Gamification #Win


I don’t like to #Fail. Sooooo, I brought a different concept to the office to give Gamification in the workplace another shot. This time, it worked. All it took was a 3 foot tall RED ONION.

My latest challenge in operations management takes place at a home improvement firm, specifically the call center. The call center is relatively young to the business, and it’s purpose is still being defined. Right now it functions as a sales lead generator and a sales appointment preserver. On the sales preservation side, the team takes and makes customer calls to set and confirm appointments. The most important task? Preventing cancellations.

Have you ever cancelled a recurring service, or even an annual subscription? The best providers have a tried and true method to identify why you are cancelling, meaningful responses and solutions to keep you as a customer, and measureable results that show the teams’ ability to save accounts. All of this requires commitment, training, and effort. DirecTV does an amazing job of this, always offering free content or billings rebates, maybe even equipment upgrades to ensure your continued loyalty. I reviewed hundreds of the teams recorded phone calls and realized my newly inherited team lacked training and consistency with regards to asking questions and being persistent. I went to and ordered a large onion, boxing glove, and goalie mask.

I decided to leverage symbols associated with the desired behaviors and results, and empower peer-to-peer recognition to drive change. The rules? If anyone inside or outside of the call center heard a teammate asking multiple and meaningful questions about why a customer was cancelling their appointment, we handed that person the ONION (stripping back layers of the onion, finding the hidden or unspoken reason why a customer intends to cancel). If someone heard a teammate fighting through objections and putting a visible amount of emotional effort and focus into saving the appointment, they got the BOXING GLOVE. And finally, if they saved the appointment and convinced the customer to give us their time, they got the GOALIE (Saaaaaaaaave!). Everyone could give or receive any of the symbols multiple times within a day.

Within the next 3 weeks we had increased the number of scheduled appointments remaining on-schedule by +25% (a large improvement for this environment). We had achieved the intended result; however, there were a handful of unforeseen benefits that compounded our overall divisional performance improvement. The Sales side of the division had begun to take and use symbols like the BOXING GLOVE! They heard their sales peers countering objections with reasonable responses and controlling questions, and they decided to join in on the game. I ultimately got them a few symbols to use specific to their skill set (a large $100 bill for scheduling appointments within the same day, a very impactful result that often leads to a sale). Additionally, other company executives and leaders saw the symbols, visited the call center, and engaged with teammates asking “Tell me about the ONION?” Needless to say, the entire concept made changing and evolving more stimulating, drenched the environment in awareness around desired behaviors, and celebrated real-time change and results.

Further cementing the concept’s success was its carryover into owning customer interactions and asking customers purposeful questions. These actions are always a hallmark for success in sales. The Sales portion of the call center had begun to ask deeper questions about customer needs, and they began to fight harder when a customer would object (respectfully, refuse to accept “NO” for an answer). Through Mid-August call center sales were forecasted to close +50% above the prior month’s totals. Gamification #Win!

Gamification #Fail


Games. We play games for entertainment. You win games, you lose games. Gamification of the workplace is a millennial-driven concept that originates from the simple “celebration” of achievements in the video game world. These celebrations are trophies and badges unique to the accomplishment. Kill the wizard; silver trophy. Kill the wizard without a scratch on you; GOLD trophy.

The Gamification of the workplace is a theoretical concept creeping its way into modern performance management. I really enjoy testing this theory, but the balance between what a group considers stimulating and not is thin and sensitive. As you have seen on this blog, I have leveraged different methods of celebrating the accomplishment of individual and team based goals. BUBBLES was my fun and stimulating vehicle for extraordinary performance without excessive over-compensation (extravagant bonuses, etc.). Hit a daily sales goal? I run a bubble machine and drench you in colorful joy. Team hits a group goal, everyone gets bubbled. My sales team loved it. My new concept was an attempt to evolve.

