Microsoft Acquires Ally: Expands Viva Into Employee Goal Management

As I talked about in Ten New Truths for HR Tech, Microsoft is upsetting the entire work-tech market. Not only is Viva on the agenda for every HR and IT department we talk with, Microsoft is doubling down. Today Microsoft announced plans to acquire, a fast-growing OKR goal management platform with more than 1,000 customers.

All I can say is “wow.”

This is a big move, extending Viva’s Employee Experience Platform into the world of employee goal setting, goal sharing, OKRs, and performance management. This is really essential stuff, and this move threatens to impact vendors like Asana, Monday, and all the existing HR performance management platforms as well (Lattice, BetterWorks, CultureAmp, Workboard, 15Five, and others).

What Is Goal Management?

Let me first explain what this software does. When you work in a team (project team, service team, sales team, etc.) you likely have individual goals, team goals, and company goals. These goals are all written down somewhere, and often people come to you and ask “how are you doing with your new leads this month?” or “how is your sales pipeline coming along?”

This simple little question opens a pandora’s box of questions. What are your goals and who can see them? How do they align with other bigger goals and what dependencies are there? When you achieve a goal (or have problems hitting it), who needs to know about it? And how does management keep track of what’s on time and what’s behind?

This process is often called “performance management” but I call it “management.” In other words, this is what managers are supposed to do. So there is a huge industry of OKR tools, performance management tools, and project management tools to capture all this. Some of these vendors are self-service products (like Asana) so they are purchased by team leaders and they grow like weeds. Others are enterprise-level tools that require IT support and HR department buy-in.

At Walmart, for example, the digital team uses BetterWorks for OKR but the rest of the company uses Workday. Colgate is adopting OKRs across the company for a myriad of business units. Goldman Sachs just upgraded their technology with a toolset that focuses on employee check-ins. And the list goes on and on. Suffice it to say these tools play a vital role in business. Every company has one or more of these things, and often there are different tools used by different groups.

It’s a massive, important, yet fragmented market.

In other words, it’s perfect for Microsoft.

Microsoft, in its unique and hard-hitting way, builds easy-to-use systems that people find “indispensable” at work. They are often priced affordably, and then they grow like wildfire. People build extensions on them, IT departments customize them, and there’s always a debate with IT along the lines of “wait a minute, don’t we already have that type of system in our Microsoft license?”

Goals: The Fifth Viva Application

In this case, the acquisition is intended to be the Fifth Viva Application (Viva Connections, Viva Insights, Viva Learning, and Viva Topics are the others). This means the performance and goals system will be sold by all Microsoft sales teams and positioned as a core product for all buyers of Microsoft 365.

The impact on HR tech will be big. Ally is a well-designed system (NetPromoter is in the high 60s according to my research, rated 4.7 out of 5 in Capterra) so I have no question this will be successful.

And by the way, there’s another secret under the covers. Ally is using what one may call “Nudge-Tech” to communicate between people. Similar to the tool Disco that was acquired by CultureAmp this week, Ally will “nudge you” and tell you when something important is going on. This new idea is spreading around employee experience systems, and Microsoft now has it embedded in the platform.

One of the Ten New Truths I mention for HR Tech is the rapid integration of Performance tools into the entire Flow of Work. Well, it almost seems like Microsoft was reading my mind and they went out and acquired one of the next “big things” in the entire market for Employee Experience around the world.

And of course, Ally and its products work within Microsoft Teams.

Why Microsoft Cares About This Space

Microsoft is a well-meaning company. Of course, the product team wants to grow the Viva and Microsoft 365 product set, but I think there’s a bigger mission here. Not only does Viva Goals (my name) help with operational performance management, coaching, and development planning – it’s a way for people to connect to the “mission” of the company. And that’s something Microsoft cares about.

In today’s world of hybrid work, pandemic uncertainty, and a never-ending stream of video meetings, emails, and messages, it’s nice to know that “I’m working on something important.” And other people care about what I do. Products like Ally make this happen, by letting others see what you’re doing and letting them thank you, help you, and contribute to your success.

One more congratulation to Microsoft, stay tuned for more on the Viva tsunami.

Additional Resources

CultureAmp Acquires Disco: Nudge-Tech for Performance and Teams

Performance Management In The Pandemic: Becoming Your Best Self

The Tale of Performance Management:  15Five, Lattice, BetterWorks and More