Jack Stack led an employee buyout of International Harvester’s remanufacturing division in 1982 and grew the company to 22 subsidiaries and sales of $150 million by 2000. He laid out his ideas in The Great Game of Business and A Stake in the Outcome, his manifestos for open-book
Today we would call his career a drive for financial transparency.
“I firmly believe that if we don’t have a revolution in American business, we will do serious long-term damage to our way of life,” Stack wrote in 1992.
In The Great Game of Business, Stack set down what he calls the “ultimate higher law,” which simply advises treating your people as equal partners.
Stack understands that not everybody can lead a buyout. But if you want to start open-book management, he says you can at least create “an island of sanity in a sea of confusion” by being honest with your team.
He recommends taking a look at the way you lead and asking yourself some tough questions:
- What are you personally giving your people?
- Do you spend as much time thinking about your employees as you spend thinking about customers?
- Do you share your problems, or do you keep them to yourself? Have you asked your people for help in carrying your load?
- Do you share everything you know with your people? Stack wants you to tell them the “critical number” your team needs to hit.
- Are you getting the benefit of their intelligence?
- Do your people know what to do without being told? Does everybody know what the goal is, and is everyone working toward it?
- What frustrates your people?
- Have you talked to them about your own fears and frustrations? Stack wants you to tell your employees what keeps you awake at night.
Despite today’s economic carnage, Stack’s basic optimism still rings true: “As long as we perform, as long as we are productive, as long as we deliver what we promise, and contribute, and add value, our services will always be in demand.”
— Adapted from The Great Game of Business, Jack Stack, Doubleday Currency.
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