Brief History of a Business Movement

Open-book management hit the headlines about 20 years ago…

Jack Stack, a pioneer of the idea, was giving a speech at a national conference on labor relations. The conference was presided over by then-president Bill Clinton. Stack used the term open-book management in his talk. Clinton said later:

“…and the phrase…that made the biggest impression on me here was “open-book management.” If we could do nothing other than convince people that somehow the only way to get everybody on the same team is to give them the same information, the same capacity to evaluate the information, I think that would be a terrific thing.”

The idea itself had already been around for a few years. Inc. magazine published an article called “The Open-Book Managers” in 1989, the first time anybody used the term. Stack’s company, Springfield ReManufacturing Corp. (now SRC Holdings), was held up as a model by Inc. and many other media outlets. Books began to be published about open-book management. Scores of magazines and newspapers ran articles.

As the publicity grew, more and more companies—most of them small and midsized, though not all—began to develop their own forms of open-book management. Here’s what a few of their leaders said about it back then:

Today, open-book companies are everywhere

Over the past 20 years, open-book management has developed and changed. SRC continues to grow and prosper, and to spread the open-book word through its subsidiary, the Great Game of Business. The many other companies that have practiced open-book management for some time now take it for granted.

CEO Marcus Boggs of CEA Technologies told the Colorado Springs Gazette in 2012:

“Employees know how the company is doing. There’s a lot of clapping and back-slapping when we meet our goals. We have very low turnover and I would estimate at least half of the employees in Colorado Springs have been with the company at least ten years.”

And the beat goes on…

The Economist reported in 2012 that about 4,000 companies worldwide have adopted open-book ideas.

In 2013 HR magazine profiled open-book companies Sun Design Remodeling Specialists and Central States Manufacturing.

Inc. often highlights open-book companies, such CleanScapes in Seattle. In 2014 columnist Eric Holtzclaw wrote about his open-book journey. “Results are amazing,” he says.

In 2015 the Boston Globe reported that the use of open-book management by one restaurant resulted in increased profits and an incremental $6,000 for each employee. 

The 2016 edition of HR Digest outines these benefits of open-book management: better incentive programs, elimination of office politics, better focus on work, and higher employee morale.

In 2017 BBC reported on the upsides to a happy workforce and referenced open-book management as a key tool to creating a productive and happy workforce.