Deviation from the Norm

AGS’ Executive Director of SIGMA, Jessi Guenther dives into all things SIGMA. Learn what SIGMA is and how small to mid-market companies can still have the same value and benefits in an MSP as larger companies. Also, Jessi breaks down how SIGMA can be customized to meet the needs of your company.
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F: Welcome to, Subject To Talent, brought to you by Allegis Global Solutions. Similar to you, we're always trying to learn more. On this podcast, we speak to talent experts around the world, covering workforce management, market trends, technology, on a forever evolving dynamic industry. 

 Hello there. Thanks for tuning in and welcome to, Subject To Talent. Today, we have Jessi Guenther, Executive Director for SIGMA here at AGS. She has over 20 years of talent acquisition and recruitment industry experience. Jessi started with the Allegis family in 1997 as a recruiter and worked her way up in the company. She came into AGS in 2004 as a program director, to implement and manage a portfolio of MSP clients. In addition to her numerous business roles at AGS, Jessi is one of the founding members of Allegis Group's, Diversity and Inclusion Council, and an advocate and spokesperson for women in leadership. Jessi, can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself? How did you get into this industry? 

J: Well, I've been with Allegis for 23 years, so a lot about me is connected to what I've been a part of here. And my husband and our two sons, have been on this journey with me pretty much the whole way through. So, I'm from Wisconsin originally. I started my career there. We lived in Seattle and then we moved to London and we're now based at our corporate headquarters outside of Baltimore, Maryland. So, travel is a big part of my life, both personally and professionally, and all of the fun that comes with that from the food to unique experiences to the people we meet. I love to play golf. And I'm a massive advocate for the advancement of women and girls and that transcends my professional life as well. And, how did I get into this industry? Like a lot of people at Allegis, I was referred by a good college friend. I originally wanted to be a math teacher or a journalist, but after an interview at Aerotek, I changed my mind and the rest is history. 

F: Shocked that another person fell into the industry by accident. 

J: There are a lot of us. 

F: That's awesome. And, where here today to talk about SIGMA. And for our listeners who don't know, can you give us a high level overview of what SIGMA is and describe the ideal SIGMA customer? 

J: I've been a part of our MSP service offering for over 15 years. And the majority of that time was spent on the Fortune 50. I built and managed MSP programs for huge companies who were seeking sophisticated workforce management solutions, and during those years our reputation was really built on that model. A few years ago, we recognized a gap in the market, specifically, with small to mid-sized companies who are asking us to build an MSP solution for them based on what they heard about what MSP is built to do. 

And when your experience is heavily slated toward companies who are spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on their non-employee workforce, trying to apply that methodology to companies that spend less than 50 million, requires a different way of thinking. It's expensive to stand up an MSP program. There's a lot of heavy lifting involved in solution design and implementation, staff that needs to be hired and ultimately managed. So we needed to figure out a way to do it on a smaller scale without sacrificing the value. So SIGMA is purpose built for those companies, small to mid-sized customers who spend between 5 and $50 million a year and want the same value and benefit despite their size. 

F: Can you tell us where the name SIGMA came from? Does it stand for anything? 

J: What a great question. Our project team toiled over the brand for a bit. It does not stand for... It's not an acronym. But SIGMA, the Greek letter, is by definition a deviation from the norm or change. And when we were developing SIGMA, there was no question that we were deviating from our standard global enterprise MSP solution. So, that's the impetus of the name. 

F: And what makes SIGMA different from an enterprise solution then? 

J: Well, it's a good segue, because as I mentioned, our SIGMA clients expect the same value and benefit. And interestingly enough, many times our stakeholders and program sponsors have experience working with us in the past so they know what MSP value feels like. They expect the same experience if they're engaging us. In fact, they expect more because a relationship already exists. The differences really center around a few key aspects, simpler technology configuration, smaller more targeted suppliers and rapid deployment methodology. Because the companies that are buying are by definition smaller, we are typically dealing with a smaller list of staffing suppliers, less complexity from a technical standpoint and more nimble decision making when it comes to solution design. 

Large enterprise MSPs will typically take at least 16 weeks to implement if not double, when a SIGMA solution can be up and running in about eight weeks provided the technical aspects are contained to core integrations, which is pretty typical in a SIGMA environment. So, rather than start with every bell and whistle turned on, despite the fact that many won't be used, we'll spend more time upfront defining the must haves, discussing the nice to haves and ultimately landing on what solution will achieve the goal without adding unnecessary costs. 