The new idea I had? #Fail

Here’s the new idea. It revolves around an Instax Mini instant camera with the small “Polaroid” photos. You may have seen this. Maybe you own one. If you haven’t heard of it, use this as a barometer of your current social awareness. The Instax Mini was fully loaded with film and a battery, and teammates were compelled to take a photo of one another whenever they felt like a teammate did something “amazing.” Totally subjective. I know. Once you take a photo of “Mikey” for “helping a teammate close a $10k sale” you wrote the reason for the picture (we’ll call this the “Trophy”) on the bottom of the photograph and taped the photo on the wall next to our big screen television that displays all sales performance data. I was using the Instax Mini throughout the Holiday season, and every time I whipped it out and snapped a shot we had a blast. People were amused by the instant picture process, never mind assigning some sort of purpose to it beyond old school selfies.

I tried to get the ball rolling, snapping shots of people whenever they completed a valuable task, h\wrote the reason, then slapped it on the wall. It didn’t catch fire. I had to constantly remind the team to take pictures whenever they felt compelled. I bought 60 pictures, assuming I’d blow through them in 2 weeks. We used only 18 photos in 30 days, 10 of them MINE.

Why so low? Why such a limp response? How could bubbles get such a strong response, and instant photos flop so acutely?

Upon much reflection the answer was quite obvious. What do most of us know about women and having their picture taken? They don’t like it unless their appearance is up to their standard. The company I am currently supporting has a business casual dress code, and by sheer randomness the entire sales team is female. Sometimes my teammates come in dressed to the 9’s, while other times… Let’s just say they take full advantage of the term “casual.” What? People don’t want unflattering and poorly developed instant camera photographs of them hanging publicly in a highly visible place within their professional home? They never admitted it, but that’s what happened.

I should’ve known better. Hopefully, my pain is your gain! SAY CHEESE!

5 Things I Hate About LinkedIn



There are so many things I love about Linkedin, but there are a handful of things I hate about LinkedIn. I’m tired of shooting rainbows at everyone. Here’s some realness. Microsoft acquired LinkedIn so the window for change is wide open. These are the top 5 things I hate about LinkedIn:

Dumb Endorsements

Ever been harassed by LinkedIn to endorse a connection’s acumen with some buzz-word skill like “Microsoft Word” or “Microsoft Office”? Are these skills really worth endorsing? Why not toss “Prepares Own Lunch” and “Wears Clothing” in there too. Look, some people have more skills than others, for now. Some people are building their careers, or building their profiles. Either way, please stop pulling key words from weaker profiles and shoving them in our faces to pretend they’re a meaningful skill requiring cross reference. It’s insulting to me, but more importantly t’s insulting the profile being digitally patronized. LinkedIn needs to edit their list of active endorsable buzz-words and skim the pile to eliminate senseless options.

Constant Nagging

Go to your profile and there’s a 200% chance LinkedIn will browbeat you like an overbearing parent, “Fix your profile! Tell me what clubs you’re in! What have you achieved professionally? Your profile pic smile is yellowish, brush more often!” I get that new features require training or a prompt, but visiting my profile feels like battling 90’s-era pop-up ads. If I click the small “X” once, can we assume I have no future want to update my stuff?

No Homemade Video

Holy God. LinkedIn, have you not seen the trends? Everything hot in social media is video (stop pretending that LinkedIn isn’t a form of social media). Our Facebook feeds were once an endless stream of repetitive memes, but now it’s 75% video content that auto-plays the moment you’ve scrolled towards it. Of all things LinkedIn has chosen to copycat (most of Facebook’s LIKE + COMMENT + SHARE = ENGAGEMENT formula is there), why disregard this one? Users can’t upload a cell phone video unless it’s attached to YouTube, etc. That’s so 2005.

Vacant Profiles

Prune the bushes once in a while LinkedIn. Why allow dead limbs, with their brown withered networking leaves, to choke the user base rose garden? For example, there are 2 LinkedIn profiles for Michael Gambuto (specifically, me). One is active, daily; one is dormant, for years. I mean YEARS. It has 2 connections. It hasn’t been touched in a decade. I have no idea why it’s there or how to rid of it. Don’t you want the user base to be one of quality and not quantity? Knock down the vacant LinkedIn slums.

