Get People Laughing
When Basis International began sharing financial information with employees a few years ago, employees were invited to a kickoff meeting at a rental hall across the street. Inside the hall? CFO Joe Rose, dressed in a purple sorcerer's outfit, and a big Wheel of Fortune-style game board with a three-word blank. "I told them the costume was a hint and they could buy vowels for $10," says Rose. "Since the winner got $10, the best they could do was break even." Employees yelled out guesses (consonants only) and after a few minutes someone hit it: Sorcerer of Numbers. "That's when I said that I, as company CFO, was no longer the Sorcerer of Numbers because everybody's going to see the numbers. I took off the costume, threw it to the side, and said, 'OK, we're all in this together."

Play "What If"?
David Short of Amherst Woodworking & Supply has a spiral-bound notebook for his employees that explains the company's bonus plan and finances. Half a dozen pages at the back ask questions such as "What if every operation in the shop took 5% longer?" and "What is the effect of working overtime to increase sales?" For each question, Short presents a simplified income statement showing exactly what would happen, including the effects on company profits and employee bonuses.

Hand Out a Few Bucks
Pat Kelly, CEO of PSS/World Medical, does a little routine he calls "On the Spot": He'll ask an employee a randomly chosen question from a book of 100 questions that every PSS branch has on the premises. A correct answer wins $20. GT Development boosted interest in its business literacy program by developing a couple of contests, each with 10 true-false or multiple-choice business-related questions. (Sample: "A company's equity is another name for its (a) net worth; (b) combined value; (c) total assets.") Every contestant with nine right was eligible for a $20 prize drawing.

Hand Out "Consulting" Assignments
Managers at AcuPowder International are getting a new gig: they "visit" Absolutely Perfect Manufacturing Co. and help the company prepare an annual plan and develop machine hour rates, all based on the principles of absorption costing (which "all managers at AcuPowder are totally familiar with"). The assignment, prepared by VP of finance Michael Kudryk, comes complete with detailed exercises, a glossary, and financial worksheets to be filled out by the "consultant." It's a step-by-step approach, says Kudryk, that should help managers learn more about their own company's financials. "We're taking it to the top-level managers first, then the second level. You have to roll it out in steps because, when we get to the line people, they're going to ask their supervisors questions. And the supervisors better understand it inside and out."

Hire a Real Consultant
When Syncor International opened its books a few years back, consultants from Humanomics Inc. worked with the company to develop a 15-session training program dubbed Business Basics. Humanomics instructors guided employees through financial fundamentals (focusing on Syncor's actual numbers) and the creation of a new business. Most sessions included a game or interactive exercise.

Run Homegrown Training Exercises
At Seagate Software IMG, training director Heidi Rolston whipped up a workbook using basic business tools, ratios, and information tailored specifically to the needs of an employee of a software company. "It was a simple take-home tool people could refer to." Then Rolston began running training exercises. In one session she presented people with business scenarios, asking them to make and justify some tough business decisions. In another, she put teams of participants in charge of a company trying to decide how to spend $100,000. "They got a list of 40 or so plausible things they could spend their money on. They had to decide how and where to spend it, and explain to everyone else why their approach was better than others."

Copyright © 1999 Open-Book Management Inc.