A 'great game' you'll want to win

The great game of business is a management concept that tends to work. Getting to "tends to work" takes some effort, however: Commitment from whoever sits in the big office is required; employees must buy in, too.

Central to success is a sharing of company financial goals and results with employees who, typically, respond with changing work practices that lead to greater profits.

"The game gets people to think," says Great Game coach Kevin Walter. "Where is (our company) going to be in five years? Where do we want it to be? How are we going to get there?"

"We all have to be pulling on the same rope," says John Costello, president, Cherry's Industrial Equipment Corp., Elk Grove Village. But, he admits, "As a business owner I was terrified to be sharing numbers" with employees.

Acceptance of the fact that employees often have good ideas helps. For example, "Today people work for me because of our culture," says Kathy Steele, CEO, Red Caffeine Inc., a strategic marketing and growth consultancy in Lombard.

Steele was introduced to the great game in 2013, following what she describes as "an awful" business divorce. "I knew we had to do something different."

With some mentoring from Tom Walter, a great game advocate and perhaps the most visible of the brothers who have been the force behind Tasty Catering's success, Steele decided in 2014 that "We would do our own version of the Great Game of Business.

"We grew super fast," she says, but by 2017 Red Caffeine's version of the great game was faltering.

Steele responded in part by attending the annual gathering of games conference where "I met another owner who told me to get a coach. We were beyond our capability" to manage and grow the company.

That's when Steele connected with Kevin Walter, a principal at Elk Grove Village's Tasty Catering and since 2012 a certified great Game coach. Today, she says, the game brings "a high level of accountability" not just to senior management but to every employee.

The process isn't easy. Opening up the books to employees so that all understand not just the finances but how each worker's role impacts the business' numbers isn't necessarily a natural leaning for most entrepreneurs.

Yet, as Costello notes, "The game is all about employees. They get it. They know the reason why they come to work every day."

With Kevin Walter's help, the equipment company launched its great game in February. "There's been a remarkable change in the company," Costello says.

"I committed to (the great game process), but I wasn't sure what the employee reaction would be." The overall result, however, has been that "People care more. They understand our culture. They understand how important the customer is. They support each other."

Great game concepts, chronicled by leader Jack Stack in a 1992 book titled "The Great Game of Business," grew from a successful turnaround of a failing International Harvester facility in Springfield, Missouri. There's more at or from Kevin Walter,

© 2018 Kendall Communications Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter. Write him at Read Jim's Business Owners' Blog at

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