All-Star Case Studies

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2020 Case Study - Kiolbassa Smoked Meats


San Antonio, TX

2019 Revenues:
$88.2 million

Employees: 300

Critical Numbers™:


Organization Background

The company is a fast-growing craft manufacturer of authentic premium sausage and food products. The company’s sausages, which are often described as “the best sausage I’ve ever had in my life,” are now 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. 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. “I was also feeling the pain of being the only one in the business who understood the financials,” says Kiolbassa, whose grandfather started the business in 1949.


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® program to get the firm’s team members working toward a common goal—to increase the company’s margins.


The company started with a top-down management strategy with executives dictating every step. That culture has since disappeared. Over the past eight years, GGOB has had a significant impact on Kiolbassa’s financials. This was never so evident as it was in the first part of 2020 before the pandemic. Kiolbassa was down over $5 million in sales. Every huddle seemed to come with more bad news. Working on what they had learned from playing Great Game™, a team of line owners from all over the company started meeting every week and explored ways to reduce their fixed expenses. The results surprised everyone. In the first quarter alone, the team was able to reduce fixed expenses by $850,000 versus their budget. Just as importantly, playing the game has significantly improved the team’s ability to communicate across all departments utilizing MiniGames, Huddles, and employee education. “We want to empower every employee to take ownership,” says Kiolbassa. “We exist to enrich lives.”

“GGOB has opened my mind to a new way of thinking! I love the transparency into the core of the company. Most companies do not allow their employees to know what goes on behind the closed door of managing a business. This goes to show the meaning for the company's values.”

~ Krystal Moncayo, Brand Ambassador Houston

Spotlight on the Pandemic

As soon as the coronavirus began making headlines in the U.S. in March, the Kiolbassa team jumped into action by forming an internal task force that began implementing changes like putting up posters emphasizing hygiene, creating partitions at work stations to enforce social distancing, and bringing in personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and face shields. The company also began bringing in lunches for the team to help limit their exposure. “The team’s efforts have greatly helped reduce the spread of Covid and allowed our production to continue to operate,” says VP Michael Johnson, which stands in stark contrast to the mass outbreaks experienced at other meat processing facilities across the country, including some of Kiolbassa’s key suppliers. That has put pricing pressure on the business—costs are up due to shortages—but it’s also become an important branding opportunity for Kiolbassa to reach new customers because their product is on the shelf. “Playing GGOB is always smart because you’re teaching your team how the company makes money and generates cash,” says Kiolbassa. “But in times like this, it can be the difference between the life and death of your business.”

MiniGame™ Spotlight

The Shipping and Receiving and Maintenance teams at Kiolbassa created a MiniGame called “Hot Shots” as a response to an equipment malfunction which caused the loss of an organic meat supply worth $100,000. After a slow start, a team member identified a cost-savings idea worth $74,000—which then sparked other ideas like buying an ice machine, which saved another $35,000 on an annual basis. At the end of the MiniGame, more than ten ideas had generated $191,308 in savings.

“It helps to build a level of trust within the organization that is refreshing. I feel like I can bring my whole authentic self to work every day and that I will be supported.”

~ Anna Williams, Southeast Regional Sales Manager

What’s Next?

Kiolbassa says his team has spent the past few years putting in the groundwork for GGOB and getting buy-in from all departments. The team has especially made investments in enhancing their approach to High-Involvement Planning™. This year, the plan also includes fine-tuning the way they execute GGOB to help all employees understand the fundamentals of the company. One example is how they plan to take their Huddle sheet—the template of financials they use to bring their teams together during a huddle—and transform it. “It will still have all the great information the employees want and need and will be presented in a way that is easy for all to understand at first glance from across the room,” says Kiolbassa.

“GGOB encompasses the culture at Kiolbassa, gives us a language to use and common goals. It unifies the different departments and reminds us that we are all on ONE team. Transparency helps everyone understand and feel more connected to the goals. Learning about finances helps me and my team grow into smarter employees as well as become more entrenched in understanding ‘the business.’”

~ Sarah Christenbury, Territory Manager



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