The Great Game of Business

By: Jack Stack


The Great Game of Business: The Only Sensible Way to Run a Company, is a book written by Jack Stack, published in 1992 with a revised and expanded version published in 2013.  As the book states, The Great Game of Business started a business revolution by introducing the world to open-book management, a new way of running a business that creates unprecedented profit and employee engagement.  

It wasn’t dreamed up in an executive think tank or an Ivy League business school or around the conference table by big-time consultants.  It was forged on the factory floors of the heartland by ordinary folks hoping to figure out how to save their jobs when their parent company, International Harvester, went down the tubes.  And since I grew up in the heartland, and my father worked for International Harvester at the time the company was going down the tubes and is the reason my family moved to Dallas from Omaha in the early 1980s, this book was of particular interest to me.  In addition, it comes recommended by one of my favorite authors, Jim Collins, author of Good to Great.  As Jim Collins states, “The whole concept of The Great Game of Business is beautiful – consistency, alignment, and transparency, infused with core values and brought to life with powerful mechanisms.  It is inspired and inspiring, a classic.”   

The author believes that almost anyone can be taught to be a businessperson and a leader and invented the Great Game of Business (“GGOB”) as a way to help people build confidence in becoming businesspeople by running a repeatable system built on three principles:

  1. Every employee should be given the measures of business success and taught to understand them: Know and Teach the Rules.
  2. Every employee should be expected and enabled to act on his or her knowledge to improve performance: Follow the Action and Keep Score.
  3. Every employee should have a direct stake in the company’s success and risk of failure: Provide a Stake in the Outcome.

What I like about this book is that as someone who grew up playing sports, concepts like winning, keeping score, playing a team sport, and building a team were all concepts I could easily understand and this book does a masterful job of showing how those same concepts apply in the business world and in running a company.  In fact, this book is a favorite at Texas Security Bank and two of the bank’s core values are Winning and Team Players.  Who doesn’t like winning and fostering team spirit?  I also appreciate the focus on things like celebrating every win.  But how do you keep score?  In business, our scorecard is a set of financial statements, notably the income statement and the balance sheet.  As Jack Stack states in the book, the balance sheet can be thought of as the company’s thermometer.  It lets you know whether you are healthy or not.  An income statement tells you how you got that way and what you can do about it.  Then the book goes into the importance of setting standards, so everyone knows their Critical Number, and then benchmarking against the competition.  The bank has a weekly scorecard built on the concepts taught in this book to help us keep score.  We are also able to use publicly available data from the FFIEC in the form of UBPRs, which are based on banks’ Call Report data, to benchmark against the competition.  I also like the chapter “A Company of Owners” that covers how to develop an ownership mentality within your organization.  I could go on, but I will instead invite you to read this book for yourself and apply the principles and practices outlined in the book as you seek to grow and maximize performance in your own organization.  And don’t forget to celebrate every win along the way!