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4/25/2011
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WorkSimple Targeting Bigger Firms With Social Goals Tool

The social, web-based tool for employee goal setting and tracking is expanding reaching beyond the SMB market as enterprise customers seek ways to assess performance.

What have you done for your company lately? WorkSimple offers a web-based tool that encourages employees to declare their goals and managers to track how well those goals are being met.

"Goals are social and have always been social, but the thing is we don't share them well," CEO and founder Morgan Norman said in an interview. WorkSimple does this with a web-based tool for sharing "social goals." Like many of the current generation of web-based social tools, WorkSimple allows individuals to sign up using nothing more than a work email address, where the domain associated with that email establishes a collaboration domain for the company. If a company decides to use the tool more actively, it can sign up for a corporate account that provides more tools to manage the setting and tracking of goals.

The San Francisco startup, which was founded in 2007, "was originally focused on small to midsize businesses, but then we got all this interest from larger employees," Norman said. About 40% of his current prospects are larger employers who have been managing employee goals (if they've been managing them at all) on spreadsheets or documents compiled at annual review time, he said. The WorkSimple concept is that it's better to keep a running list of goals and achievements. A recent update to the product pays particular attention to large company problems like overlapping goals of different employees, where one person can only achieve his or her goals if another person delivers first, or at the same time.

"The idea is, let's understand that the most important goals are often the goals that have the most dependencies," Norman said. The point of tracking the goals is not necessarily even to feed into formal performance reviews but to help team members see each other's goals and reinforce them, he said. Some WorkSimple customers explicitly state the goal tracking will not be used in performance reviews, as a way of encouraging people to stake out more ambitious goals even if they don't always achieve them, Norman said.

One fan of the concept is Nikhil Singhal, senior vice president of engineering for Groundspeak, the operator of the geocaching.com website. Geocaching is a treasure hunting game based on GPS coordinates, and the website is a hub of activity for enthusiasts. Groundspeak also operates a couple of other websites, including WayMarking.com for cataloging interesting locations.

Before discovering the WorkSimple application, Singhal had been playing around with his own ideas for building something like this, based on his belief that the employee review process often doesn't work very well. That was based less on his work for Groundspeak than as his experience with larger employers like Microsoft.

Performance assessment ought to be based on what individuals have accomplished, he said in an interview, "but sometimes in complex review processes these things get lost--it's all about who you know, really," Singhal said. So he has been promoting WorkSimple as a tool for more factual tracking of goals and achievements.

However, Singhal is trying to apply this technique in a relatively small company--about 60 employees total, half of whom are under his management--where a tool like this may be overkill. "I haven't had great adoption, to be frank," Singhal said. "I'm a great supporter, but I may be one of the few remaining supporters for this. My top performers, the stars, don't care about goals and all these things--they just want to get things done." And because it's a small enough team that he is continually giving its members both positive and critical feedback, they don't feel a great need to get it through a software tool, he said.

Giving that kind of intimate feedback isn't as easy for a Fortune 500 company, and Norman says he is winning customers in that league--although not any he can name just yet. There are other similar products WorkSimple will have to compete against, however, like CreateSmartGoals.

WorkSimple will also have to sort out whether it can be effective as a stand-alone product or would work better as an add-on or plug-in to other collaboration systems. Norman said the company is thinking about how it might integrate with Microsoft SharePoint or IBM's Lotus products.

Singhal said he could also see it as a nice complement to Yammer, the enterprise micro blogging tool. "Yammer is a great way to give kudos, and my whole point about using the social thing is to give kudos," he said. "I really want to see such a system succeed."

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