanded for seemingly simple things (such as referring to the Chiefs GM by his last name only), and are afraid to talk about anything on the phone for fear the lines are bugged.  Regardless of how much of this is true, the perception is out there.

Judging from the fan’s reaction, there seems to be two opinions on this article.  One is the people that are upset over the methods that Pioli has chosen to use creating a poor work atmosphere that hasn’t translated to wins on the field.  The other side is the people who think that change was necessary and is to be expected with new leadership.  This group of people will say that change is always hard.

To a certain extent, both sides are right, and yet both sides might also be missing the point.  Creating a sense of fear in a workplace is never a good thing.  Yet, keeping the status quo from the previous regime will not be successful either.  Change isn’t always bad, so long as it’s handled in a manner that is appropriate.  

The change that Pioli has implemented isn’t the pervasive issue; it’s the way he’s gone about it.  From Pioli’s standpoint his methods make sense on the surface level.  If you want to implement change and construct a winning organization, then you have to permeate all levels.  Change comes from the top down, but has to be integrated from the ground up.  That being the case a staple of good management is knowing when and where to pick your battles while dealing with full scale change.

In accounting there is a concept of materiality.  If there is a multi-billion dollar company, information is only considered material if it will influence the economic decision about a company by an outsider.  It basically provides a threshold in which you can determine a cut-off point for what characteristics are important to an organization.  The risk you run is that all the small amounts can equal one large amount in aggregate, but the point is to not lose focus of the bigger picture.

An anecdote from Babb’s story included Pioli picking up a candy wrapper, placing it in an envelope, and bringing it to people’s attention in a meeting.  I am not an expert on the structure of NFL organizations, but it seems to me picking up trash should be low on the list of concerns for the general manager.  This does not appear to be an issue that is material to the Chiefs.  Candy bar wrappers lying around the facility wouldn’t seem to have an impact on the product put out on the field.  This isn’t a battle Pioli should be concerning himself with.

From an outsider’s perspective, this is an example of what appear to be flaws in Pioli’s management style.  Beyond the obvious poor results on the field, it seems as though Pioli chooses to compartmentalize everything within the organization.  With a little digging we can see where Pioli is coming from.  By cordoning off each unit, they can focus on themselves and get to the level they need to be.  All these units are silos unto themselves.  By each one raising its level, then eventually the organization will be better off as a whole.  On the forefront, this makes sense.  However, it seems Pioli is using this approach and not looking at the big picture.

If the Chiefs are winning then Pioli can complain about trash all he wants.  As long as results are where we want them, then the GM can stick his nose wherever he wishes.  However, the point that most are missing with this article isn’t any acts themselves, it’s what they insinuating.  If we were to take Pioli’s thought process and place all of these actions in a silo, they don’t matter.

In Corporate America in 2011-2012, most of these things are normal.  The majority of companies have the ability and means to track websites, emails, and phone logs.  This is not uncommon.  

Now, regardless of the extent of how these things are happening, on some level they exist.  This is the crux of the article that can’t be overlooked.  Pioli is spending, at the very least, some time and effort on these things when his team is failing on the field.  Pioli has his hands in everything and is dictating so much within this organization that the football team is just another silo, when it should command a much bigger focus.  
As fans, we don’t care all that much how the Chiefs choose to run their business.  Obviously, mistreating of employees and unethical or poor business practices won’t be accepted, but beyond that they can run things however they choose.  When the running of the business side takes away from the results on the field that’s when things get messy.

Therefore, it’s not Pioli’s acts that are enraging, but his seeming inability to understand that small issues don’t permeate the organization like the team on the field does.  If the Chiefs win 3 championships in 4 years then candy bar wrappers might be the biggest concern.  When the Chiefs are 7-9 and struggled to make it that far, those items can wait.  

From that article it is apparent that we don’t really know what’s going over at Arrowhead.  Those that do are sworn to secrecy about it.  One thing we do know is that it appears there are issues.  These instances might be all Pioli’s doing, or they could be directives from Clark Hunt.  None of us are in a position to know for sure.  However, we are in a position to know what it looks like as fans.  What it looks like from that angle is one of dysfunction and poor results.  

Everyone in every position in life makes mistakes.  It’s up to each person how much they learn from those mistakes.  If Pioli doesn’t learn from whatever mistakes he has made, it might cost him his job.  As fan’s we will always be here, his time will eventually come to an end.  When that occurs is it up to him.

Tags :  
People : Clark HuntJeff HerrKent BabbScott Pioli

01/16/2012 1:40PM
Jeff Herr: What is Going On At One Arrowhead Drive?
Please Enter Your Comments Below
01/16/2012 3:02PM
well said!
I definitely agree. It seems like another example of exaggerated arrogance to me. I think that rather than being an example of how the organization misses details (like candy wrappers), it's an example of how Pioli feels the need to flex his nutsack in front of the organization. Perhaps a dose of humility would have been a better teaching moment. If the head of the organization sees a detail like a candy wrapper, not even he is too important to pick it up for the good of the franchise. Guess not, apparently Pioli is above that. What a weirdo. Bottom line. Crazy isn't crazy when you're winning. Right now, just looks like arrogance and pickishness that results in KC people losing jobs and KC Chiefs losing games. Unacceptable.
01/17/2012 8:16PM
Earth to Scott Pioli
Humans are not robots. Pioli was overrated coming here. He was never in charge of anything however, he had alot of folks fooled. It's hard to wear the crown of the King, when you have always set in the little boys chair next the the real King
01/19/2012 8:26AM
Who's afraid?
I question who it is that's experienced "fear" at Arrowhead. Is it the entitled who are accustomed to doing as they please without account? The candy wrapper and coffee price is an example of the old "floor so clean you can eat off of it". It demonstrates how much PRIDE Scott Pioli expects people to have. How thorough and effective they should be. The candy wrapper demonstrated how the executives were too willing to leave something less than perfect. They obviously did nothing about it nor took enough pride in the Chiefs to think it was important. Scott wants more and there's nothing wrong with that. How sad is it for then Chiefs Fan to be that the General Manager of their team was the one left to pick up a piece of trash? No one else cared. That is indeed a sad thing. The Chiefs have cultivated a culture of LOSING. You can't expect winning to come first from that. The WINNING will have to start inside. It begins with pride. So much pride that even a candy wrapper matters. The ones offering complaint seem to have been part of the losing culture of the Chiefs. But, entitlement would seem to be at an end. Those people intimidated or made paranoid by the effort should probably leave Arrowhead.
01/19/2012 1:02PM
ku sucks
whatever, sincerely yours, johnjason
01/20/2012 10:46AM
Missing the Point
I think the point here is being missed by a lot of people. There is nothing wrong with expecting excellence from your organization and showing it. But there is also a difference in leading by example and being confrontational and intimidating. Waiting for a week then bringing it up at a meeting as an ambush is not conducive for a good workplace. Scott Pioli exists as a General Manager to do his job and help the football team win. Attention to detail is something that helps the team win. That said, there is a difference between attention to detail and minutiae. The materiality concept is valid because candy bar wrappers don't affect the team on the field, picked up or not, and the team on the field is what drives the entire organization. If Matt Cassel brought a candy bar wrapper up at a team meeting in the same manner people would be upset and saying that he should be more concerned with studying game film. Same goes for Pioli, there are bigger concerns related to his job and this is just one instance of how his ideals in his position have taken away time from him fulfilling his primary duty.
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