Group with a full set of complementary skills required to complete a task, job, or project. Your employees becomes more than just a collection of people when a strong sense of mutual commitment creates synergy, thus generating performance greater than the sum of the performance of its individual members.

The Pros and Cons of Gamification


02A11B2GIn your life, perhaps you could depend on your brother for corny jokes or your best friend to be there in a pinch. I knew that my father could clearly explain confusing mathematics concepts like asymptotic lines. In my family, we learned to play to win and play by the rules. No cheating was an absolute rule. I could count on that.

These days, playing by the rules can seem to others as being naïve.

To win some online games, players must find ways around the rules and obvious premises. In many movies, shrewd detectives find ways to surface evidence no matter what it takes. Search warrants are often portrayed as a nuisance. For a while, the public seemed to be accepting drug enhanced performance of top athletes. Corporations can beat out the competition by tying one another up in court fighting over patent and trademark infringement. Pirates of intellectual property (IP) win. Even if the court case doesn’t go their way, they can afford to pay the fine because they have sold so many products in the meantime…at a higher net profit because they didn’t have to invest in expensive R&D. This presents a huge challenge to organizations like the International Trade Council (ITC).

Gamification is now being touted as the primary way corporations can engage their millennial generation workforce. What was the highest score last month on the major game being played? How can you beat your highest score? On the surface that sounds exciting, competitive and motivating. But what are the rules, and do the rules matter?

I’ve seen more and more trusted vendors become frustrated by the gamification mentality over the past few years. If their customers expect that you must “beat your highest score” over and over again, how much is enough? Those customers are never satisfied. It can also be demotivating to millennial employees. They initially like the game, but they tend to withdraw if they don’t continue to get praise and appreciation or if it feels like the expectations keep going up and up and up with too little reward. We all know young adults who have opted out of the careers for which they earned higher education degrees. Instead of being a math teacher, one of my nephews has chosen to work at McDonalds.

If your company is considering gamification as a strategic direction…corporate culture, be prepared to look at the concepts of rules, beating your previous high score and the pros and cons of ever-increasing expectations. What will customers be able to count on from you if/when it becomes a game?

The Importance of Recurring Revenue

Recurring Revenue Models WorkAl Switzler, the CEO and Co-Founder of VITAL SMARTS was recently a guest on my peer-to-peer on line talk show (9 year archive: Their international corporate training business has been on the FORTUNE 5000 list of the fastest growing companies for 9 straight years and “haven’t experienced the plateaus that are so common with B2B service firms.” Switzler emphasized “the importance of developing an approach and products to produce recurring revenue.” Another recent guest and CEO of an international B2B service firm, Rod Walz, confirmed that “investing in a system and technology helped $50+ Mil/yr WALZ GROUP “process breach and default documents for 15 of the 25 largest mortgage servicers.” They too have long term commitments.

Roz Alford, CEO of ASAP SOLUTIONS emphasized corporate culture during her talk show interview, but behind her comments was the premise that long term contracts and predictable recurring revenue provided situational permission for her to focus more of her time on the attraction and retention of top talent. They learned a long time ago that “if an IT services company still relies on providing services on demand it rides the roller coaster of billing time and materials. Gross profit drops whenever employees/subcontractors don’t complete time sheets completely or project managers don’t control scope creep.”

Drew Morrisroe, President of CTN SOLUTIONS, Inc. provided some of the most convincing responses to my questions about making the move to recurring revenue. His firm invested a full year transitioning from T&M to value pricing and from projects to maintenance contracts. “A few employees just weren’t up for the change and we had to let a few clients go; but this has been THE most important change in our business…EVER”, said Morrisroe. Other guests from the IT industry, (Phil Jaurique – CEO of SABRE SYSTEMS and Micheal Lacey of DIGINEER) agreed with Alford and Morrisroe.

Private investor, Michael Lackland, of LACKLAND INVESTMENTS, starts with recurring revenue. A service firm that is still over dependent on a few key leaders and relies on short term projects doesn’t get past the first round in his due diligence process. The company that acquired HR411 from CEO Michael Pires, they clearly said that they would not have been interested if he hadn’t turned his T&M human resource service business into a software-as-a-service (SASS) firm.

These investors are not alone. When I screen growth financing requests for THE SERVICE INDUSTRY FUND®, I look for recurring revenue. Our investors only want information about truly scalable service firms. Scalability requires recurring revenue, a core process/methodology, resilience based on little dependence on a few top people, clear standards for training and quality assurance. Frankly, investors and funds aren’t the only entities demanding all of that. Corporate level clients look for the same elements and expect consistency.

Image courtesy of iStockphotoSTEEX

[video] Lessons from the Plights of Associations

Are You Becoming Too Protective of Your Team?

Are You Becoming Too Protective of Your Team?

George and his executive team succeeded in pulling their organization up out of a deep hole. They survived 2008 – 2010. They have been on a plateau for 4 years. That’s OK, right? They deserved a chance to breathe.  Maybe you don’t have to always be aggressive, go for growth, and create new things.

These people are incredibly dedicated and work long hard hours.  They have become accustomed to being short staffed and watching every dime.

