All-Star Case Studies

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Kiolbassa Smoked Meats

San Antonio, TX

2021 Revenues: $121.8 million

Employees: 320

Critical Number™: 


Coach: Rich Armstrong

Organization Background

The company is a fast-growing food brand known for authentic, premium smoked meat products. The company’s sausages, which are often described as “the best sausage I’ve ever had in my life,” are sold across the U.S. and Mexico.


Back in 2014, extreme fluctuations in the prices of commodities created havoc at Kiolbassa—especially for its president, Michael Kiolbassa, whose grandfather started the business in 1949. While he had members of his team clamoring to invest in more facilities and operations, Kiolbassa knew that the business needed something even more important: cash. 


That crisis led Kiolbassa to The Great Game of Business® (GGOB)—which he saw as a tool that could help bring everyone on his team together. They began by implementing financial literacy training and then rolled out MiniGames™ and A Stake in the Outcome® bonus program to get the firm’s team members working toward a common goal—to increase the company’s margins.


Playing GGOB has improved the visibility for the team in how the numbers come together inside the business. The more they continue to learn through on-the-job financial literacy, the further they understand the inter-departmental dependencies—which is helping drive strong financial results. Kiolbassa strives to maintain a culture focused on transparency, teamwork, ownership, and continuous improvement.  “GGOB has dramatically helped with all these objectives by focusing on one central aspect of the game, ‘communication’,” says Sarah Christenbury, Consumer Experience Manager and chairperson of Kiolbassa’s GGOB committee. “Playing The Game has significantly improved our ability to communicate across all departments utilizing MiniGames™, company Huddles, and employee education.” 

GGOB enshrines open communication and collaboration in our culture. It also raises my expectations for people to be more transparent with me whether with friends, at church, or purchasing products for personal use.”

~ Mark Rechtin, Director of Insights


Pain Points and Opportunities

Overcoming supply chain snarls and shortages have proved a challenge for the Kiolbassa team over the past few years. Dealing with issues ranging from a lack of paper labels imported from Denmark to the need to raise prices have required the entire team to work together to ensure the team was meeting the needs of its customers. “We’ve also been short-staffed for the past two to three years,” says Michael Johnson, VP of Organization Development and Finance. “Through GGOB and open communication on what’s important, we’ve continued to be a reliable supplier to our customers by continuing to deliver on-time and in full. That’s given us more space on shelves and built trust.”

GGOB has increased team member involvement and helped us to understand the importance of everyone’s role. It’s opened my eyes to an entirely different way of understanding business.”

~ Raymond E Camacho Jr., Machine Operator


MiniGame™ Highlight

To drive even more MiniGames inside the business, Kiolbassa’s GGOB Committee created a subcommittee specifically to help coach and monitor various MiniGames running throughout the year. One of the games the new committee helped initiate for the coming year is built around safety. Called “The Two-Minute Drill,” the purpose of the game was to cut back on behaviors that were causing some $445,000 in incident-related costs a year. The game was designed to encourage all team members to take required safety trainings over the course of the year, instead of everyone doing all the training at one time. That not only would help people remember what they learned better, but it would also keep safety as a top-of-mind issue very day. The potential ROI from this change in behavior could keep people safer and reduce costs by upwards of 50%. 

What’s Next

Kiolbassa continues to build on its recommitment to its High-Involvement Planning™ process. Working with their coach, Rich Armstrong, the team has recently revised its five-year goals and its strategies for future growth. Team members have been assigned goals that will be reviewed every four months to help ensure everyone understands how the team is progressing toward those goals. Meanwhile, members of the GGOB committee continue to look for ways to continue to get people on the frontlines of the business to understand their line of sight into how all of them contribute to the success of the business. “Our job as a committee is to bring GGOB to the people on the floor and keep it top of mind,” says Monica Rivera, Financial Planning and Analysis Manager. “We want everyone to understand how they impact the numbers.” 






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