Small or larger, companies can win The Great Game

Posted8/31/2015 5:00 AM

You don't really play The Great Game of Business. But if you accept its open book management concepts -- that employees should know and understand company financials and related information, and be encouraged to suggest ways to improve results -- chances are you'll win the game.

There are no guarantees, although two polar opposite businesses, Advantax Inc. and Wall-tech Inc., clearly can be tagged as Great Game winners.


Advantax, a St. Charles company that conducts property tax reviews for businesses throughout the country, has about 17 permanent white collar workers, plus interns. Wall-tech is a Madison, WI, construction firm with three locations, 30-40 job sites and, typically, 150-165 union employees.

The Great Game "is a nontraditional way to manage a construction company," says Wall-tech CFO Mike Olson. The fact that most Wall-tech employees are union members initially made acceptance of the Great Game basics more difficult, says Carrie Enders, Wall-tech administrative director. "The feedback has not always been positive."

Given a moment or two, that's understandable: Union members "traditionally see the union (rather than a company) as their employer," Olson explains.

Wall-tech President Pete Brown's approach -- "The best way to run a company is to share results with employees and stakeholders, and educate them as to what the numbers mean," is Olson's interpretation -- gets much of the credit for the company's Great Game success.

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"You have to believe in your people and leverage what they can do," Olson adds.

What employees hopefully can do is understand how they can impact company results. When those results are positive -- the ultimate Great Game goal -- light bulbs come on as dots are connected.

Tangible evidence helps. "Handing out the first bonus checks" made a difference, Enders says.

So did support from Kevin Walter, a Great Game coach who also is a principal at Tasty Catering, an Elk Grove Village company that has shown remarkable success with an employee-centered culture that meshes well with The Great Game. Both Enders and Olson say Walter's coaching helped Wall-tech win The Great Game's Rookie of the Year Award, which the company will bring home from the annual Gathering of Games conference, September 9/11 in St. Louis.

Advantax overcame CEO Dave LeVan's original feeling of awkwardness at sharing financials with employees. "It was tough at the beginning (three years ago) to get things going," LeVan says. "It didn't seem natural to be sharing information."

Those once awkward discussions have evolved into more open conversations about company goals and results -- and stronger revenues. LeVan, who originally ran company huddles (Great Game terminology for staff meetings) now takes pride in the fact that "Different people lead the meetings, and people participate fairly naturally."

The Great Game takes some research. Visit the website, Read the book, "The Great Game of Business." Talk with LeVan and Olson or Enders. Email Walter,, if you think you might like to play.

• Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter. Write him at Listen to Jim's Business Owners' Pod Talk at © 2015 Kendall Communications Inc.

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