F: And you said earlier, you started out in your MSP career working with Fortune companies, the top Fortune companies, and now you spend a lot of time focusing on these mid-market companies, what have you learned? 

J: Oh, so much. This isn't a one size fits all solution. I mean nothing ever is, right? When SIGMA was first conceptualized, we put together a very talented team of people from various functions of our business along with staffing expertise from Aerotek, and thought we could design a product that I typically call sort of “SIGMA in a box”, which was a really simple but somewhat rigid MSP solution that worked for some customers, but it was prohibitive to others. For example, we thought we'd be able to manage all SIGMA programs from our key hubs rather than client location. Which was great for us, because we had depth of talent, redundancies built in, lower cost locations. 

But we quickly realized that if we were going to sustain long-term success with this product, we would need to start stretching the sides of that box, so to speak, and find more creative ways to respond to what our customers were asking for while maintaining the integrity of the non-negotiables. Which include, best in class program teams, optimized and fit for purpose supply chain and opportunity for our operating companies to thrive. So, we're no longer in that box, but we're happily still able to meet the client need without compromising the integrity of our core purpose. 

F: And how does your team go about creating a customized solution for prospective customers? 

J: Well, we have by far the best team in the business. And SIGMA has dedicated program architects and solution designers who work directly with the client to define the needs and design the program. Our clients are a huge part of this success, but it's our team's responsibility to extract the things that are most important and ultimately build a solution around those things. So, although the value drivers for each customer vary in some shape or form, what's universal, is their desire for a consistent process, it's one that streamlines, creates efficiencies, puts less burden on the business, and most importantly, filling open roles. Wherever and whatever those roles might be, whatever the process, whatever the source of the candidate, the talent pool, the technology. In the end, what our clients measure us on above all else is, are the roles getting filled? Is the business happy? It doesn't matter if you're a company who hires 5,000 contingent staff a year or 200, an MSP solution like SIGMA has to be designed to address what's most important to our clients. 

F: And what are some nuances or complexities that SIGMA customers are often challenged with? 

J: Well, SIGMA is specifically tailored to the nuances that come with being a small to mid-size company. So, talent acquisition, HR, procurement, people in purpose teams, these functions aren't dedicated to the non-employee population unlike many of the large global enterprise customers. A key catalyst for outsourcing to an expert team like SIGMA, is to let those experts do the work. Our SIGMA customers often have strict budgetary constraints and one of the ways to circumvent the high costs that can come without an outsource solution like this, is to take the design and deployment and make it simpler. It might require some flexibility on the nice to haves. For example, a customer may want a front end technology integration with an HRIS system, which usually has a price tag and requires additional time to implement. And we're usually able to circumvent the cost and time associated by avoiding the direct integration and creating a simple upload process that's done with a couple of clicks. So that's one example. 

Certainly, there are nuances and challenges with customer bandwidth. Again, typically in a global enterprise deal, we're dealing with individuals who are dedicated to selecting and standing up a program. In a small to mid-sized company, they're usually juggling a number of priorities. So, getting a team in SIGMA that can alleviate some of that burden, has been something that our SIGMA customers have cited as a real win for them. 

F: Okay. That sounds great. And especially that point about kind of priorities and having a partner that can come in and just take that load off and help with that. And you can trust them because they've done it numerous times. 

J: Yes, without question. 

F: And we got an opportunity here, so what are some myths that you would like to debunk about SIGMA? 

J: Myths of SIGMA? Mm-hmm (affirmative). That it's less than, that it's MSP light, skinny MSP. I've heard all forms and fashions. It's interesting because the myths I spend more time trying to diffuse are more internal than external. Making sure that our teams across the globe understand what SIGMA is and isn't. SIGMA includes procurement solutions that can help solve our client's global challenges. We can bring payroll solutions and cutting edge technology to the table. We're three and a half years in now and we've built a really solid reputation. So I'm just really passionate about ensuring that our employees and our clients, current and future, know that the small to mid-market is huge and the growth of MSP in this space validates that we're on the right track, and this means opportunity for our customers and opportunity for our people. And that's really a win-win for everyone. 

F: And a big thing about SIGMA is the speed. So, how quickly can you deploy a SIGMA solution for a customer? 

