Giving employees skin in the game: Educating employees in a fun way about profitability paid dividends for one CFO and her company.

Author:Amidon, Brandy
Position:Chief financial officer

Many finance leaders are challenged by how to convey financial information to nonfinancial employees in interesting and meaningful ways. Because of this, employees can have varying degrees of interest and concern regarding their employer's profitability.

To help employees better understand how their everyday work affects the bottom line, bring them off the sidelines. That's what our company did--we let them be part of the game. This article discusses how we went beyond ratios and spreadsheets to create a better team, one in which all our players understood how their skills translated to the company's success.


From the beginning of my tenure as CFO of Brains on Fire, a marketing and creative agency with 25 employees, I've struggled with how to engage and hold our team accountable for the company's financial health. We tried using a giant thermometer to track yearly goals. We used money from the board game Monopoly to help everyone understand where and how we spend it. We tried other gimmicks I hoped would spark interest in the long term, but they weren't effective. And now I know why.

You can't encourage your team to be involved in finances if you don't give them power and buy-in when it comes to money. The thought of giving financial control to anyone other than the finance team and senior leadership sounds scary, but here's how and why it works.

We were inspired after discovering the work of Jack Stack, who formed a successful employee-owned company in the early 1980s and wrote about that transformation in The Great Game of Business. Stack's team-rallying concepts also caught our eye in Conscious Company magazine. An article there detailed how Zingerman's Deli took the concept of open-book management and turned the deli into an entrepreneurial empire (see "How Zingerman's Deli Became a $40 Million Business," Conscious Company, Oct. 4, 2015,

By sharing financial information with employees, and making a game out of the numbers, organizations can empower individuals. Zingerman's Deli eventually became employee-owned--workers care enough to use every bit of mayo from the jar because they see how that adds to the bottom line. And that's what we wanted at Brains on Fire: employees who see the correlation and contribution of everything they do at work.

Using open-book management, everyone gets to play and make decisions that affect whether you win or lose. No one person is in charge of making sure the...

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