What the Chiefs Can Teach Us About Success

A regular run of Super Bowl appearances doesn’t just happen by chance. Same holds true for any business.

By Dennis Boone

It still feels odd to reference this year’s Super Bowl as “another” championship for the Kansas City Chiefs, given that the city went, oh, 50 years between title-game appearances heading into 2020. Anybody who became a Chiefs’ fan after the arrival of Patrick Mahomes understands neither disappointment nor patience on a generational scale.

Here at Ingram’s, we were delighted to be able to produce another commemorative edition for Super Bowl LVIII, that was larded with stats, big moments, and key players from the 2023 season and playoff run.

Missing from that, though, was the business perspective. You can draw a straight line between what the Chiefs have done off the field and what transpired on the turf. Let’s consider a few of those factors and lessons that could apply to almost any business:

Vision. The Chiefs have two clear goals every year. The first is to win the AFC West division, something they’ve done eight straight times. They don’t need a separate goal of playing in the postseason—if they win the division, they’re in. And once in, of course, the goal is to keep winning until there’s nothing left to win. In the simplest of terms, what’s your business goal? If it’s making money, you’ve taken your eye off the ball. Profit is a consequence of other success factors brought into alignment. 

Assessing needs. The interesting part about the Chiefs’ success since 2020 is that it’s been accomplished with lots of different moving pieces on the field. The early years of the Patrick Mahomes’ Era required shoot-out performances where the team needed to match an opponent’s score, plus one point more. This past year, the offense wasn’t as productive, but the defense provided victories needed to sustain performance. In business terms, the Chiefs turned a cost center into a profit center. How can you do the same? 

Talent acquisition. Once the front office understood what pieces would be needed to allow Mahomes to flourish on offense and build on the game-changing presence of Chris Jones on defense, it had to work under the NFL’s parity-focused salary cap structure. Your business has a cap, too: It’s called the bottom line. You can’t pay more for talent than you bring in. Drafting wisely—Isiah Pacheco, Trent McDuffie, and L’Jarious Sneed immediately come to mind—will work, but only for a while. When their performance vastly exceeds early-career contract limitations, the calculus changes. Some are going to move to greener pastures. Some, like Mahomes, you’ll pony up to retain. This takes us back to square one with Assessing Needs.

Creating a culture of success. Chiefs players now say they don’t simply hope to be back in contention next year: They expect to be. That wasn’t in the organizational psyche even a few years ago. Do members of your team know how their roles contribute to organizational success, and do they understand the value they bring to the company? More important: Are you appropriately rewarding that performance to keep the most critical pieces of the team intact?

Understanding the competition. For the Chiefs, it means knowing the personnel and the strengths/weaknesses of their AFC West foes. Then of the AFC’s strongest teams. Believe it, Clark Hunt and Brett Veach are dialed in with where Buffalo, Baltimore, Miami, and other teams stand on salary cap, and they’re watching closely to see where chinks develop in the armor as high-dollar talent is cut loose. Do you have a solid grasp on your competitors’ strengths and, more importantly, weak spots that might present opportunities for increased market share? If not, go back to the drawing board on your SWOT analysis (and if you’re not updating that tool regularly, make it one of the recurring items on your operational checklist).

Understanding the customer. As much as the Chiefs need to put fannies in the seats at Arrowhead, they need to have a product that helps the league attract eyeballs to televised broadcasts. With Andy Reid and Mahomes, they have must-watch TV that makes for the “Did you see that?” Monday morning water cooler chat. Are your customers really satisfied with your product? Do they sing your praises to people in their networks? Or are they your customers because, for now, there exists no other option? If it’s the latter, you have an immediate call to action.

Coaches and players, from pee-wee level through the pros, have long talked about the life lessons that come from being part of a team. If you tune into a Chiefs’ game and come away only with an appreciation for another win, you’re missing out on something much more important. 

So lace ’em up and put on the pads: Every day in business is another kick-off. It’s game-on.

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