J: Yeah. I think I mentioned earlier, we can do it in eight weeks. We did have one customer last year that we implemented in five, but I don't recommend it. Eight weeks has been the standard marker and that balances both a rigorous and tight timeline with a confidence that all of the milestones can be successfully achieved. In other words, there's little room for error or rest, but after eight weeks the client is breathing easy and SIGMA is off to the races. 

F: Even eight weeks, I think that's pretty impressive. 

J: It is. It's aggressive, but it's working. 

F: And what do you want a prospective customer to think about when considering who to choose as their mid-market solution provider? 

J: It's such a great question. I think the cultural alignment between two organizations is really underrated. MSP partnerships usually start with a three or five year contract. It's a serious relationship. And although there are exit clauses for non-performance, you don't typically see a breakup within that initial period. So, that time can be hard and painful or enjoyable and trustworthy. I want our clients to be able to see themselves offloading their largest talent problems onto our plates and trusting that we're going to effectively solution those problems. If a client doesn't see and feel that cultural fit during the early stages of the relationship, it's usually over before it really starts. They may gut it out for the contract period, but I can't count the number of times we've been brought in to fix a problem that originated with a stakeholder telling me that they were wowed by a demo or a process that in the end might have worked, but when it came to pivoting and solving problems in the moment, there was a real lack of connection there. 

So, that's probably the example that comes right off the top of my head. I certainly want our customers to be thinking about and asking questions around how many times have we done it. When it comes to SIGMA, I'm always sort of yearning for a customer to get into the details of the small to mid-market. Everybody can design a solution, every competitor out there for any shape and size, truly. But when I look at the product that AGS has brought to the market and the case studies that are coming from these customers that have bought it, there's no question that dedicating the team to the small to mid-market, designing processes and solutions that are custom or bespoke for those customers, has been a differentiator. And just like you want a doctor that's done it... A procedure over and over and over again, I would want our customer to be asking and really trying to vet out truly, how expert are we? And then, I think not less important, is our willingness and ability to be honest with a customer. And that's not always easy. 

And again, I think that customer engagements fail when there's a lack of transparency and an unwillingness to be forthcoming and really transparent about what is and isn't possible. The sales process by nature, in any industry, is one that needs to make commitments. But once requirements get vetted out, getting in front of the things that may not be as possible as we once thought, it's better just to get it out there. So, I'd love to be able to create a list of questions that I could give to a prospective customer, and say, "Ask this of every vendor. And if we aren't the best vendor in the answers, then so be it." But, I do find myself in situations where I know that the diligence up front is not benefiting what's happening on the backend. So, we're getting there. 

F: Okay. Amazing. There's some good... Some great advice there. And I like the point about honesty and starting with honesty right at the beginning of that relationship. Finally, our last question, what's next on the horizon for SIGMA? 

J: Yeah. As I mentioned earlier, the market is growing, there's no question about that. The North American MSP market, is witnessing a rise in mid-market deals. Last year we expanded the SIGMA product to the UK and Ireland, which is the second largest market for small to mid-sized companies for MSP, so we're growing. Without question, our customers are really smart in this space. 10 years ago, we were solving problems for our customers that today are pretty simple in hindsight. And as our customers become more knowledgeable about what they want and what's possible, it puts the honors on us to stay ahead of the possibilities, to develop new products and solutions that solve their most complex talent problems and hopefully problems they don't even know they have. 

And SIGMA has the luxury of pilfering the best ideas and concepts that have come out of 15 years of product development at AGS, and we get to sort of retrofit them for the mid-market. So, what's next is continued sophistication, incorporation of procurement solutions, technology that not only streamlines the process but helps manage the experience for the business and the talent. Small to mid-size engagements, do give us a little bit of a playground to try new things with lower risk, and our clients are excited to be a part of that. It's definitely an exciting time to be a part of the MSP space in general. And I personally get the privilege of leading, what I think are... Is one of the coolest teams in the business. 

F: That's really exciting times ahead. Jessi, thank you so much for coming in. Honestly, it's been a pleasure. Thank you. 

J: Thank you, Frank. 

F: Thank you very much for tuning in today. If you would like to learn more about SIGMA and how it could help your organization, please check out our website at allegisglobalsolutions.com. If you have any questions for Jessi, feel free to tweet us @AllegisGlobal, with the #subjecttotalent. Also, if you have any suggestions for topics that you would like us to cover in our future episodes, you can email us at subjecttotalent@allegisglobalsolutions.com. If you enjoyed our podcast today, please share us with all your colleagues, subscribe, rate us, and leave a review. Until next time, cheers. 

 

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