When Scott Pioli took over as general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009, he vowed to change the culture of the club. The team has gone 21-27 in his three years and has undergone many changes. More than half of the 155 people employed by the team since Pioli was hired are gone. Many current and former employees describe the work environment as uncomfortable, and built on secrecy and fear. That includes former head coach Todd Haley, who was fired in December.
The Kansas City Star interviewed several current and former employees who suggest that “intimidation and secrecy are among the Chiefs’ principal management styles — and that Haley wasn’t the only one with paranoid thoughts.”
Haley stopped talking on his phone, believing that his conversations were being monitored. He even though his personal cell phone, which he had prior to taking the Chiefs head coaching position, had been tampered with.
The Star described in great detail some of the franchise changes aimed at secrecy.
Some of the first changes involved shutting off access and protecting information. Non-football employees, including those who had worked for the Chiefs for decades, were told that they weren’t allowed on certain floors, or in certain areas of the team facility. Business-side staffers with an office window facing the practice fields were made to keep their shades drawn during practices. The team president was no exception. A security guard made the rounds during practices, sometimes interrupting phone calls and meetings to lower shades.
In an age where information and stories are constantly leaked, some of these methods seem understandable. But it also created an extremely uncomfortable environment.
“Whether it’s a licensed professional or somebody else,” one employee told the Star, “hell yeah, you’d better talk to somebody. Because you’ll go crazy.”
“When you’re mentally abused, you eventually lose it, too,” another former longtime Chiefs executive said.
Their fears about being monitored were founded. The team had capabilities to monitor emails, phone conversations, and web browsing habits. Chiefs president Mark Donovan said in cases of suspected policy breaches or criminal activity, phone logs have been requested.
“I’m not going to say that we’ve never done it, but it’s not something we do,” Donovan said. “It’s not how we operate this business.”
When employees wanted to speak with each other, they set times to meet outside the building and talk face-to-face.
“I just know that some of our bosses had always told us: Be careful what we did, what we said and where we were at in certain parts of the building,” said a former employee who worked in operations before retiring.
Three former staffers have filed lawsuits against the Chiefs for age discrimination. Pioli has gone through three different media relations directors since starting with the team.
So are all the changes and micromanaging styles of Pioli a necessary component for building a winning franchise? Were the concerns of the employees founded? That’s up to you to decide, though many would agree the Chiefs don’t come across as a fun organization to be a part of.Google+