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Great Game of Business sets employees 'on fire'

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We recently received a letter from Lorraine Miller, president of Cactus & Tropicals, Salt Lake City, Utah. Miller's company consists of 44 employees at a single location.

It is a full-service garden center providing horticulture sales and services to commercial businesses.

Cactus & Tropicals was honored in 1994 with the National Small Business of the Year Award.

All employees have a high level of involvement in the financial success of the business, are practicing open-book management and playing The Great Game of Business.

Miller attended the sixth annual National Gathering of Games in September with two of her employees.

"They came home on fire and are better at igniting the fire in other employees than I am," Miller stated.

Her goal for attending the gathering was to get information on teaching employees just how a small business makes money and how an employee contributes to the bottom line.

The Great Game of Business philosophy has helped her involve her entire company in the financial success of Cactus & Tropicals.

Miller says The Great Game has sparked creativity by all of her employees.

Miller first heard about open-book management at a business workshop in South Carolina three years ago. The guest speaker was entrepreneur Jack Stack, who used the approach, and the notion of treating business like a game, to increase production at Springfield ReManufacturing Corp. in Springfield.

Miller had her 44 employees read Stack's book, "The Great Game of Business."

She then followed his example by teaching the staff how to read the business financial statements and implementing games to reward good performance.

A business game is a short-term initiative designed to achieve a certain objective. There's a goal. A scoreboard. A reward for winning.

A well-designed game helps people learn open-book management, because they're tracking numbers and figuring

out how to move them in the right direction.

"Every employee can look at the books. Everyone becomes a financial manager," Miller said. "Everyone learns to understand the critical number and can see what effect their performance has on the bottom line.

"You can base the game on anything you want to do, not just the net income," she said. "It may enhance your cash flow, or maybe your goal is to get rid of debt or increase your liquidity. Maybe your goal is to change the habits of your employees. It's not always a winning game. Sometimes there's a bad quarter. But I'm not the only one that has to worry about it," she said. "Everyone feels bad. And we all work even harder the next quarter to make up for it.

"There's a lot of positive pressure," she added. "Now we all know that we're personally responsible and involved. Every employee does affect what our profit-sharing is going to be."

The results of open-book management at Cactus & Tropicals have been much more quantifiable than increased morale and loyalty, according to Lorraine.

"By playing the game last year," she said, "we raised our net income two points. That's a substantial number for the bottom line."

One day a delivery driver came to her with his system on how to save money on deliveries.

After a couple of months it was obvious the plan was working. Now the plan that the delivery person came up with saves Miller's company about $1,500 a month.

When a company plays The Great Game of Business, all of the employees from the janitor to the CEO know exactly what they contribute, what they cost the company and how they depend on one another to be successful.

Get people more involved: teach them how to make more informed business decisions, track financial results and make your company a fun place to work.

People work best when they are feeling good. "The Great Game of Business" not only impacts the success of the company, but also morale, job performance and everyday life.

The Great Game of Business seminars are held monthly in Springfield. For more information, call 831-7706.

(Debbie Ikerd is manager, sales and marketing, for The Great Game of Business.)

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