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updated: 3/24/2014 7:32 AM

From 'incredibly awkward' to making more money

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Heading a company that's beginning to play The Great Game of Business can require some adjustments. "Our first huddle (GGOB terminology for staff meeting) was incredibly awkward," says Dave LeVan, CEO, Advantax Group LLC, St. Charles.

"I absolutely felt like I was standing naked before the audience (of employees) the first few months. It was so counterintuitive. Whew! Should we be talking about these things?"

These things are the hows and whys of company finances -- and related subjects most business owners don't like to discuss. Yet the answer to LeVan's should-we-be-talking question turns out to be somewhere between "yes" and "of course."

That's because the culture-changing principles in The Great Game are pretty basic: "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," GGOB creator Jack Stack wrote in his book, "The Great Game of Business." (Last week's column explains the details.)

The Game works at Advantax, where now employees "understand the nuances of running a small business," LeVan says.

"We're hitting our stride. It took six months for people to understand and care," but today Advantax, which has 22 employees, enjoys "a super-collaborative environment," LeVan continues. "We've given people a chance to see (how jobs and goals interrelate) and they get it. They want to make an impact. "Are we making more money? We are."

Kevin Walter, a GGOB coach and practitioner who is a partner and chief procurement officer at Tasty Catering, Elk Grove Village, cautions, however, that The Game "is simple, but not easy." Nonetheless, the concepts hold up.

Induction Heat Treating Corp., Crystal Lake, got its Game going less than 90 days ago. "We're still learning," says Dave Haimbaugh, president of the 58-employee business. "We're taking baby steps."

The Game is going well, however. Like almost every new GGOB player, IHT's start incorporated "a lot of basic financial literacy education," says Kelly Ciskowski, sales and customer relations. Topics covered included "How the business is run; what cost of goods sold means, and what net profit means."

Every employee on all three shifts participated in the education program. Even this early, results are visible.

Employees are "starting to see that sales and profits are not a linear equation," Haimbaugh says. "More sales mean more labor costs to produce more product. Their job is to figure out how to get this done."

Ciskowski says communication has improved throughout IHT. "People are talking. Shop employees want to know what they can do to improve their production rates."

Haimbaugh says employees "want to know how business is, how they can make an impact. I've spent considerable resources and effort to get my management group in alignment. The Great Game is an opportunity to do that throughout the company."

• 2014 Kendall Communications Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter and at Kendall Communications on Facebook. Write him at Jim@kendallcom.com.

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