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Got a Trust Problem? Open the Books

I took a client to open book management pioneer SRC Corporation last week. For them it was an eye opener. For me it was a reinforcement of what’s possible when a company shares vast amounts of the right information with its people. They make smarter decisions and take performance to unheard of heights.

SRC has for years been my baseline for what well-managed communication should be. I’ve been taking clients and young communication practitioners there for years. After their visit I explain: “Now when you’re confronted with a communication problem, you can ask yourself: ‘What would SRC do?’”

Open-book management is a leadership philosophy that’s grounded in the notion of creating businesses of business people where everyone in the organization thinks and acts like business owners.

People in open book companies are steeped in business literacy, work daily to improve the financials, have huge amounts of financial information available to them (hence, the term open book) and their rewards and recognition are tied to financial performance. People who see open book for the first time are “blown away.” Their words, not mine.

Here are some quotes from SRC people:

“VP’s and above don’t really know much. It’s the wisdom of the crowd that makes us much smarter.” (Comment from an EVP)

“In traditional organizations, leaders go to bed every night not knowing what they don’t know. We know what we don’t know because everyone is so involved.”

“Many leaders have a Santa Claus complex. They only want to share good news.”

“It’s liberating to give people the information they need to make better decisions.”

“Our leadership meetings help us identify where employees are constrained from doing what they want and need to do to get things done.”

The four key points from last week’s visit:

Communication management is, as it should be, future focused through the windshield. Most companies manage communication historically by reporting what has happened—through the rear view mirror. Sure, we want to know if we’re winning or losing but the emphasis should be on numbers we can do something about.

Don’t think about top down and bottom up. That’s old thinking. Think about lateral conversations—people collaborating to get the job done better. Ban we-they thinking and language.

Focus on the critical number you’re trying to improve—the one that provides organizational focus and that everyone can influence. So-called “messaging” becomes old way because the focus is less on talking points and more on the numbers that represent the real game that’s being played in business.

If you have a trust problem, open the books. If you won’t open the books—even a little—you’re perpetuating the trust problem. Can you continue to lead if you’re not trusted?

What’s your biggest barrier to opening the books? Leaders who don’t trust their people? Fear of exposing reality? Saddled with the myth that the SEC won’t let you?

-Jim Shaffer is a long-time friend of The Great Game of Business and an internationally recognized thought leader in improving business performance and managing large scale organizational change. He helps business leaders in a variety of industries significantly improve and sustain operating and financial performance while achieving exceptional returns on the investment made in generating the improvements. 

Topics: Leadership, Open-Book Management

The Great Game Team

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.