|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:
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
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
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
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.”