Let’s do some word association. Tell me the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “game.” I’ll bet it wasn’t “business.” That is, of course, unless you’re one of the many devotees around the world of “open book management,” a game-changing way of management that made its first big public appearance 20 years ago with the initial publication of “The Great Game of Business.”
Two Decades of Game-Winning Strategies
Well … I’ve got great news for you, folks. Last week, Random House released the long-awaited 20th anniversary edition of this ground-breaking classic written by Jack Stack, the head of SRC Holdings and the “father” of open book management (OBM). As the people at SRC describe it, OBM is all about “creating better engagement – creating a sense of ownership through a deep connection with the numbers that matter most to the business and the individual.”
To say that it’s had a powerful impact on the businesses where OBM has been applied would be a huge understatement. Take SRC Holdings, for example. The company got its start in 1983 when Jack and the other employees at Springfield Remanufacturing decided to buy the operation from International Harvester. IH was shutting down and selling off a bunch of their plants to stop a flood of red ink that was killing their business. It was a highly leveraged buyout at 18% interest, and Jack knew they couldn’t survive unless every single employee had intimate knowledge of all the financial details of the business. So he taught them – all of them – and every person in the company became more knowledgeable about finance than most MBA grads.
Here’s the juicy part of the story. Their success has been meteoric by many measures, but the stock price tells it all. When the introduction of the new edition of the book was written, here’s how the numbers stacked up. If you had invested $1,000 in the S&P 500 in 1983 when SRC got started, your investment would have turned into $8,434. If you had invested that $1,000 in Warren Buffet’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, it would be worth $113,000. Not bad. If you had been one of the lucky employees who invested $1,000 in SRC – and you had to be an employee, not an outside investor – it would be worth $3.4 million Can you say cha-ching??!!
Getting People Engaged in the Game
So what does all that have to do with communication and employee engagement? Maybe everything! I’ve talked before in this column about the essential criteria of an effective, engaging organizational communication system – all of which are exemplified in the OBM management process:
1. Interaction – If it isn’t two-way, it isn’t communication. It’s message distribution. (OBM employees are plugged in to business conversations daily)
2. Speed – Quarterly publications have their place in an organization, but faster vehicles (like weekly OBM “huddles”) are needed to give people information they need to stay on top of performance and make needed adjustments on a routine basis.
3. Availability – Other than proprietary formulas and confidential human resource files, follow the policy for making information available to employees that one Baldrige Award winning company ultimately adopted – No secrets! (That’s the mantra in an OBM culture)
4. Access – It’s not enough to “open the books” to employees. Making information available is useless if people have to jump through hoops to get at it.(Aside from weekly “huddles,” OBM companies have processes for easy access to all critical information)
5. Relevance – Dumping tons of information on people isn’t much better than hoarding it. Find out what people find relevant and valuable (like company financials), and make sure they get it.
6. Inclusion – Beware of leaving certain people out of the loop of information that might make a difference in their knowledge and performance. (Everyone from the janitor to the CEO is included in the OBM process)
7. Authenticity & Transparency – Be real, be open, and avoid the temptation to sanitize and glamorize information. (What could be more real than seeing every detail of how the company keeps score?)
On Your Mark, Get Set, Game On!
When you look at how those criteria map up with the OMB process, the “great game” may be the most effective employee engagement tool any organization could use in today’s business climate. It’s been described by one well-known author on the subject, John Case, as “lightning in a bottle.” If you’re ready to set the world on fire and kick your competition’s rear end, you may want to think about putting an OBM “lighting rod” on the rooftop of your business.