Dale Nitschke, founder and CEO of Ovative Group, says the mission of the Minneapolis-based digital media and marketing measurement agency is to “fearlessly unlock potential.”

That applies both to clients and employees of Ovative, which the former longtime Target executive launched in 2009.

“From a client standpoint there is lots of value in customer data that has been relatively untapped,” Nitschke said. “We also think about it within our team members and how to create an environment where they’re just a little bit better for coming in every day.”

To that end, Ovative focuses on four pillars of development: subject matter expertise, structured thinking, emotional intelligence and trust.

Ovative’s “performance mantra” of raising the bar includes an expletive in it.

That colorful but common-language message contributes to “the low hum of trying to be better every day” and is something employees can apply at home, with co-workers or for clients, Nitschke said.

Nitschke, named the top leader in the small company category of the 2018 Top Workplaces survey, describes his leadership style as “inclusive, forward-leaning, thoughtful but with a definite orientation towards action.”

The trust that others showed in him, giving him opportunities to make mistakes but also to succeed, is among his influences, said Nitschke, whose experience includes developing and running Target.com for eight years.

“There’s this energy when somebody looks you in the eye and says, ‘Go do this,’ ” Nitschke said. “It feels good and it feels scary, all of those things that create emotion and bring people to life.”

Nitschke still uses energy-boosting tactics dating to the beginning of his career in the lower level of the Dayton’s store at Rosedale Center.

“As an area manager you walked around a lot,” Nitschke said. “I haven’t stopped walking around. I try to talk to every single person every day. I’m walking around trying to sense is the mojo good or is the mojo bad. You can sense from people where their heads are, where their hearts are, and if you’re close, you can do something about it.”

Then there’s the clapping, also from Nitschke’s merchandising days.

“I do random claps where I’ll just start clapping,” Nitschke said. “I may be thinking about something positive or excited about an idea that was shared or maybe I just feel like the team needs it. It’s just fun.”

Another source of energy is socializing as a group, whether rafting or curling. Employees who have fun and bond doing “crazy stuff that usually people are a little uncomfortable doing,” Nitschke said, are more likely to stay with the company.

“I’m 56 years old and spent a long time at Target before I started this company,” Nitschke said. “I’ve seen some amazing leaders and people and cultures and I’m at a stage of my life where that is of critical importance to me. Passing that on and helping others live up to their potential is the main focus of mine and [of] a number of people here.”


Todd Nelson is a Woodbury-based freelance writer.