Positioned for Success On & Off the Field

Nancy Flagg Human Resources, Issue 16 - March/April 2015 1 Comment

The Kansas City Chiefs’ VP of Administration tackles player engagement programs, the true value of internships, and what HR is all about

What do professional football players do after they retire, in their twenties? How will they spend their time? Helping players to resolve these questions in advance of their post-football lives is just one of the many aspects of Kirsten Krug’s work as Vice President of Administration for the Kansas City Chiefs.

2014 Kansas City Chiefs

Make a Better Man, Not Just a Better Athlete

Several months ago, Krug had an inspirational phone call with Greg Harden, the University of Michigan’s Associate Athletic Director. Harden shared his philosophy about his work and it is something Krug will never forget.  Harden said “if I make you a better athlete, you don’t necessarily become a better man. But, if I make you a better man, there’s a very good chance you’ll become a better athlete.”

Krug and her Player Engagement staff, BJ Stabler and Rahman Anjorin,  carry Harden’s words with them like a mantra. The concept drives the work they do in the Kansas City Chiefs’ version of the NFL Player Engagement program. The goal of the program is to provide opportunities for football players to develop outside their role as an athlete. Krug said that many players come to the pro level without having completed their college education. The average playing time for a pro football player is 3-1/2 to 4 years, Krug added.  “Say you’re 22 when you start playing and you play until you’re 26 or 27. Maximizing your earning potential in a short amount of time is imperative for these young men.”

During the off-season, Krug’s group helps players continue their education, do financial planning, develop a budget and participate in internships or job shadowing. Players can get a sense of what it might be like to be a police officer or firefighter or realtor, for example, and if they might be interested in that type of work after football.

“When you walk out of these beautiful glass doors for the last time, it was great that you were a professional athlete, but you also walk out those glass doors as a man, a man who needs to find something else to do,” said Krug.  “If we don’t prepare them to be the men they want to be and transition them into the next stage of their life, then we have failed in player engagement.”

Krug’s group also oversees the NFL Rookie Success Program that helps rookie NFL players transition into professional football. In an eight-week program, new players learn about good decision-making, managing healthy relationships, impulse control, domestic violence and stress management.  Krug says the group will role-play because it puts people in realistic situations, where they have to respond in the moment. The rookies also have opportunities to talk about what they are experiencing in their first year in the big leagues. The rookie sessions are very useful in helping players decompress, said Krug. “Some people think football players come in, put on their equipment, run out on field and just play football.  These young men are here very early and they stay until late. It’s a very regimented schedule.”

The Real Benefit of Internships

NFL players are not the only ones in the Chiefs club who benefit from internships and other development opportunities. When Krug first joined the Chiefs, she boosted the intern program for people on the business side of the organization. Over the course of three sessions per year, 75 to 90 interns work in a variety of functions.

Krug became a strong believer in the value of internships as a result of her own stint in Kansas Governor Mike Hayden’s office, after college. Although brought in because of her skill in political speech writing, Krug says her role was very “intern-esque.”  She worked directly for Hayden’s Press Secretary Sue Peterson and did everything from running errands to filing to reading bills that were going to the House floor. It was not glamorous work but she watched and learned from Peterson and saw how she dealt with crises in the governor’s office, communicated effectively and multi-tasked at a high level.

Krug always tells the Chiefs’ interns, “Remember, it’s not what you’re doing, it’s what’s going on around you that you need to be soaking in, because it will pay heavy dividends going forward.”


What HR is and What it Isn’t

Player Engagement and intern programs are only a piece of Krug’s portfolio which includes all aspects of human resources including, recruiting, employee relations, compensation and benefits and training. When she first came to the club, she had been the Director of Human Resources at Amarr Garage Doors for 14 years. At Amarr, Krug learned “what HR is and what it isn’t.”

