Priscilla Messir Puts People First at RGIS

How CHRO Priscilla Messir transformed the HR department from a backseat role to one that sits side-by-side with the RGIS business leaders

Priscilla Messir, RGISPhoto: Eve Lin

Priscilla Messir, chief human resources officer at RGIS, was doing HR work before she really knew what HR was all about. Double majoring in marketing and management at Florida International University, Messir knew she was interested in business administration but didn’t want to limit herself to a particular field. However, the courses she enjoyed the most were HR focused: organizational behavior, recruitment, and staffing.

While in school, she worked at Express (Limited Brands), which entailed a great deal of “people” work such as hiring, coaching, and training. Even before she understood the HR skills she was building, she knew she enjoyed the interaction and the ability to solve problems.

“My division of responsibility was talent,” she explains. “Motivating people to perform really excited me, and the excitement was contagious; people performed better and wanted to learn and do more. It quickly became clear to me that a career in human resources was perfectly suited for me and something I would pursue.”

Messir also immersed herself in leadership roles throughout college, one of which was vice president of membership for the business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi,—a life-changing role. “The experience really ignited my passion to influence and engage people to rally around a common purpose.”

Messir next took a career-changing internship with Burger King Corporation in Miami, where she would witness the foundation of HR applied in a global organization. In her six-plus years at Burger King, Messir enjoyed a solid and steady career progression, plunging herself into special projects and stretch assignments, as well as volunteering with the company’s corporate social responsibility program. As her experience grew, so did her skills and her passion to be an HR leader.

“A key ingredient in enabling that is building and earning the trust and credibility of the organization.”

In 2011, Messir joined Nielsen as an HR generalist, further cementing her dedication as a business partner first-and-foremost. She operated in the HR business partner (HRBP) capacity, initially supporting 1,600 employees in North America, increasing to more than 14,000 across 100-plus countries. During her seven years at Nielsen, Messir credits the importance of focusing not on title or money but on the passion to drive results; the importance of diversity and inclusion, specifically diversity of thought; and learning that a one-size-fits-all approach rarely works.

Then, in 2018, Messir was asked to serve in one of the most important roles of her career and one that would allow her to truly shape and position HR as a powerful and equitable business partner. Messir joined RGIS, an inventory management services company based in Michigan, as its CHRO.

This is the role of a lifetime for Messir, who applies every ounce of passion, hard work, and experience to the organization. Messir spent most of 2019 setting the stage for a strong HR foundation. Prior to her, HR was in the backseat and served in a reactive capacity, which presented a challenge she was well prepared and well suited for.

Messir was charged with leading the large-scale transformation of HR for RGIS, which started as a family-owned business more than sixty years ago. When Siegfried De Smedt came on board as CEO of US and Canada in 2018, he launched a People Service Profit (PSP) philosophy where the company would put its people first, with the aim to deliver better service that results in better profits. He also launched the Transformation Journey, which consists of key initiatives that transform the work and how it is done across the US and Canada.

It was up to Messir to define the people strategy and transform HR to best support the business. She organized the people strategy around organization, roles, and talent. It starts, she explains, with ensuring the structure is organized in the best possible way to deliver on the company’s priorities, clearly defining roles and responsibilities along with clear success measures and ensuring the right talent is in the right roles.

Some of the initiatives included implementing a performance management approach, redesigning the companywide organizational structure at all levels, implementing a pay structure, and outsourcing recruitment for hourly and field management positions. “The expectation is the HR Centers of Excellence see the HRBPs as their key client,” Messir explains, “and the HRBPs see the business they support as their key client.”

“The journey towards transformation requires us to think big-picture strategy, provide sustainable business solutions, and influence change at all levels of the organization while creating a meaningful culture that resonates throughout.”

The actions have proved to be an immediate success. One thing she is proud of is the performance management approach. “We can’t say our people are first if our actions don’t truly exhibit that,” Messir states. “The performance management approach ensures we have a consistent and fair way of assessing our talent, putting proper action plans in place to improve performance, and ensure there is a focus on proper succession planning, not just names in boxes.”

But she says she’s most proud of the fact that HR has shifted from the backseat role to one that sits side-by-side with the business leaders in driving the people strategy for the company.

“Aside from knowing the business, the journey towards transformation requires us to think big-picture strategy, provide sustainable business solutions, and influence change at all levels of the organization while creating a meaningful culture that resonates throughout,” the CHRO shares. “A key ingredient in enabling that is building and earning the trust and credibility of the organization. In my opinion, this is the only way HR can truly be viewed as a strategic business partner and operate as such.”

Looking ahead, Messir’s main goal is to keep the organization strong during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I will help ensure RGIS is ready for a quick and successful ramp up once ready,” she explains, “along with focusing on the normalization of all of the initiatives launched last year, and ensuring the continued emphasis of putting our people first is fully engrained in the company’s DNA.”