Meaningless Activity

My LinkedIn app will pop on iOS with a red circular “2” by its icon. Do I have 2 new connections? Do I have 2 new direct messages? Maybe 2 people have endorsed me? NOPE! It means two of my connections have reacted to or engaged with their own or someone else’s content. If this is the new standard for “Alerts” than they’re on their way to becoming “the app that cried wolf” via #DigitalFib. Stop forcing the perception that LinkedIn is a happening hub of constant networking that we should check on each and every hour. It already is, and most active users already do. After all, do you really care if Person-X clicked “LIKE” on some business stranger’s COMMENT about a company you DON’T follow? Welcome to LinkedIn updates, 2016.

There ya go Microsoft! Give LinkedIn a tune-up!

Bubbles = Motivation


Goals, when scaled appropriately, are ambitious and intimidating. Even the most confident swallow hard and blink prior to telling oneself, “I got this.” It’s the “American Way” to be super ambitious and push ourselves beyond some definition of excellence. But is this fun? Do you use bubbles to motivate?

It’s no longer effective to sit down with a team or individuals and attach their efforts to a goal or a series of very relevant and smart metrics. The trend in some industries has been the “gamification” of work, but that can be a tad extreme if the resources aren’t in place or the industry and role is a bad match for that concept. Bubbles represent that soft spot in between plain numbers and extreme gamification.

Bubbles and I have recently found motivational success and excitement with my latest sales team. Simply put, we have a team revenue goal every day. If we hit that goal, we get bubbles. I went to Amazon and found a $40 electric, pseudo-industrial, bubble machine that zaps to life when plugged in and turned on. Once the switch is flipped our robo-motivator celebrates our team-based success by vomiting thousands of colorful bubbles all over their corporate desks. IT’S SO MUCH FUN!

Each day, every time someone processes a large sale, or the team knows they’re getting close to the daily target, the entire team starts rallying behind the concept. They bark, “Mike! Get the bubbles ready!” or “Rebecca is getting bubbles tomorrow!” Managers devise complicated incentive plans with multiple qualifiers to hone in on and reward the actual behaviors that drive results, so they think.

Maybe it’s much easier. Maybe you just need to balance the heavy burden of chasing high performance with something fun. What is your sales team’s “Bubbles?”

Apple Watch = Must Have for 2015


The reviews are creeping out. The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and CNET have all spent some time with the device. Their voices are a mixed bag of nerdery. Techie gals criticizing the clumsy computerized fashion mash-up. Fashionistas wondering when such practicality has been packaged so well. Regardless of where you or your favorite reviewer land, the Apple Watch will be THE MUST HAVE for 2015.

The average U.S. man has 5 watches. #Metrosexual

The average U.S. man has 5 watches. #Metrosexual

Some detractors wonder out loud “Who’s going to want another watch, nonetheless one that costs triple the price?” But the market is already there. Wrists are yearning to be gauged on their health and appearance.  Did you know that 3.3 million fitness bands and activity trackers have been sold between April 2013 and March 2014 in the U.S.? The Fossil Group, Inc., which operates over 10 global timepiece brands across a variety of price spectrums, sold $1.5 billion in watches in 2014. The wristwatch market is STRONG as Bloomberg reported in February that the average male U.S. consumer owns 5 watches.

Detractors will point out that the Apple Watch isn’t a stand-alone product, but rather a pricey accessory requiring the newest iOS mobile operating system. How limiting of a factor might that be? As of October 2014 Apple has sold over 105 million iPhone 5’s, and as of Q1 2015 Apple sold over 74 millions iPhone 6’s. That’s a large customer base, and it’s growing at a pretty aggressive rate with deeper cellular discounts and 0% finance programs to facilitate upgrading and first-time client acquisition. “Who’s going to want another watch, nonetheless one that costs triple the price?” Apple customers. That’s who.

