The Great Game of Business – Chapter 3 (part 5 of 17)

Chapter 3 – The Feeling of a Winner 

How do you start the Great Game of Business? By creating a series of small wins – by showing people how it feels to be a winner. Believe me, that’s one of the rarest feelings in business today.

You can’t just walk into any company or any factory and start teaching people how to read financial statements. … there are at least two conditions that haveto exist before people are ready to learn about business – about making money and generating cash, about using numbers to follow the action and keep score:

  1. Management has to have credibility
  2. Employees have to have some fire in their eyes

Pride Before Ownership. For people to feel like winners, they must have pride in themselves and what they do. There is no winning without pride, just as there is no ownership without pride. Pride is all about caring. It is the sense of pleasure or satisfaction you take in what you do, or what you have. If you don’t care, you’re not going to do what is necessary to be a winner or an owner. So pride has to come first.

Creating a Team. Winning is not just a matter of pride, of course. It is also a habit. Unfortunately, losing can get to be a habit as well. When people are in the habit of losing, you won’t see fire in their eyes, only sand. If you want to light the fire, you have to begin by creating wins and celebrating wins – by making a big deal out of the little victories and then building on the little victories to achieve bigger victories. It’s a way of putting fun in the workplace – literally. We throw parties and hold celebrations at the drop of a hat. What we’re really doing is creating a team.

That is, of course, one of the major purposes behind the Great Game of Business. In the early days, however, we couldn’t set up games around the financial statements, because people didn’t understand them and would have been intimidated by them. So we came up with other games, simple games, games we knew people could win. That way, we could begin to create the habit of winning. Every win would give us something to celebrate and allow us to start fires. Along the way, we learned some lessons about the kind of games and goals that worked best:

  1. Business is a team sport – choose games that build a team. You can set up all kinds of games in a company. Avoid the ones that are divisive. The best games are those that promote teamwork and togetherness, that create a spirit of cooperation.

At the same time as you’re fostering team spirit, you can also be using the games to build credibility. One of the first issues I went after, for example, was safety. … Safety is basic. It’s the first thing that can turn people against you. It can undermine everything else you try to do. … So I took on each issue, and I made it very personal. … That really got through to people.

We organized a safety committee and set a goal of 100,000 hours without an accident. We put up four-foot-high scorekeeping thermometers all over the place, and we filled them in every two thousand hours we advanced closer to the goal. As the weeks went by, the drama began to build. On the afternoon when we hit the goal, we closed the plant down for a beer bust. We played the theme song from Rockyover the public address system while members of the safety committee marched around, handing out fire extinguishers. There was a parade of forklift trucks decorated in crepe paper. People stood around and cheered.

  1. Be positive, build confidence. Manager have a bad habit of focusing on the negative. I’ve seen statistics showing how managers tend to react quickly to anything that goes wrong and overlook everything that goes right. … This is a serious weakness. One of a manager’s main responsibilities is to build confidence in an organization. To do that, you have to accentuate the positive. If you accentuate the negative, it eats away at the organization. It becomes a demotivator, and management is all about getting people motivated. A manager who doesn’t motivate isn’t doing his or her job. You can’t motivate if you’re continually focusing on the negative.
  2. Celebrate every win. Records are important, no matter how insignificant they may seem, because you can celebrate whenever you break one. Every record represents an opportunity for management to compliment people, to make them feel good, and to build confidence and self-esteem. People may be feeling depressed, bored or whatever. If you don’t celebrate, you’ve missed the chance to cheer them up. … You can also use records to change the mind-set of an organization, to get people to take responsibility for themselves.

Once the games get going, people stop pushing their problems up to management. If you’re caught up in a game, there’s no time to push problems up. You want to go out and solve the problems by yourself. Otherwise, you’ll get behind, and you won’t win. So the game get people to focus on solving the present problems, which leaves the mangers free to think about the future problems – and that’s how a manager stays in control. If you focus on future problems, you eliminate surprises. You deliver consistency. You have a very happy work environment.

  1. It’s got to be a game. You can go too far in trying to light the fire in people’s eyes. If you do, you’ll find that people stop having fun and start getting scared. Then you have to pull back fast. … The mistake I’d made was to think people would look at these accountabilities as guidelines, as opportunities to help the company and help themselves at the same time. That was naïve. In fact, individual evaluations inspire fear in a lot of people.

The point is that it’s got to be a game. I hadn’t realized the fear I was building into the system. When you think about it, the fear came out of being alone. Security comes from being with other people. There’s a lot to be said for knowing that everybody’s in the same boat with you, that you aren’t on an island, that you don’t have to do it all on your own.

  1. Give everyone the same set of goals. Don’t send people mixed messages. Let them all have the same objectives, and make sure they have to work together to achieve them. Turn success into a group effort. That way, they can win together.
  2. Don’t use goals to tell people everything you want them to do. Too many goals are useless. You should only have two, or at most, three goals over the course of the year. What’s important is to make sure each goal encompasses five or six things. In other words, choose a goal that people can only meet if they do five or six things right. It goes back to the lesson I learned at Melrose Park when we had the deadline on the Russian tractors: you don’t have to tell people to get the parts in on time if you get them to concentrate on getting the tractors out.

Feeding the Desire to Play the Game and Win. Much of what we did back in the early years we still do today. We haven’t had an open house in a while, but we have picnics all the time. We also set aside special days when people bring their kids into the factory. We do it for the same reason we had an open house back then: to build pride and self-esteem. We have more games going outside the company than ever. There are the bass fishing tournaments, the Corporate Cup relays, the golf league, the softball team, the bowling competitions. It amazes me to see all the events our people participate in under the SRC banner.

We definitely encourage the managers to take part in these competitions. It’s another way of knocking down walls. No matter how hard you try to be open, people are intimidated by the title, the door, the desk – all the symbols of power. Those are barriers you have to break down, and these outside competitions offer a way to do it.