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What I Have Learned That Can Help All Sports Turf Managers

Tuesday, December 23, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Brian Laurent
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Recap of Chris Powell's presentation at the OTF Conference
Written by Will Haskett
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Chris Powell, Head Groundskeeper for the Cleveland Browns, does not know if Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel is starting this week. What he does know is that the field underneath their feet will be perfect.

After 16 years with the Browns organization, Powell has seen it all: Three owners, seven bosses and eight head coaches. He estimates that he has been a part of "change” in the organizational approach to his work an average of every 2.7 years.

"It’s a part of our job,” he says about change. "We are really good at making changes when it comes to our fields, but when it comes to changes off the field, it highlights the weaknesses.”

Speaking to the Sports Turf track at the 2014 Ohio Turfgrass Foundation Annual Conference & Show and Ohio State University Green Industry Short Course, Powell shared his secrets to success away from the comforts of the grounds he manages. Like the football team he has come to love as his own, Powell adopts the current rallying cries for the Browns:

Passion

Powell grew up farming, baling hay in a small Missouri town about 100 miles outside of Kansas City. He came to the business slowly, aided by the education provided by work experience and college. His first football love? The Kansas City Chiefs. When the team ripped out the turf in Arrowhead back in 1994 to return to grass, Powell drove the distance to freelance on the project for just $6 per hour.

Hopeful that experience would lead to a dream job in the NFL, he bided his time consulting and working in minor league baseball stadiums. It was a leap of faith to Cleveland that provided the break, taking a job to manage the practice fields without the guarantee of the stadium work. The gamble paid off, thanks to his passion for the craft.

Growing grass is the job, but it’s only a part of the bigger picture. Answering to the administration and coaches becomes a vital part of the position. It can be a lot for uninitiated.

"I find myself, all the time, having to check my passion,” Powell says. "Why don’t they understand what I do and why I do it? What I have learned is that you have to take the passion you have for the field upstairs to the board meeting.

"Passion not only helps you, but helps others help you attain results.”

His message was simple. Differentiate between passion, your positive love for what you do, and emotion, the visible representation of feeling. You show the former, while controlling the latter. By doing so, you stay level-headed and command the respect and understanding of those you are working with.

Teamwork

Powell oversees a crew of a half dozen with the Browns. His approach to managing that team is deliberate and organized. Inspiring them involves five steps (expectations, responsibility, accountability, performance and ownership) that are followed in order to establish cohesiveness and connection.

He also subscribes to the ‘5 Why’s’ theory mastered within the Toyota Corporation. Don’t merely seek a solution. Ask multiple questions to get to the root of the problem. Discover counter-measures throughout the process to not only prepare yourself for the situation again, but make institutional changes to avoid it altogether.

It seems simple, but it’s easy to forget. Applying these tactics will help the team focus and not dwell. It also has allowed his crew to stay solid and strong during consistent transition and change.

Powell recognized a change in himself around the third coach hired by the Browns during his tenure. Rather than fear the change and conversation he knew was coming, he viewed it as ‘networking without moving,’ a chance to learn from fresh perspectives who had been other places. Learning from within helped to strengthen the team.

"We might not like when the team loses, or the marketing fails, but it’s a group thing,” he said. "We have to be responsible for our own thing and not worry about everything else.”





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