It’s the most customizable watch, or computerized device, EVER. From a watch perspective, brands like Michele and Fossil have offered customization in a variety of bands and metals. None of these brands offer the multiples of customizable variations that the Apple Watch and its small retina-raving face will promise. Can you imagine the visual capabilities the Apple Watch customer will have once the third party venders check in with a new phalanx of covers, bands, and apps for deeper customization of the product? “Who’s going to want another watch, nonetheless one that costs triple the price?” Another watch? It’s all of the watches you planned on buying in the future wrapped into a 42mm case. Take the cumulative cost of those five watches the average U.S. metrosexual owns, toss in a FitBit or two, and you’ll most likely arrive between $500 to $1,200 (unless you have premium Tag Heaer taste). It’s easy to conclude that the Apple Watch brings great value as a complete substitute.

Some critics seem obsessed with the reality that Apple will release future iterations of the device, and this truth is waved in your face  while demanding you wait for the Apple Watch 2 and it’s ignorantly assumed enhancements. Don’t soil your bell-bottoms when I tell you this, but obsolescence exists in the world of fashion and those trends can move just as quickly as shifts within the tech sector. Not wearing your “Don’t Tase Me Bro” t-shirt anymore? The Apple Watch will be as durable to natural shifts in trends and technical abilities or limitations as ANYTHING ELSE you already buy over-and-over again as the seasons zing by.

I believe it was 2010, weeks prior to the launch of the first iPad, that I heard critics declare “Who’s going to want a large iPhone that doesn’t take calls?”
Me and my hundreds of millions of minions.

Modern Re-Branding via Monica Lewinsky


Regardless of political background and preference, any sensible person can agree that Monica Lewinsky is by far one of the internet’s most shamed names. Her infamous tryst with the 42nd U.S. President was such a dominant global news story that even if you weren’t of age in the late 90’s, her reputation has penetrated your pop culture radar through a variety of crude means ( I’m not here to explain what she did in the context of U.S. history, but one dynamic has been introduced with Lewinsky’s return to the media spotlight. She is the modern media’s first victim of cyber bullying, specifically “public shaming.”

She recently gave a TED talk where she declared herself as an emerging voice in the anti-cyber-bullying phenomena. If you take some time to view the 20 minute piece, you might agree with her position as “Patient Zero.” This is an incredibly fascinating decision by Ms. Lewinsky, one that could reframe her legacy. An unbelievable statement if you made it days prior to her TED talk. Until now she was the easiest of punchlines. Shortly after the posting of her presentation, she started trending nationally on Twitter and Facebook. A most ambitious re-branding project is taking place before us.

My graduate professor of marketing, Gauri Kulkarni (, taught me that even the most contrasting perceptions of what a person/entity is or could be are possible. She humbled me once in class when she asked if a historically successful feminine brand famous for gentle soaps and lotions could transition to a leader in mens care products while carrying the SAME BRAND NAME. I spit my Dunkin Donuts everywhere when a blurted out “YOU’RE NUTS!” Sure enough, “Dove” ( pulled it off. I would have NEVER thought this to be possible. I mused that Dove would have to develop a male-specific brand called “Large Manhood”, or something hulking with testosterone. Not necessary.

The key to rebranding is that the product, no matter what brand perception it comes from, has to be AMAZING. Dove is clearly a leading manufacturer of mens care goods. And I can’t think of anyone who can speak more poignantly and effectively about cyber-bullying and internet shaming than Monica Lewinsky. So, let this be my public contribution to Ms. Lewinsky’s brave attempt to change the modern world with her horrific story. Every week there seems to be a new national story about a young adult taking their own life because a social media rumor, true or not, overwhelms their emotions and stains their reputation. More programs need to be developed to deal with this issue proactively. As you know, our children aren’t always open to dialogue about the most embarrassing of public social crises, and some parents aren’t naturally adept at managing this slice of the parental pie. Monica Lewinsky could become the face of proactive and rehabilitative cyber-bullying programs. I’m all in.

