Aligning employees, company goals

  • Article by: TODD NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 20, 2012 - 7:26 PM

The founder of a Minneapolis consulting firm is targeting smaller companies with his new online performance management tool Alignamite.

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J. Forrest, the founder of Employee Strategies, designed Alignamite to make employee performance appraisals easier, more meaningful and fun.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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Employees might not openly campaign for job evaluations, but they do want to be held accountable, according to J. Forrest of Minneapolis consulting firm Employee Strategies.

They also want their work to matter and would like to discuss career development, said Forrest, a performance improvement consultant whose findings come from hundreds of workplace culture interviews.

The problem for those working at small companies, Forrest contends, is that their employers often don't have performance review tools, robust career paths or transparent business goals in place.

The answer, in his view, is Alignamite, an online organization and employee performance tool that aims to make performance reviews easier, clearer and, believe it or not, fun.  

Alignamite works through an online dashboard that measures employee progress in such key categories as revenue, innovation, customer interaction and career development. The interface includes icons -- an airplane crossing the sky, a burst of fireworks -- to track progress on individual goals.

Alignamite's focus is on how employees do their jobs and how they are to work with, Forrest said. It avoids performance ratings and wordy descriptions of the "meets or exceeds expectations on occasion'' variety. It values employees who are team players and have earned trust and respect and are accountable in the workplace.

"I always think of this as having cube cred," said Forrest, who uses his dry humor to play against the image of Toby, the stereotypical personnel sad sack on "The Office." "If you have cube cred with your colleagues and the company and you hit your goals, you're going to do great. If you lack cube cred, it's a little harder to hide with something like this."

Forrest sees a "staggeringly large" potential market for Alignamite in companies with up to 100 employees, which he plans to market through Employee Strategies and other small consulting firms. He's seeking a first round of financing through next year to help build a regional presence for Alignamite, then planning a second round that would take it national.

A new version of Alignamite launched in early May, after its December debut. Eight companies are using it now and Forrest expects to be looking for more in June or July.

Forrest founded Employee Strategies in 2006. The firm offers customized services in four areas: culture survey, customer surveys, business planning and implementation. Specific activities include project management, training design and delivery, team building using the Myers-Briggs assessment tool and leadership development.

The firm's goal is to help organizations "create great places to work," and Forrest notes that half a dozen companies he has consulted with have landed on best-workplaces lists. Employee Strategies, which has five employees and one subcontractor, had revenue of $350,000 last year and is projecting $400,000 in revenue this year.

Forrest has been interested in organizational development since he was a student at St. Olaf College. He got a master's of education in human resource development from the University of Minnesota. His previous experience includes working in organizational development at Xcel Energy.

He's formed a separate company to market Alignamite with Mike Johnson, founder and president of St. Paul-based Fisdap, which makes online software for emergency medical services training, tracking and testing.

"The whole concept of being in alignment is a powerful piece that a lot of small businesses struggle with," Johnson said.

Bryan Badzin, president of Eagan-based cleaning products maker SuperClean Brands, said the company recently began using Alignamite after working with Employee Strategies for three years to improve its culture.

"My belief is Alignamite will help employees and management make sure we are in touch with where we are versus where we want to be," Badzin said. "I'm looking to Alignamite to make sure we always try to get a little better."

The expert says: Mike Harvath, president and CEO of Revenue Rocket Consulting Group, a Bloomington firm that consults with tech companies, agrees with Forrest's assertion that the potential market for Alignamite is huge, with some 5.8 million companies with under 100 employees nationally.

The challenge will be getting the word out about Alignamite, connecting with busy decisionmakers and getting the product sold, Harvath said. One step is finding influencers, likely other consultants, who can sell the product.

"In concept, I think it's great," Harvath said. "Being extremely focused about who the ideal prospect profile is for the product and marketing through an influencer channel that sells to that market will be the key to success or failure."

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com.

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