But now George has become rather paternal.  In fact he’s a little like the PAPPA BEAR in children’s storybooks. He looks for perfection in his team and can seem somewhat critical.  But, WOW…you should see how his back tightens and his voice booms if anyone outside his team even hints that they need some training, should try something new, or might be stuck!  ¾ of their board meetings are dedicated to bragging about how much and how well everyone has been doing.

George is not alone. Maybe you can identify with how he feels.  Since the past 5 years have been pretty hard on most organizations, maybe you have also become a bit protective of your team.  You certainly wouldn’t want anyone to leave. Right? You’ve all been through so much together…you can finish one another’s sentences. Right?

Be careful though.  This pattern can feel like over protective parents. At some point, bright people who crave learning leave the nest to go try new things.

Instead of waiting for the bright people to leave George’s overprotective nest, they are making a group commitment to do some research, find new opportunities, learn new skills, and take some chances…together.  They aren’t going to do anything crazy.  There will be no diving into the deep end of the pool without swimming lessons.  But they are facing the fact that the recession and the lingering tail of uncertainty has affected how they think.  They are intentionally working on becoming less risk adverse, learning how to think bigger, and trying to expect more.

Creative Recruitment Strategies

If your bright, caring, hard-working, dependable, trustworthy, problem solving people are your company’s competitive advantage…take a fresh look at your recruitment and selection processes. Having team members with those attributes is fabulous, but it quickly becomes both your optimizing and limiting factor.

Make sure your marketing is focused as much (or more) on the attraction of employees as customers. Does your website have a section for job applicants and open positions? Does it include employee testimonials conveying why they think that accepting a position with your company was one of their best life decisions? Does the section include information about the company’s mission, philosophies, and code of ethics? Does the section provide examples of career advancement and educational opportunities? Have you posted video from the event when your company was named one of the “Best Places to Work”?  And it’s not just your website. What about media press releases? You Tube videos? LINKED IN and other social media?

Consistently, insistently, persistently convey that your company is always looking for new talent for your team.  When you are giving an industry speech, are colleagues hearing that you have job vacancies?  Can they clearly hear the attributes you value? Could your closest friends describe the attributes your company values so they can speak up if/when a neighbor’s son/daughter is looking for a job?

Provide incentives for everyone in your company to contribute to recruitment.  People tend to choose friends who are like themselves. Bright people who are continuous learners don’t “hang out” with the school drop-out. Do your employees get a bonus for referring friends or relatives to apply for work at your company?  Maybe they shouldn’t receive the bonus until their friend has successfully past an initial probationary period (90 days?).  Those bonuses cost your business much less than it costs to replace and train employees.

Contact colleges, but go further than just the job fairs.  Employees can often remember the names of their best professors. It pays to directly contact professors to ask for the names of students who earned high grades, but were not necessarily the most outspoken students.  Most companies do not really want to hire arrogant people.  In general, the humble achievement oriented people are more likely to stay, learn, and be promoted while arrogant employees are more likely to job hop.

Powerful Competitive Advantage of Great Account Managers, Project Managers or Department Heads

Aldonna Ambler

Who can help drive the growth in your company?  Many fail to realize the key roles that Account Managers, Project Managers and Department Heads play in this goal.  These are the people who keep the wheels running and making sure things get done.  Take the below examples to help understand these roles in your own company.

A content management company with major corporate clients with competent marketing & sales people and sufficient programmers working on websites can grow for a while.  But the plateau will be fairly stubborn if they don’t have great project managers. There are so many moving parts when it comes to content management for major websites. The left hand needs to know what the right hand is doing. Promised tasks must be completed correctly and in the right sequence. Requested changes must be acknowledged, addressed, and recorded.  Without great project managers, the probability of uncontrolled scope creep increases by the minute and the company’s gross profit evaporates.

The growth of a global mobility services company can be driven by great account managers because the account managers stay in touch with several influential people and decision makers in their international corporate clientele. The company can be better prepared to prevent problems and propose new solutions because the account managers know where things are headed, learn about shifts in client priorities, hear about possible mergers and acquisitions earlier than competitors, and aren’t surprised when an executive is replaced.

An association management firm can handle multi-million dollar accounts if great department heads understand the factors behind gross profit and customer retention. They know that they serve both the internal and external customer

It pays to invest in these key people. More and more, we are being asked to review the compensation plans and performance metrics for project managers, account managers and department heads. That’s good.  That means that more executives are recognizing who really drives the growth of their businesses.

Personally, I prefer compensation formulas that involve a set salary for the position which is paid if the person shows up, does the basic work, participates in meetings, provides reports, and isn’t a bottleneck. Increments (raises) can be based on increased cost of living, increased responsibility or span of control. And the lion’s share of variable compensation is performance based on key metrics like capacity optimization and gross profit for department heads, reduced surprises/prevented errors and account growth for account managers, and customer satisfaction, timely execution and project profitability for project managers.

