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How The Great Game Helps Create Sustainable Enlightened Businesses


Capitalism is under attack—especially in today’s political arena. Given the increasing gap between the have and have-nots, it’s not surprising that people are looking for a scapegoat—for someone to blame. And, often unfairly, it is business leaders who increasingly find themselves in the crosshairs.   

That’s led some influential voices in the business world to consider new tactics. A prime example is how the Business Roundtable, a group of about 200 leaders of the world’s largest companies, recently created headlines with an announcement that they would prioritize their commitment to their “stakeholders”—which includes employees, customers, suppliers, and communities—over the short-term gains to their shareholders. In other words, they would no longer base their decisions solely on generating financial returns for their investors at the expense of their values.

It was a remarkable statement for many reasons (and wasn’t exactly popular with the investor community). Certainly, the shortage in the labor market could have played a factor in the announcement, as today’s workers increasingly seek to connect to a greater purpose or cause in their work. So did this announcement mark a potentially  seismic shift in the way businesses would operate? Will more people come to believe that business (and profit) could be a force for good?

The answer to these questions is yes. But there’s an even bigger question that should be asked: can these leaders deliver on their promise over the long run? In his recent book called The Enlightened Capitalists, James O’Toole, a professor emeritus at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, finds that companies often struggle to sustain what he calls “enlightened” practices—especially after the leader who kicked off those efforts leaves the company. In fact, O’Toole points to just a handful of examples of companies that have found ways to make such enlightened business practices—where employees, customers, suppliers, and communities all benefit—sustainable over time. The difference, O’Toole says, is that it’s companies who create a sense of ownership among their employees for their values and enlightened business practices who can make them stick over the long haul.   

Interestingly, O’Toole mentions Jack Stack and SRC as an example of a first-generation enlightened business. What he misses, however, is that the leadership system Stack and his associates developed in SRC 40 years ago and counting, what they called The Great Game of Business®, might just be the answer to creating sustainable enlightened business practices around the globe. How? By building businesses of businesspeople.

Part of the secret sauce that makes Great Game™ so transformative is that it creates a sense of ownership through transparency, business education, and shared rewards. It tackles the gap between the have and the have-nots by teaching the have-nots how the have’s made it. When everyone inside the business understands the real stakes involved—when they understand the “why”—they make better decisions in the short term and over the long run in ways where all stakeholders win.

As we write in our new book, Get in the Game, which is a how-to guide for organizations interested in tapping the power of the Great Game inside their own organizations:

When we talk about ownership, we are referring to the mind-set—the behavior and the attitude. If you want employees to think and act like an owner, you must treat employees like owners. You must involve them in the business much like owners are involved. You must ask everyone to understand the business, set goals, make a plan, take responsibility, and even share in the risk. And if they are successful, they should also share in the rewards. That is how you sow the seeds of true engagement and create an ownership culture. All this starts with getting your people in the same game the owner is: The Game of business. It may be the most powerful engagement lever you can pull. You can build a winning culture by creating a business of businesspeople. Engaged employees take responsibility. They desire to contribute to the success of their team and of the company, and they have an emotional bond with the organization and its mission and vision. In today’s labor market, people want to be recognized for their contributions and to be valued as individuals. Meeting an individual’s innate need to be individually recognized for a job well done and giving them the opportunity to win as a member of a team improves their levels of satisfaction, involvement, and motivation at work. Allowing employees to contribute to a greater good and valuing their contribution inspires loyalty and commitment. At the end of the day, it’s all about creating a winning company and a company of winners.

What would the world look like if more employees had that sense of “ownership mindset?” Certainly, the impact can be felt in Springfield, Missouri, home to the “living laboratory” at SRC, where dozens of organizations, including multiple non-profits and government agencies, have come to embrace the Great Game over the past 40 years. To put that another way, the Great Game has already proven itself to be a sustainable model for giving people the opportunity to pursue their version of the American Dream.

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Topics: The Great Game of Business®

Rich Armstrong & Steve Baker

Rich Armstrong and Steve Baker, president and VP of the Great Game of Business are the authors of GGOB's new book Get in the Game: Rapid Financial Results and Lasting Cultural Change. This book was designed with a focus on implementation. The how-to. The cookbook. The step-by-step approach we use every day to implement and sustain The Great Game of Business inside organizations all over the world and in every industry. This book is designed to teach you the principles and practices of the operating system to “get you in The Game” quickly, take you on a deeper dive to make it stick, and, finally, to start you on the journey of High-Involvement Planning™ that will help you transform not only your business, but your people. It's Money. It's People. It's Both.

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About The Great Game of Business

Our approach to running a company was developed to help close one of the biggest gaps in business: the gap between managers and employees. We call our open-book approach The Great Game of Business. What lies at the heart of The Game is a very simple proposition: 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 outcome. Let us teach you how to develop a culture of ownership, where employees think, act and feel like owners.