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The Workplace Dynamics of "Packer People"

by Mike Conklin

E-mail: mikeconklin@packerpedia.com
August 14, 2012


In the wake of the Cedric Benson signing, many people have questioned how it can correspond with the "Packer People" principle. After all, signing a player with four arrests in the past five years who has already served a suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy will tend to bring up such questions.

When Mike McCarthy first took the reins of the Packers in January 2006 his first press release included his mission statement, which summarized his vision for the team. Here is an excerpt:

The foundation for the new direction of the Green Bay Packers will be constructed with three key components of obtaining "Packer People," creating "Stable Structure" and concentrating on "Character and Chemistry."

How does the signing of Cedric Benson fit into that statement?

To gain insight, we may need to look into the past. This isn't the first time a player with a checkered background has been brought to Green Bay under McCarthy and Ted Thompson's watch. In 2006, the Packers signed wide receiver Koren Robinson. Robinson was originally the ninth overall pick by the Seahawks in the 2001 draft, but ended up being released by Seattle after multiple violations of the league's substance abuse policy. He latched on in Minnesota, but his troubles followed him. He was involved in an intoxicated high-speed car chase that resulted in his arrest.

When Robinson came to Green Bay, it did not seem to fit with the "Packer People" mantra, but it was also McCarthy's first year on the job (Thompson's second) and he was still an unknown quantity. Thompson had a background with Robinson after having drafted him in Seattle, and his signing took on the feel of a reclamation project. Robinson's history of alcohol-related problems seemed to strike a chord with Brett Favre, who welcomed him with open arms after having gone through his own share of similar problems.

To Robinson's credit, he stayed on the straight and narrow while he was with the Packers. His time with the Packers was curtailed more because of injuries than anything else. Any type of behavioral or character issues were not a problem.

Just earlier this year, the Packers also signed Anthony Hargrove. At the time they signed him he had not yet been suspended, but the "Bountygate" story had already broke and Hargrove's name was involved. The Packers likely knew that the league was investigating his involvement, although they were likely surprised at the length and severity of his suspension.

The question remains. If the Packers were willing to sign players like Koren Robinson, Anthony Hargrove and Cedric Benson, is there any real substance to the "Packer People" principle?

The way the Packers scout the college ranks and bring in players through the draft and undrafted free agent signing period also gives some clues about how the Packers view this topic. A strong majority of players the Packers have acquired have been team leaders, gym rats, film junkies and high character players. There have been a few exceptions of players with character blips on their college radar, including Johnny Jolly, Andrew Quarless and Sam Shields, but most of the players have been salt-of-the-earth guys about whom coaches just couldn't say enough good things.

So if that is the case, why would the Packers go out and sign players like Cedric Benson and Koren Robinson?

It may be that the Packers employ one of the oldest corporate management theories there is: The 10-80-10 rule.

This business model is a basic rule of thumb that gives general guidelines about the workplace dynamics that must be present if any organization is going to be successful. It states that there are usually 10% of the employees who are truly outstanding at what they do. They can be counted on, are respected by both co-workers and managers alike, produce great results, and are the heart and soul of the workplace that others turn to when they need help. Another 10% is at the other end of the spectrum. They typically have issues...often a bad attitude being one of them...that keep them from being strong producers, and usually need to be carried along by others. (Although you would like to think that you could just eliminate these types of employees, they are almost always there so good managers need to plan accordingly and know how to deal with them.) This group also usually receives the most attention, albeit negative. The remaining 80% in the middle comprises the great majority of the workers. These employees are solid citizens that usually show up to work on time, do what they are asked, and do a pretty good job overall.

As it relates to this topic, in a team environment like the Packers that would break down to about five outstanding team leaders, five players that often have to be carried along by others, and the rest of the team is made up of pretty good guys that bring their lunch pail to work every day.

According to this management theory, the key to running an effective business that doesn't let the negativity of the bottom 10% take over the workplace is simply to not pay undue attention to them. Managers often spend too much of their time focusing on the bottom 10% and trying to get them "up to speed," while the other 80% of the workers often feel overlooked. Managers need to focus their attention on getting the most out of those employees that produce the most. They must encourage and empower their employees...especially the top 10%...and focus on the good things that are being achieved by the vast majority of the group. When the large majority and leaders feel empowered and appreciated, they can bring the entire workplace to a higher level of production. They often "self police," and it is not uncommon for the bottom 10% to improve their performance as a result.

When you look at the situation with the Packers, it is difficult to find five players that comprise a true bottom 10%, so they are actually ahead of the curve. The problem with too many workplace environments is that more than 10% of the employees fall into the bottom category, and do not maintain the high standards expected by the company. The Packers have done a good job and have already weeded out most of those types of players, so they are in good shape in that regard.

(Keep in mind that with a football team, the top and bottom 10% don't necessarily have to do with the on field production of each player, although it seems there is often a correlation. For example, Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson are the two most obvious members of the top 10%. In their case, they are leaders not only in the locker room, but are two of the best players on the team as well. If we are just talking about the "Packer People" aspect of this, it is entirely possible that a top 10% player may not be a star on the field, but somehow it seems to work out that way because that is one of the biggest ways to gain the respect of teammates.)

When you consider that there is really is not an obvious bottom 10% on the Packers...there haven't been any arrests this offseason and the worst thing they are dealing with are the suspensions of Hargrove, Neal and Walden...it becomes easier to make a case why they could take a chance on a player like Benson. Maybe the Packers take a look at how well the team has been assembled, and figure that with the quality of the core leaders (top 10%) they have, combined with all the solid, hard working, good citizen types (80%) they have, they can afford to take a low-risk chance on a player with Benson's track record. They may believe that their team has a solid enough of a foundation that those players that are in the bottom 10% will elevate their behaviors to the standard that the group as a whole has set. When a workplace is managed effectively this type of thing often happens, especially when the top 10% is empowered to really be leaders amongst their peers.

Based on the overall makeup of their team along with their focus during college scouting, it seems that the Packers truly do care about character and there really is something to their focus on "Packer People." As for the signing of Benson (and Koren Robinson in the past), it appears that the Packers have made a calculated risk. Since the 10-80-10 rule is such simple math, it would be pretty easy for a team like the Packers to figure out. After all, they do employ a full time team statistician.


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Photo Credit: Associated Press