When you Google her name in 20 years, the results will always reference her Oval Office romance. The question yet to be answered is what page will that part of her tale appear on? Page 1, or Page 2? If the product or service is AMAZING, any brand can influence and change how its audience perceives it, no matter the degree of contrast.


Holiday Lay-Offs, How to do the Unthinkable


The holiday season’s focus is dominated by positive distractions, but once in a while you may find yourself grappling with the crushing reality of corporate layoffs at the end of the calendar year. If you care about your organization and employees, even when layoffs are the right or only thing to do, we hear our inner voices asking ethical and operational questions. The experienced manager will handle “poorly timed” layoffs with the mature calm of a professional voice-over actor describing the hunt of a leopard chasing down a deer. For the less experienced, they will feel like a deer wearing a leopard costume. Here’s my “How To” guide for making a tough situation a teaching moment, a barometer for talent, and less painful for all involved.

Team Alignment

Our careers take us down all sorts of unexpected paths, and it’s common to have managers in the world of business who have degrees in Art, History, and Sports Therapy. These talents have never had the themes of “Shareholder Wealth” pounded into their thought process and might struggle with strategy and tactics designed for this role. As their leader, this is your responsibility to make sure they understand this bedrock of corporate management. Additionally, if we can directly connect layoffs to the benefits of customers, we should do that too. Either way these conversations need to be had behind closed doors while in front of the team. Get everyone’s fears and misconceptions out in the open. Once everyone is on the same page they will be mentally ready to digest the next steps.

Practice the Conversation

How do you breakup with someone who loves you? You interviewed them, hired them, trained them, they stayed late for you, and they helped you achieve personal and professional goals. You like their personality. Crap. YOU REALLY CARE ABOUT THEM! Dare I say, love them? These conversations need to be practiced with a script of bullet points explaining “Why” this is happening and “What” is happening next. The conversation, as painful as it can be (sometimes), must be professionally respectful and brief. Work with leadership or a human resources teammate to develop talking points, but practice delivering the news out loud. Your shaky voice will benefit from saying the words and getting more comfortable with this new reality.

Team Support

You should be able to gauge where managers stand on the spectrum of comfort during the prior two steps. Once you have identified the managers who are really affected by having to deliver this news, support them by conducting a few of these conversations along-side them. Intuitively decide how much of the dialogue should be shared based on physical cues (damp eyes, twitching hands, pale face, etc.). Take control of the conversation if it goes off the rails. Afterwards, take a moment to review what just happened; identify how the manager feels, calm them down, and ask them how they could have improved. Praise their efforts and gently make suggestions to help the receiver of the message. This is actually a very calming exercise that refocuses both of you for the next conversation.

Team Review

A day of this can be emotionally draining. It’s not rare for the remaining employees to go grab a drink at a nearby bar with those same victims of the circle of business. Sometimes managers will slink away from their desk to have a private moment in their car. Before everyone goes in separate directions it’s important to collectively depressurize by reviewing what just happened. In a team review you should ask out loud:

  • How did it go?
  • What conversations were hardest?
  • How are you all feeling?
  • Leader: Express your gratitude
  • Does anyone need to talk one-on-one after this?

These questions will most likely sterilize the raw emotion of the moment, and allow people to find a healthy perspective to grieve towards (including leveraging internal resources for help).

Guilt Management

In this digital age résumés share the spotlight with LinkedIn endorsements and public recommendations. If you really do care about these people there are more options than ever to help them find the next opportunity or connect with people who can do likewise. Although some companies have strict human resources policies regarding employment verification processes that ask about employee performance, you still have a right to do what’s best for yourself. Just like a company.

P.S. – I’ve had my fair share of corporate Holiday lows. This scene always makes me laugh. No matter what side of the conversation you’re on, hang in there! There’s a lot of opportunity out there for you in this amazing country.