(TNS) — At a conference in Dallas this weekend, over 600 attendees will share experiences and learn more about the Great Game of Business, an open-book management system created in 1980s to improve for-profit companies.

However, two attendees — Scott Cragin and Jeff Gibson of Missouri Southern State University — will present at a Friday panel a somewhat different venture: using the principles of the Great Game of Business in higher education, a nonprofit setting.

MSSU will be the first higher education institution to use what is called the Great Game of Education with its kickoff of the program this fall, said Cragin, a professor of marketing.

The premise of the game is this: The university would open up its books completely and let its employees see the university's financial revenues and costs, which would be called the "scoreboard." Each department, or unit, would have its own scoreboard. Faculty and staff could establish goals, called "mini-games," which could indirectly or directly help the university's operating cash, or "the critical number." Accomplishments within mini-games would be awarded with approved incentives.

In business, employees are awarded with shares or bonuses, which a nonprofit university can't do, said Cragin, a co-chairman of the project's implementation. So the university needed to create its own blueprint.

"We are pioneers," Cragin said.

He said the online system that shows the university's financials is being fine-tuned but will be rolled out soon. The university had to work with IT to extract the necessary financial data from every unit to inform its employees.

"There’s never been this level of transparency in a university before," Cragin said.

Academic units will be able to show off what revenue they are earning for the university, while support units, such as the career advising and financial aid office, will be able to see its expenditures.

Not only will units be encouraged to become leaner where they can, but improved student experience will lead to higher retention rates and more revenue, Cragin said.

Support units can indirectly affect the school's budget positively, though on the surface they seem to only cost the university money. Measuring a unit's positive effect — when there are no immediate outcomes — has been one of the university's toughest challenges in translating the game from a company standpoint, Cragin said.

After the faculty and staff are trained, the university will have more feedback to fine-tune the program, said Gibson, a co-chairman and the MSSU director of budget and operations. He said that even though the project is new, it won't be the "management tool of the moment."

"We are all in," Gibson said. "This will work. We understand this is not going to happen overnight."

The idea of implementing the Great Game came during a meeting of the university president's committee on financial stability. Back when Alan Marble became president, the university was facing a $2.3 million budget deficit and state appropriations were less than the tuition Southern was bringing in, a reversal from previous years. Plus, universities were prohibited by law from raising tuition.

"We appeared to be on an unsustainable path," Gibson said.

Even though the university is now looking at better financial times, Gibson said it is still committed to the Great Game.

"The need is still there. … There’s uncertainty when it comes to the predictability of state appropriations," Gibson said.

The financial implications of the Great Game won't be known until the university can gauge the level of participation from employees, as well as the quality of mini-games.

Cragin said some units are already playing mini-games on campus, however.

One example is the Kinesiology Department's "Pause for Pink" initiative, which sought to have more students visit advising offices before midterm grades. By having a higher percentage of students check in with advisers, there is a higher likelihood of more students remaining in the program, Cragin said.

©2016 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.