Interview: Melissa Risteff On NewsGator's Ongoing Quest to 'Make Social Real'

5 minute read
Siobhan Fagan avatar

interviews, newsgator, social business, social enterprise

NewsGator found itself in a position that may sound familiar to other businesses: its employees were disengaged. The work was getting done, but there was no emotional connection to it. It was time for a change.

Earlier this year NewsGator introduced a team focused on improving participation and engagement for their clients' social workplaces but took it one step further -- leading by example, making social a living, breathing thing in their workplace. The quest to make work suck less is ongoing, but they are well on their way. As the Senior Vice President of Enterprise Engagement, Melissa Risteff has been in the thick of this change and speaks directly to how NewsGator turned their employee engagement around.

Siobhan Fagan: What event or problems prompted NewsGator's change in strategy?

We’ve always believed that social business is the future of work. Being innovative so early in the space enabled us to delight our clients as we were so responsive to their needs. With Microsoft’s dedication to providing basic infrastructure with SharePoint, Lync and Yammer, we can focus on what we love the most: adding real business value through social business. We’re seeing that the market is really ready and we’re dedicating a 100% of our time, passion and resources to our mission to "Make Social Real."

SF: What changes did you make as a result?

MR: We refocused our strategy and became very clear about our key differentiators with help from our amazing clients and partners. If you have a strong purpose and principles, then you can empower your teams to make great decisions. This can be liberating for your people.

Specifically, we focus on drivers that promote and sustain employee passion in the workplace. We don’t just say we’re culturally open. We work out loud and encourage individuals to join the conversation. We support breaks and life balance that blur the boundaries of work and play. We create opportunities to contribute to the company mission and vision with challenging work that leverages individuals’ talents, abilities and ambitions. We build close work relationships around the globe through frequent conversations, clear goals and candid feedback -- all of which are dramatically improving engagement.

SF: How are you tracking and measuring the results of this strategy shift?

MR: We have 10 key strategic initiatives that drive our organizational focus. Each initiative has an executive sponsor, real milestones and quantifiable goals. This isn’t rocket science. As for our own social workplace, we track enrollment, participation and recognition measures.

SF: What benefits have you noticed?

MR: Silos have been torn down and more cross functional teamwork is taking place every day. Our team was recently working on some tough problems in a teaming session and our CFO dropped in to share that he loved hearing all the laughter. Happiness is contagious -- especially while you are making progress. But truth be told, NewsGator has always been a great place to work.

SF: Were there any unexpected challenges?

Learning Opportunities

MR: The open approach that our new CEO is establishing can be a challenge for those that liked things the old way. Change has a profound impact on people. And everyone internalizes that change differently -- especially when the culture is shifting under your collective feet.Things may sound promising and hopeful at face value, but reforming new habits and modeling the right behaviors might be elusive for leaders at all levels of the organization.

SF: What role do you think employee engagement plays in a greater social business strategy?

MR: Without employee engagement, your social business strategy will fall flat. The NewsGator adoption framework is actually one of the 10 key strategic initiatives that I mentioned earlier. Its secret is to reach critical mass and then never slow down your fanatical focus on improving the way people work. Companies need to realize that the only assets that really make a difference are people.

SF:  How important are the tools and how important is the culture in encouraging employee engagement?

MR: Culture is your barometer and lifeblood of the organization. Social tools are making work more human. Typically the brain reacts to personal interactions differently than it does to traditional digital interactions; however, social technologies enable us to bring the human aspect back to digital connections. Engaging in a social network allows us to experience the human side of work again -- resulting in greater empathy, trust, bonding and ultimately, productivity. And with these stronger bonds come a motivated, high-performing workforce.

SF: What steps are you taking to ensure this is a sustainable strategy?

MR: I just caught a thread in our internal activity stream from a rock star developer prototyping some new reports and he shared that 91% of our employees are actively engaged in our social workplace. Once you have critical mass, then the magic can start. But then you need to commit to your practice. I’ve been doing Pilates for years now and when I stay committed I am more healthy and present. For a leader delivering on your social business strategy, it means getting up every day and modeling the behavior that you want to inspire.

SF: What’s coming next for NewsGator's social strategy?

MRSocial can’t happen in a silo or just within pockets of organizations, which means your foundation has to grow and support the changing needs of your workforce. Connecting people to information is key to productivity. Connecting people to people is transformative. We’re changing the way people work to map to a clear return on investment. We’re investing in human centric experiences that delight our clients. And we’re investing in ready to deploy solutions that get our clients to that business value faster.