Life at Work

The Redskins Could Learn From Business

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 22, 2006

It was a move with a ton of promise: The Redskins hired Al Saunders away from the Kansas City Chiefs to be the associate head coach.

He was going to dazzle the world. There was talk of the Super Bowl and awe of his 700-page playbook. But now, despite a grand salary and lots of hype, Saunders is seen as contributing to a lack of postgame celebrations.

The team went 10-6 last year in the regular season; this season, Washington is 2-4.

The same scenario plays out in the workplace: The big bosses bring in a leader whose history at the helm and enthusiasm make him seem like the Second Coming.

Then in the anointed comes with new ideas, energy and determination to change things.

But if the new superstar does not take the company's history or culture into account before he turns the organization's identity upside-down, it could be disastrous: low morale, shattered expectations, and grumblings that this new guy's grand ideas are a bunch of overblown hype.

The Redskins players seemed to believe in Saunders at first. He told them to pretend they were remodeling a house. They would smash up the old abode and come back with something completely new.

But now those same players are heard saying he hasn't let them hang on to the good they established last year. (How about Clinton Portis running the ball?)

The team wasn't entirely broken. And though change can be good, maybe the coach needs to keep some of the culture that worked.

The Redskins' press office said Saunders was too busy to be interviewed for this column, but the city is filled with armchair consultants. They are ready to tell Joe Gibbs what to do with this new Saunders hotshot, the supposed offensive wizard whose fancy playbook left fans holding their breath -- and now has them exhaling in disgust as the team marches to a potentially disastrous season.

Sure, Saunders created a buzz when it was announced he would be coaching the offense. And that's normal when a high-profile person comes in, said Mary Jane Reed, regional vice president of the Leader's Edge, a leadership development and consulting company in McLean. "There's a normal honeymoon period," she said. "They are excited because of the person's credentials and think this person's going to be the savior."

If there is a sense that the new person has the vision the organization wanted, the honeymoon lasts longer. But if this person treats other team members with disdain or doesn't let some of the stars do what they are used to doing, Reed said, "I've seen honeymoons end very quickly." (Enter: Portis and Saunders, who have been having low-level arguments in the news about what Portis should be doing.)

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