BUSINESS is a game of winners and losers. The best players take money off the poorer players. So, have you ever wondered what makes the best performing companies so good? After visiting and working with some of the world’s best performing organisations for more than 25 years, there is no doubt in my mind that the very best have one secret: they treat their employees more like business partners than employees. 

The best organisations train all their staff to have high levels of business acumen and then involve them in running the company. They encourage employees to be active players in the game of business rather than passive observers.

Smart managers know that employees with business acumen always make better work decisions because they understand the financial drivers of business success, including how to increase revenues, reduce costs and make a profit.

Staff in high performing companies know how to connect their organisation’s business strategies to financial success. They know how to play the game of business.

I have seen this critical success factor in operation right around the world. In fact, between 1990 and 2001, I spent many months of each year escorting senior managers to the best performing worksites in the United States and Europe and, on every tour, the touring managers would marvel at the levels of business literacy demonstrated by the frontline staff of these best performers.

They were often stunned by how employees could explain asset utilisation to generate income, the reasons why their company needed good cash flow, how they were adjusting their own work practices to take costs out of operations, how their own jobs fitted into helping the company achieve success. The managers were surprised to find so many financially literate employees reading income statements and balance sheets, discussing pricing strategies, explaining how customers paid their wages and generally demonstrating a chief executive officer’s literacy of their business. In short, what these touring managers found everywhere were business-savvy employees making and saving their employers millions of extra dollars every year. 

They found significantly more productive and motivated employees that were highly tuned to the bottom line. Even more interesting was how many of these high-performing organisations were using exciting game simulations to train people in a subject that is traditionally boring.

There were no finance people showing lots of spreadsheets; rather, there were fun, informative and engaging business simulations, with plenty of hands-on activity.

It is well known in education circles that people learn best when they are engaged in the learning process — when they are playing games and having fun. This understanding of how people learn is not new because as Confucius once said, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Aristotle agreed: “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”

So the next time your company wants to send you for financial training, tell them you want to play games. You want to learn by doing. Play games, enjoy the learning and help your company make more money.

The old command and control systems, where employees are kept in the dark and have no business acumen, will be at a severe disadvantage when competing against the collective genius of the truly literate companies. 

Article by Dr Grant Donovan, a partner of Paradigm Learning AsiaPac based in Singapore. He specialises in high-performance business coaching and conducts business acumen training programmes for organisations across the world. For more information on simulation business games, e-mail joyce@paradigmlearningap.com or visit www.paradigmlearning.com