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Open Book Management

5 Decisions to Make as You Implement Open Book Management

In prior installments in The Guide to Open Book Management posts, you learned what Open Book Management is, The Case for Open Book Management, whether Open Book is right for your business, and the 3 Key Components of Open Book Management.

Next up, some decisions to consider before you launch Open Book Management.

Given the name of this system, it appears straightforward that to start practicing Open Book Management, you simply need to … well … open the books!  And while that is certainly true – being open with information is a key part of Open Book – to really get Open Book going in your business there are some key decisions you’ll want to make as you prepare to launch.

Be forewarned, you will almost certainly have an immediate answer to each of these questions!  There may be some additional considerations, however, that will help set you up for greater success once you’re clear for yourself what your final answer will be.

Decision 1: What are your fiscal periods?

You already have them, of course!  And it will seem like an easy answer, to be sure … then, when you start thinking about how to translate what’s in your accounting software to an Open Book scoreboard, that’s where things start to get a little more tricky and it’s often not as straightforward as you might think at first glance.

Many retail and restaurants use something called the ‘4-4-5 Accounting convention’ – which means to break time into fiscal weeks and months that add up to a quarter of two 4-week months and one 5-week month.  Clear as mud, right?  To break it down further, a fiscal week is typically either Sunday-Saturday or Monday-Sunday.  In a busy, front-facing sales business, the Monday-Sunday fiscal week is ideal, as Thursday-Sunday are often the busiest days, and it makes sense for Saturday and Sunday to be in the same fiscal week.

This means that fiscal weeks and calendar weeks are often out of sync!  And that a fiscal month can bridge multiple months in the Gregorian calendar.  For example, in 2021, fiscal May is 4 weeks – May 3 – May 30 – with May 1-2 falling in fiscal April, and May 31 in fiscal June.  It takes some getting used to, but this convention streamlines a lot of reporting in Open Book and allows for clear comparisons to be made week-to-week across multiple fiscal years. 

The other benefit of using the 4-4-5 accounting convention is that it avoids having “stump weeks” – to match up with the calendar, a scoreboard would often contain stump weeks of 1-2 days.  This makes any kind of trend assessment much harder to manage – in the May example above, the odds are very high that May 1-2 would be a pretty good “week”, falling on Saturday and Sunday.  Next year, the same days would fall in different fiscal weeks — May 1 (Sunday) as its own week, and May 2 (Monday) with the next week — so it would be really hard to see any patterns or trends.

If you’re currently using calendar months/weeks as your fiscal periods, it will take a bit of work to transition to a different calendar system.  AND!  If you decide that you’re committed to calendar months, you’re not alone!  Just know that you will want to have more space on your scoreboard to accommodate the need for 6-week months.  

Whatever you decide, it will be important for you to be clear on how this will work so that you can explain it to the team as you begin to go Open Book.

Decision 2: When is the right day and right time for your huddle?

Speaking of fiscal periods, they’ll come into play as you determine the right day and time for your huddle.  If you choose the Monday-Sunday fiscal week, you’ll find that Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday are the best days for your huddle.  This allows enough time after the end of the previous fiscal week for numbers to be crunched and ready for line-owners, and with enough time left in the fiscal week to make a significant impact.  For example, if you’re huddling on Wednesday (as we do at ZingTrain), you still have Thursday-Sunday to take action and hit your targets.

Spoiler alert: there is no perfect day or time .  There will always be people unable to come the huddle, or who are not scheduled on the day you choose.  Huddles are typically scheduled while the business is open, so more people are there, and at a time that the business is slowest – acknowledging that attendees will get called away when the phone rings or a customer needs help.  This is a part of why good huddle notes are so important – to fill in the gaps for folks who were called away mid-huddle in addition to bringing non-attendees up to speed.

Decision 3: What information are you willing to share? 

This question is often a sticking point with those considering Open Book Management.  A lavish sharing of information that pertains to running the business is crucial to the success of the system – if you want employees to make better decisions on behalf of the business, then they need to know all of the facts in order to do so.  This doesn’t mean that all information is productive!

Many Open Book businesses choose to share hourly wage labor (typically as a both dollar amount and as a percentage of sales for that period) and not to share salary information.  Why?  Because salary isn’t something that changes month to month – think of it as being more akin to rent.  A front-line employee has no influence over our monthly rent (or salaries,) so it’s not a beneficial number to focus on.  Hourly wages DO fluctuate week to week, and that is a really valuable number to pay attention to.  If the business is really slow, and doesn’t need the scheduled level of staffing, it’s not uncommon for a volunteer to step up and offer to go home. Maybe they have a kid’s soccer game that they could attend, and knowing that someone will be leaving, they’re willing to give up the shift.  The difference here is that a manager is not asking the lowest-seniority person to go, it’s more of a team-based decision. 

Especially when getting started with Open Book, it’s helpful to start as you mean to go on – asking your team what they think is meaningful to measure and what they want to know more about will give you a great place to start and an opportunity to start teaching about what’s important to the business.

Decision 4: What are your non-negotiables?

As you’re launching Open Book, get clear with yourself on what you want to stand firm on, then be clear with everyone else upfront. No sense in having people stress out or make up their own answers when you’ve got the clear picture in your mind.

Is there something you’re set on measuring? Does everyone need to attend the weekly huddle? Do you expect certain people on your team to play an active role in Open Book?

One tool that can help with this is an Open Forum, or a structured question & answer session. In an Open Forum, first the leader(s) speaks about what lies ahead, the opportunities and challenges, and their own personal picture of what success will look like. Then the rest of the team forms smaller groups to discuss 1) what did we just hear?, 2) what is our reaction to what we just heard?, and 3) what are our questions of clarification? At the end of this discussion, each group will have a prioritized list of questions they’d like to ask of the leader, and the groups take turns asking their top priority question. In an Open Forum, there’s no expectation that the leader has all of the answers – it’s perfectly okay to say “I don’t know,” then those questions get documented to be answered later (and as food for thought for the leader!)

Decision 5: What is your vision of success?

It takes time to make any significant change in an organization, especially when you’re asking people to change their behavior.  Many people will be concerned that you’re asking them to do “extra work” – which Open Book will be when you first get going!  It almost certainly won’t remain that way – but the perception can take some time to overcome.

There are oodles of resources available on Visioning – in this case, it’s being clear on what success looks like for Open Book in your organization.  As with any change, it’s an important part of the process to share what it looks like when the change has been implemented fully, to paint the picture of what you’re trying to achieve.

An Open Book vision often includes elements such as: what a great huddle looks and feels like when it’s happening, months after you’ve started; how people are taking ownership of the scoreboard and the results; examples of involvement at all levels of the business, and so much more!  

This positive vision of the future helps bring others on board, giving them a glimpse of what it will be like when Open Book is going strong.

Here’s an example of an Open Book vision, for reference!

As you continue your Open Book Journey, your answers to these questions will help set your team up for success, lower stress all around, and position you to effectively implement Open Book Management!  

Where to learn more:

Intro to Open Book Management Workshop (Half Day Workshop)

Visioning: A Tool for all Times (2.5 Hour Workshop)

Bottom-Line Change (2.5 Hour Workshop)