What can a cutting-edge software development company like yours learn from a book written back in 1992 by the head of transportation equipment refurbisher Springfield ReManufacturing?
I know that seems counterintuitive, but Jack Stack’s The Great Game of Business can spark sustainable growth, increase productivity, and reduce employee turnover at your company.
The book is about “promoting clear, effective, and open communication in a company,” Stack writes. “We try to take ignorance out of the workplace and force people to get involved, not with threats or intimidation but with education. The problem is that most companies never train people to look beyond their computers.”
I learned this lesson the hard way early in my 11-year tenure as president of an SMB company involved in the IT channel. Sure, we celebrated successes as a team, but we didn’t dive into the details of our financial situation. When the Great Recession of 2008-09 bludgeoned the IT industry, my company wasn’t immune. Sales and profits evaporated, and we were forced to conduct three rounds of layoffs in ‘09.
The first announcement was the worst because few outside of our management team saw it coming. Because we hadn’t taught our team the fundamentals of our business and talked only about sales wins and not profits, employees were blindsided when I stood in front of them to announce that several of their teammates (and friends) had been furloughed. I knew I couldn’t promise that our economic situation would improve immediately, but what I could control was the information we provided to them.
So I sat down with any employee who was interested – veterans and new hires, sales and operations – to walk through our financial statements. This wasn’t a one-time event; this was every month after financials were tabulated. These reviews became shorter as the employees expanded their understanding of our business.
With this new perspective, our employees didn’t complain, and they didn’t just hold down the fort. They innovated and positioned each of our products to take advantage of growing sectors. In 2010, we grew our sales 20%, and we began hiring again because we had more customers to take care of. It was a monumental accomplishment in a tumultuous time, but it wouldn’t have happened without that clear, effective, and open communication.
So you can see why I’m a big fan of The Great Game of Business and the concepts it promotes. Following are 32 tremendous quotes from the book that I think apply to ISV organizations:
- The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the financial outcome, good or bad.
- It’s easy to stop one guy, but it’s pretty hard to stop 100.
- Our real business is education. We teach people about business.
- No one ever shows employees how they fit into a bigger picture and what impact they all have on the company as a whole.
- When people come to work at our company, we tell them that 70% of the job is whatever job title they have, and 30% of the job is learning.
- There is no security in ignorance. The only way to know if your job is safe is by looking at the financial statements.
- I don’t want people just to do a job. I want them to have a purpose in what they heck they’re doing. I want them to be going somewhere.
- You have to get people to dream. You have to show them that there really are pots at the end of the rainbow, and you can get your pot if you want it and are willing to work for it. Business is a tool for achieving your highest dreams.
- Owners, real owners, don’t have to be told what to do – they can figure it out for themselves. Ownership is not a set of legal rights. It’s a state of mind.
- Create an environment in which people are learning all the time.
- You’re much better off sharing problems, using the people you work with to come up with solutions.
- When you have the responsibility to take care of other people, you do whatever it takes to get the job done.
- One of a manager’s main responsibilities is to build confidence in an organization. To do that, you have to accentuate the positive. If you accentuate the negative, it eats away at the organization. It becomes a demotivator, and management is all about getting people motivated.
- We start teaching people the game as soon as they come to work at our company. We plunge right into the financial statements.
- Key point: The big picture is all about motivation. It’s giving people the reason for doing the job, the purpose of working. If you’re going to play a game, you have to understand what it means to win. When you show people the big picture, you define winning.
- Don’t just tell people about the big picture; show it to them. Put it in the form of charts and graphs.
- The big picture made us more flexible as a company. I want our players to be more versatile.
- A business should be run like an aquarium, where everybody can see what’s going on.
- No company serves its people well by elevating emotions over numbers.
- I’m all in favor of pom-poms and celebrations and inspirational messages. I just don’t think they should replace solid information about the condition of the company. People should understand why those pom-poms are there.
- Sometimes I think what I’m really doing is conducting an orchestra. My job is to keep the rhythm going.
- You have to learn how to recognize what the numbers really represent, what sort of behavior produces the numbers, what people can do differently to change the numbers.
- If you can get people beyond the day-to-day issues, if you can appeal to something they really want to do, they’ll blow by every obstacle.
- Don’t accept any number until you understand where it came from and you know it’s real.
- Every year, we figure out what is the greatest threat the company faces, and we get the entire workforce to go after it in the bonus program. We put an annual bounty on fixing our weaknesses. We almost always base one of our annual goals on pretax profit margins.
- I am a strong believer in operating a company, any company, as if its future were always on the line, as if something could happen at any moment to threaten its survival.
- I personally meet with all 650 employees at least once in the course of each year. In late spring, I hold a series of meetings around the company, in which I talk with people in groups of 20 or 30 and try to get a sense of what’s on their minds. Sometimes I’ll ask them to give me lists of suggestions for improving the company.
- Communicating is one of the most difficult challenges in any business, because people hear what they want to hear. If they don’t hear anything, they speculate.
- Be a leader, not a boss. If you are running a meeting, be careful to avoid the trap of being the person with all the answers. This doesn’t mean you should be passive. On the contrary, you should lead and you should teach. Look for opportunities to plant seeds in people’s minds.
- Know when to push, when to hug, when to cheer, when to boo, and when to kick people in the butt.
- It doesn’t bother me to see that we have problems. The important thing is whether or not people are working towards solutions.
- By getting people to think at the highest level, you make it possible for them to perform up to the peak of their abilities, and performance is the only control any of us really have.
I know that’s a ton of information and many of these principles may seem difficult to execute, especially with all the other immediate challenges on your plate. But you don’t need to go about this quest alone. My job as a Reseller & ISV Business Advisor for Vantiv’s PaymentsEdge Advisory Services is to work with Vantiv partners to help them with hiring right, developing staff professional development programs, and more. Contact me at Jim.Roddy@vantiv.com if you’d like to talk on the phone and determine a go-forward plan to turn your business into one that plays – and wins – The Great Game of Business.
Jim Roddy is a Reseller & ISV Business Advisor for Vantiv’s PaymentsEdge Advisory Services. He has been active in the POS channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as a Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA) board member, and one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board. Jim is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences and he is author of the book Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer.