Enabling Human-First Business Strategy
The Prime View interview with Tracey Figurelli, EVP of Digital Innovation at RGP (Resources Global Professionals), a global consulting firm that helps companies get the top talent on the market, enables efficient project execution and empowers digital transformation.
Tracey, can you tell us a bit about the steps in your career and how your career has led you to this point?
When I went to college, I was not sure I was going to land in business. I ended up with a business degree and received my MBA in finance without really knowing if that is what I wanted to do in the future. In my first job at prudential, I started realizing I gravitate more towards technology.
Later, I ultimately moved into consulting and have been in this space for 19 years, taking different roles. I ran practices, regional offices, P&Ls. The most recent role I have had in the past year is the EVP of Digital Innovation at RGP, preparing the company to be more digitally relevant, both internally and building commercialized products.
I joined this firm for a culture that is so hard to articulate or put your finger on. You may wonder what keeps people here for as long as I have been here? The company culture at RGP is a big differentiator. It is the collaborative teamwork and people with the same good intentions. This company is about how we take the ego out of what we do and help our clients. It is how we do this as a collective. RGP has been consistent over my years of holding onto that culture and not losing it.
I think consulting gave me the chance to explore what excited me and what my passion was.
I was bridging the functional finance folks with the IT groups. I worked in an interpreter type role, breaking down complex business problems, figuring out how technology could solve them. I got to see multiple industries and eventually started working on building the practices within RGP. At RGP Consulting, I built the information management practice globally for the company. That was the breadth of being able to align with IT technologies functionally.
EVP of Digital Innovations
Could you elaborate on the business’s digital part and the change that you are bringing to the company?
We set off about a year ago to internally help our employees access data, reduce the amount of time spent searching for things, or use hard copy collateral for marketing to make our employees’ jobs easier and improve job satisfaction internally. At the same time, I realized a lot of things that we were building, and our clients would appreciate being able to leverage.
For instance, one of the products that we just launched, a project management tool called Launch PM, has been a huge service for us since the inception. All our clients need help, whether it is the beginning of a project, the end of a project, or fixing a project, and we have always been able to come in and help with great project managers. We would come with all the Excel templates and the files, but it wasn’t digitally enabled; there was no oversight.
The timing worked out well, with the pandemic hitting at the same time that we developed and pushed into the production for our tool.
Launch PM helped our consultants to go virtual overnight. It was a huge shift when everybody shut down their real estate locations, and we were able to pull up on a product that provides full transparency and processes visibility. This tool gives you the instant ability to see what is going on in a project at any given time.
There are many project management tools available in the market. What is the unique selling proposition for Launch PM?
You are right; people have been using Microsoft project management tools for years. But what we decided to do was take our years of consulting knowledge and pull it into the frameworks to whittle down what are the necessary pieces of project management. There are tons of different ways you can do it, from super structured to less structured.
We took the framework that our consultants have been using for decades and put that into a flow format from the beginning to the end stages of a project. The outcome was a super intuitive, super practical tool.
There are templates, charters, documentation, dashboards, and the visibility to start measuring your projects. Now you can see whether they are returning what you expected. You can see if you are getting the right results. You are getting visibility at all levels of the project.
Our differentiator is that the tool was developed by our project managers, not just technologists coming up with another tool. It was what they used to work with on a day to day basis. That makes projects run smoother.
We did build the tool using a cloud-based application that was already developed. We got a couple of clients that wanted to jump onto it before it was ready, and they were willing to be early adopters. So now, we are pushing it to the southeast and our Riverlands client base first, and then we will push it out globally in a staggered, phased approach.
Do you directly manage the development team working on your tool?
Our main product development is based in the US, and we have some resources in our offshore location that help with the product design, configuration, and support. We do not have a large product development team, and we are currently relying on technology partners to help with the technical build and platform.
You are working in different domains, providing different services. How do you approach expertise accumulation and knowledge storage within RGP?
It is all about talent and finding the right people. For us, first and foremost are soft skills, making sure they’re the right demeanor, the right type of individual to help clients.
In consulting, you have to adapt to your environment and become more of a conduit on how to help your client become successful.
We always start with the soft skill set and make sure that our “human-first” model is straight. Even though I run digital innovation, in our business, everything is about humans. If you do not have that human component, understanding what individuals need, I do not see the business succeed.
Secondly, to work with us, you have to have the right professional skill set. If you are doing accounting, you have to have the CPA, and you have to have your certifications around that type of functional area. Through our Life and Learning Center, we offer different trainings.
We are working on creating a best-in-class employee experience portal, so our consultants have all the access at their fingertips to professional training, case studies, and resources. Suppose they are working on a project, and they want to reach out to another group of consultants that did something similar to another client. In that case, they will have that ability through collaboration and content storage. We are not there yet. We are developing and working on something that will be released in stages in the next months. That will then continue to evolve in today’s ever-changing marketplace.
What new methods were you leveraging to hire top talent on the market?
RGP has been around for about twenty years, and our model was to offer our consultants more choice in what they did. When in traditional consulting and big consulting firms, consultants had little choice – they would go wherever they were told to go.
We have always been ahead of the gig economy, in the mindset of bringing consultants in and giving them a choice. We were open to providing consultants with options. Do you want to travel? Do you want to work on this project? Is it in your commute range? Is it in the area that you want to focus on it? When I joined RGP, I was a consultant, and I chose what I want to work on. That was a huge differentiator at that time.
Another thing is that we typically took consultants that had about ten years of experience. It was not a junior employee right out of college; it was someone who had some life experience to bring to the client.
As competition grows, we are not the only ones out there offering choice and flexibility. We try to take that same premise but give training and give all the benefits you would get with traditional consulting. We marry the two concepts of putting the power in the consultant’s hand on their career path and giving them resources to do that. We took the best of the traditional consulting and the gig world to offer something unique.
It is very expensive to win new logos. So, it is important to keep existing customers happy. How do you maintain high customer satisfaction and retention?
That is another good question. We have a high customer retention percentage over the years. A lot of it comes down to the actual consultants on site. They become a part of the client. They become a part of the deliverables. Our consultants take on what success is to the client company. That is what ingrains us into the company where they start saying, “Oh, we need to refer you over to this department. You guys have to work over here. You have to help them.”
It is also finding that balance of not necessarily being the voice of expertise coming in and telling you what to do, but coming in and working with you and sharing external viewpoints.
Our consultants can think strategically and layout a plan for you and challenge how you are driving a project but also get in and execute.
That helps us stay solidified with our clients. We stay with them for a while and move on to different projects. It is not that we are all on the same one project forever and ever. Oftentimes, it is about knowledge transfer and change management. Sometimes it is about getting a client’s people trained. Its hard work, but we are proud of our client retention numbers.
I see RGP is participating in strategic alliances with companies like Blue Prism, NetSuite, Sitecore, etc. How do these partnerships help RGP drive business?
For us, it is important to be selective and build a relationship on trust and mutual benefit. We see there are many abilities to partner with many different companies. We realized we were not going to develop big, heavy technology infrastructure to build software. That was not going to be a core competency of ours. So we decided to find the right partners that would then execute our clients’ needs. For instance, if you take Blue Prism, we have some consultants trained in their core technology, but we are not going to build our RPA platform. That would not be something we want to do.
We have people in charge who have done a phenomenal job in building strong relationships over the years. We want to make sure we keep alliances small enough that we can bring benefits to both sides. Because if you extend it too many, you are not building the relationship, you overstretch yourself and cannot maintain a strong relationship.
What were your greatest challenges that you are trying to execute your company’s goals?
I have been on the executive team for the past three years. I would say the biggest challenge, even pre-COVID, is staying focused in an ever-changing marketplace. There are so many different avenues that you could go down and try this or try that and dilute your value proposition—staying focused on one of our big areas.
Another thing is flexibility. I have seen many companies build strong project management teams even though they do not need them for the same amount of time throughout the year.
For us, to be able to flex when working with clients on the support for project management has always been a top priority.
I guess the challenge is staying close enough to the client to make sure we are remaining relevant. Staying focused on a certain area, not getting distracted. Often companies are committing to things they cannot fully execute to. It is critically important to recognize when we are probably not best suited for this type of service. As an executive team, I would say that it is tough to stay focused and continue on this path. You can see all of the other consulting firms doing this or doing that, and you suddenly want to go off and branch out. My role has been to digitally enable us as a company, build tools that will help us thrive and evolve, but stay in our line, stay in our focused area.
Can you share with our readers the most successful case study?
The most relevant is the Fortune 500 company, a client of ours. At the beginning of the year, that client had some projects that they needed support with. At that time, we started beta-testing for the Launch PM product onsite. And when March came, the client closed down their sites, we had the tool up and running.
We went into execution on project initiatives. A team of 20 project managers to help execute project initiatives and different workstreams established throughout the firm to be able to drive those projects. That’s where we introduced the launchpad tool to that group. Like I said, overnight, when all of those project managers had to go offsite, other employees had to go off-site, it was leveraging that tool, the state enacted. Unfortunately, I cannot use their name and referrals because the testimonials are tremendous. If there wasn’t our product, they would have lost so much time and resources. It was pivoting on a dime that they were working one day the next, they were at home all connected, continuing on the deliverables.
What are the biggest challenges for consulting companies in 2020?
In consulting, we are most worried about our employees. How do we make sure they are staying gainfully employed and we are not losing projects? Some companies are not stopping projects in play, but they are delaying the start of the ones we had planned for. As a consulting firm, you are constantly in workforce planning, thinking where the next projects, how consultants will be employed. That is our biggest concern right now. We want to keep everybody intact. We want to stay close to our clients, to figure out if this project isn’t needed anymore, but we can learn what they are doing and how we can help. It is important to be respectful of what they are going through.
Since many customers are going through layoffs and reduction in force, we make sure we are listening, and we are there for them.
It comes down to mutually beneficial relationships. We ask our clients what we can do for you at this time while we can also keep our employees employed?
There is the uncertainty of the next six months. We are simply looking out, wondering, is it going to get better, or will it worsen? What is going to happen? We take it seriously when it comes to how we make sure we keep our employees employed.
I saw a slide about HUGO in the presentation for investors. Could you please tell us what HUGO is about?
It is still in development, so we have been a little bit hesitant to share too much information on the project. But I’ll be able to tell you that HUGO stands for “Human + Go,” it’s our online platform for demand staffing. It is our alternative to having face-to-face interaction with our clients. We want to help them with the staffing perspective and give them another option. If they would rather look on their phone to find out what talents are out there for a project they have got or been able to use technology to have a super transparent interaction with a candidate. If I need a finance person to help me for the next three months, I want to see what my options are. HUGO gives you options of that talent, locally, or if it does not matter where they are, you could have access to talent all over the world and then engage into more of a digital transaction on providing staffing services.
Tracy, what markets do you mainly operate in?
We are in every major market – US, Canada, Europe, Asia. We grew our presence based on where our client demand was. We decided to extend past North America because our clients need us in Hong Kong. They need us in London.
Today we are evaluating whether that needs to exist. Does real estate presence need to exist in all of those places? Or are there ways that we can support our clients more virtually? What makes the most sense for them so they will not worry about putting the options in our consultant’s hands, so they have more of a voice in the direction they choose to go and how they work with us?
My personal opinion is we need to find a balance. If somebody needs the fastest and the most efficient way of using a digital tool, let us give that to them. At the same time, it is important to have a face to face connection and build relationships based on trust. That is something a digital tool will never take away.
What are the common misconceptions RGP has to deal with as a consulting company?
In the past, we have been viewed as just a staffing service with consultants who execute well. In reality, our consultants (with an average of 20+ years of experience) can strategically help our clients while also executing them at a tactical level. I think that is a big difference some companies miss; if they can take advantage of both those skill sets, it is a win/win for all of us.
Tracey, thank you for the interesting conversation and building innovative tools that will enable people to be even more effective in their work.
Stay tuned for the next interviews!