Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Greene County Extension Improving Finances, Staff Communication and Council Involvement with “Great Game of Business” Management Model

By David Burton
Civic Communication Specialist
County Program Director

The Greene County Extension Council and University of Missouri Extension staff located in Springfield, are using a nationally recognized open-book management technique known as the Great Game of Business ( This system is designed to improve office finances, staff communication, and council involvement.


The Great Game of Business, Inc. was established to help companies implement the open-book management practices outlined in the book The Great Game of Business. It is the educational wing of SRC Holdings Corporation in Springfield, where President and CEO, Jack Stack, developed the business philosophy of open-book management 30 years ago. The Great Game is used by Fortune 500 businesses and literally 1000s of other businesses, one university (Missouri Southern in Joplin), one county government (Greene County, Mo.) and now many non-profits including Big Brothers, Big Sisters in Springfield and the Greene County Extension Council.

The Great Game of Business, Inc. is now the largest and most well-known resource for open-book management training and education. The Great Game of Business is not a system. It is not a methodology. It is not a philosophy, or an attitude, or a set of techniques. It is all of those things and more. One of the misconceptions about The Great Game of Business is that it is synonymous with being financially transparent. While transparency is important, sharing financials is only a small fraction of the process. The ultimate goal is to get employees and council members to make decisions like business owners that have a stake in the outcome.


In 2012, I received an extension award that came with professional development funds, but I had a hard time finding something that fit with my schedule, budget or needs. I was reading the Springfield Business Journal for March 9, 2015, and saw an article about a local non-profit using the Great Game of Business to improve its operation. I was familiar with this open-book management technique because our Greene County government became the first non-traditional business to start using “the game” back in 2013.

After taking the training, I found that the Great Game of Business could guarantee me: improved teamwork, better engagement of staff and council members, at least a 20 percent improvement in our finances, and improved communication. The Great Game goes beyond having a business plan. This gets all staff and volunteers involved with understanding our financials (which has been a problem in the past) and making business decisions like an owner.

Our first step to implementation of “the game” was to create a financial scorecard that better explained our monthly finances to staff and council members. In any game, you keep score to determine who is winning and who is losing. The same is now true in Greene County where we closely track our finances, staff makes projections about revenue and expenses for the coming month, and we track certain “drivers” that are indicators of how we are doing to improve our “critical number” for the year. The drivers we track monthly are total soil tests for the year, the number of donors for the year and number of paid registrations for programs.


We have already seen significant and documented improvements to our finances, staff and council communication and council involvement as a result of the Great Game. For example, Greene County Extension finished 2015 in the black for the first time since 1999. For their “stake in the outcome,” staff was able to earn $400 each in professional development dollars by helping improve the bottom line. The County Commission also increased its funding for Greene County Extension by 270% and paid the monies to the council in one lump-sum. Attendance at our monthly council meetings has increased, and we have gained new funding partners.

Also as a result of “the great game,” extension personnel in Greene County now enjoy a monthly lunch meeting as well as award activities outside of the office and outside of work time. Staff members have participated together in two work days. Donations have increased because clients, volunteers and staff better understand our finances and can express the need. The staff has created new lines of revenue and cut costs, including travel. We sought and got a partnership with Farm Bureau to fund mileage for farm visits in our county (and that idea came out of a staff huddle). Council members have become involved in new ways and are exceeding past year’s level of council engagement and assistance. We had a 170% increase in the number of people who gave input into our planned budget for 2016. Moreover, staff and specialists worked together to market soil tests and increased the number of tests submitted by nearly 20 percent.


Keep up with what Greene County Extension is doing to implement The Great Game of Business online at under the “Great Game of Business” link located in the left column. The first financial scorecard for the organization was posted online May 6, 2015, and is now updated at least monthly and available online, at council meetings and in our monthly newsletter