Krug credits the growth of her entire HR career to Jerry Pope, Jeff Mick and Richard Brenner at Amarr. They hired her away from 66 Credit Union where she had been in business development even though she had “absolutely zero experience in HR.” A few of the key lessons she learned from Amarr included:

  • Organizational assessments are important. Workforce surveys are critical to assess the climate of the workplace, the effectiveness of leaders and to ascertain how workers are feeling. Even more important, a manager has to do something with feedback received, even if it is unpleasant. “You have got to be careful, because when you ask for it, you get it,” warns Krug and adds that it is worse to ask for feedback and then take no action.
  • Make decisions with one’s head and execute them with one’s heart. Early on in her HR career, Jeff Mick advised Krug to always make decisions with her head and once the decision was made, to execute it with her heart. In Krug’s experience, there will always be hard decisions to make and leaders should not shy away from them. However, after making a decision, leaders need to put people first by implementing the decision with sensitivity and care.
  • Walk a mile in their shoes. After starting at Amarr, Krug told her boss, Jerry Pope, that she was not feeling connected to the people on the production floor. Rather than give her a solution, he told her to come up with a plan and knew that, based on her style, she would figure it out. She proposed walking a mile in the shoes of the workers and for the next year she worked a third shift on the production lines. She stood next to workers and helped them in any way she could while getting to know them. “When you’re out there, dressed appropriately and really in the trenches with them, people start to open up,” Krug said.

The line workers told her ways that would make Amarr a better place to work, such as being recognized on their work anniversary and birthday and having a bring-a-dish Thanksgiving celebration. As the HR coordinator, Krug was able to implement low-cost, high-impact programs that helped the workforce come together. The experience was eye-opening for Krug in that she learned how to build strong relationships between herself as an HR person and employees.

HR needs to be a stand-alone function. Krug learned that HR in not as effective when it is part of another unit.  In some companies, she explains, HR is part of finance and what happens is that the staff spends most of their time doing payroll. Krug says that payroll is a full-time job and it is not fair to tag someone in payroll with all the HR initiatives. “They don’t have time to create employee relations programs or do anything other than ensuring payroll runs are perfect. Payroll and payroll related functions deserve the time and energy of a full time staff member.” HR needs to be a standalone department with people dedicated to doing the right thing for the workforce.

Whether Krug is overseeing player engagement opportunities, standing beside the person on the manufacturing line who puts the rubber on garage doors or running an intern program, she learned early on to “put people first” and to bring both her head and her heart to her work. ♦


HR Group_N

NFL Shield Takes on Domestic Violence

In the recent 12 months, domestic violence and sexual assault haven taken a national stage with the NFL. The NFL and the Chiefs responded by implementing programs to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault and by using their national platform to raise awareness of the societal epidemic.

Krug outlined a few of the measures being taken by the Kansas City Chiefs and other NFL owners, such as:

  • Mandatory training. Every employee in the club whether player, janitor, coach or accountant is required to do training helping them recognize and address instances of domestic violence. In addition, ex-NFL players who have been in domestic violence or potential domestic violence situations, come to the classes to share their experiences.
  • New Domestic Violence Policy. The NFL issued a new domestic violence policy that includes stiffer penalties and new rules that apply to players, owners and employees.
  • Confidential assistance. Trained staff are available to provide confidential assistance to those who are at risk of being victims of domestic violence or sexual assault and for those who are potential aggressors.
  • Empowerment to speak out. Employees are trained to be alert to their environment and to not be afraid to report something that does not seem rights. Krug says “If you see something and get that feeling in your stomach that it’s not right, chances are it’s not right. If you report it and everything’s fine, then everything is fine. If you report it and everything is not fine, you may have saved someone pain, injury or even their life.”
  • NFL as stewards. The NFL will use the power of its public platform to raise awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault and to establish outreach programs in communities to help promote healthy relationships. NFL games are seen in millions of homes every weekend and that gives the NFL a strong platform for reaching people on important issues, indicated Krug. “The NFL shield stands for something much more powerful than just football and if it can use that power to talk about domestic violence and sexual assault, it can make a difference,” said Krug.

Nancy Flagg

Nancy Flagg is a freelance writer based in Sacramento, California.

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