[video post] It’s Too Easy to Lose Sight of Your Mission

It’s Too Easy to Lose Sight of One’s Mission

You see it so often.  A politician crosses over to the dark side and trades influence for campaign contributions. That happens so often that many readers just stopped reading this blog and think I am naïve. “Isn’t ‘politician’ and ‘dark side’ in the same sentence automatically redundant?” Actually, I have met a few politicians in my life who still arrive at their offices each day in the spirit of service.

You see it in some speakers who made it to the “circuit” because they seemed to genuinely care about improving something important, achieving results, and making a difference. But now they come across like Prima Donnas caught up in their own celebrity status or are just focused on the money.

It’s not just public figures; entire businesses can lose sight of their mission.

We all know companies that have lost sight of their previously customer driven missions because financial challenges turned their real missions into just surviving.  Survive to do what?

Your mission may need to be dusted off and updated.  One of our strategic planning clients needs to change its mission statement to reflect the fact that it is no longer enough for them to be responsive and exceed customer expectations. In their industry, they MUST get ahead of their customers…WAY out ahead.

Over the years, our mission to be a positive force for economic development is behind important decisions to establish multiple businesses and to invest in advocacy.  It needed refinement to clarify our focus on helping midsized companies to keep growing, but having a sense of mission has been very useful.  On days you are tired, a powerful mission can feel like a burden while others seem free to coast, accept whatever comes, or just do what comes easily.

But having a powerful mission (a calling) is the reason you work. It can keep you young, centered, energized …and at peace when you fall asleep at night.       


Aldonna R. Ambler, CMC, CSP has earned the right to be called THE GROWTH STRATEGIST®. She has won over 2 dozen national and statewide “entrepreneur of the year” awards for the resilient growth of her international businesses across 4 recessions.  Her midsized BtoB clients get on…and then stay on…the published lists of the fastest growing privately held companies. She owns and operates a suite of companies that help privately held midsized companies achieving accelerated growth with sustained profitability® through opportunity & resource analysis, 4 approaches to strategic planning, executive advisory services, growth financing, and targeted search.  2012 is Ambler’s 8th year hosting a weekly peer-to-peer-to-peer syndicated on line talk show that features interviews with CEOs/Presidents of midsized companies (typically between $20 and 200 Mil/yr) sharing success tips about the growth strategy-of-the-week. An archive of over 300 interviews is available at She can be reached toll free at 1-888-Aldonna or at

Face the Risks of Suddenly Being Viewed as a Family Business

As specialists in the strategic needs of privately held midsized companies, we naturally interact with lots of family owned businesses.  There has been more than one government study that has said that the owners of 90% of all privately held companies view their companies as “family businesses.”  That’s a lot!  Some owners claim they are “family owned” even when only one member of the family is involved.  No spouse, sibling, offspring, cousin or even an in law employed in the company! WOW.

It makes you wonder what is meant by “family business.”  In some folks’ minds, “family business” means trustworthy, hard working, stable, community minded, friendly, and focused on customer service.

But what does “family owned and operated” mean to prospective employees?  It can mean that their careers will be limited. They may assume that they will never be eligible for profit sharing, could never become an equity shareholder, will never be viewed as a top executive, and will never fully have the president’s ear.   It could mean that they should always be prepared to have some young kid brought in to become their boss. Being the boss’s son or daughter trumps any advanced education, job experience, or longevity with the company they may have.

If your business is family owned, it takes intentional effort to convey your policies about career advancement opportunities, your logic behind hiring and promotions, etc.  It can be difficult to attract top talent if you can’t tangibly demonstrate that you value “outsiders,” are open to having business partners who don’t share the same last name, and use contribution to guide profit sharing rather than genetics.

We were reminded about these kinds of issues recently when a company (now a client) inadvertently slipped into being viewed as a “family business.”  The president had needed some help with the firm’s marketing and had asked his very capable wife to help. He couldn’t figure out why his key employees were acting funny, seemed defensive, were suddenly worried about their futures, questioning his decisions, etc. He knew he was still the owner and their boss. But the key employees had assumed the premise of the business had changed.  If your company is a “family business,” make sure you know why and address the negative implications as well as the positive.  If not, be careful you don’t inadvertently slip into becoming one.


Aldonna R. Ambler, CMC, CSP has earned the right to be called THE GROWTH STRATEGIST®. She has won over 2 dozen national and statewide “entrepreneur of the year” awards for the resilient growth of her international businesses across 4 recessions.  Her midsized BtoB service, technology, and distribution clients get on…and then stay on…the published lists of the fastest growing privately held companies. Ambler is in the process of launching her 8th enterprise. All of her current service businesses (strategic planning, executive advisory, growth financing, talk show, speaking, and search) help privately held midsized companies achieve accelerated growth with sustained profitability®. 2012 is Ambler’s 8th year hosting a weekly peer-to-peer-to-peer syndicated on line talk show that features interviews with CEOs/Presidents of midsized companies (typically between $20 and 200 Mil/yr) sharing success tips about the growth strategy-of-the-week. An archive of over 300 interviews is available at She can be reached toll free at 1-888-Aldonna or at

Growth Strategy Tip


I really appreciated your time and wisdom... Yes, we are all on a journey, and I found your view of it visionary and inclusive.

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, M.A., J.D.
Stoneman, Chandler & Miller LLP

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