Success Driven By Empathy, with Priya Rajaraman (Interview)

It wouldn't be inaccurate to call Priya Rajaraman a consultant, but it also wouldn't get to heart of her work. 

As a San Francisco-based business designer working with Fjord (owned by Accenture Song) Rajaraman has made a name for herself by heading up business-function transformation projects and human-led brand experience-led projects for multiple Fortune 500 companies. 

While Rajaraman can't share specific details of her various projects with Fjord due to confidentiality constraints, she was able to outline many of the core tenets of her professional philosophy, which is ultimately typified by an emphasis on people. 

As Rajaraman pointed out, Fjord/Accenture cares a great deal for the well-being of their employees, and in turn, these experts, including Rajaraman herself, operate from a position of empathy. 

This not only helps these consultants design considerate and effective solutions in the present but also helps to set a positive and thoughtful precedent for future work in the field. 

Success Quarterly (SQ): When you start working with a company, do you already have a set of priorities in mind, or do these priorities depend on the specifics of the company and its goals?

Priya Rajaraman (PR): Adaptability is the key. As a consultant, it's important to start setting and forming priorities during the interactions in the run-up to the actual start of a project, and these are a combination of the client’s vision as well as one’s own core competencies and ambitions.

One of the many good things about working at Fjord, part of Accenture Song, is that I get to align the type of projects I want to work on or organizations I want to work with based on my values, interests, and passions. As an employee, we are asked to think about our individual professional priorities and aspirations, and leadership promotes and supports you to work on these areas. 

SQ: How did you start working with Fjord/Accenture? What were some of your earliest experiences/projects with the company?

PR: While still working with marketing agencies in India, my interest for Design Thinking was sparked by a book I came across by Bill Burnett called Designing Your Life. As I read through it, my interest grew deeper, so I started to read papers and articles on Design Thinking, a concept that was pretty foreign in India at the time. It was only while going deep down the rabbit hole of research on Design Thinking that I came across Fjord, amidst other design agencies like IDEO, Frog, etc. 

I fell in love with the work Fjordians did. I was inspired by the human-centric approach to a plethora of problems. I knew that this is where I wanted to be and work on larger organizational problems with a human-centered approach. 

By sheer happenstance, Fjord had come to recruit in my school during a career fair in 2020, and I started talking to the recruiter. Then, in 2021, after graduating, I reached out to this recruiter again to ask about possible roles. 

I had a series of interviews with the hiring staff and leaders in the organization. Each round of the interview process felt so warm and connected. It just felt right. I was interviewing with multiple companies at that time, and quickly said yes to Fjord/Accenture and declined the other offers. 

Through my interactions with my peers and mentors, I realized that the work culture we have is formed with intention and purpose. This is an organization where we put people first. Not only is the work we do for our clients done with a human-centered approach, but the way we manage our daily interactions or work on internal initiatives keeps in mind the emotional journey of the people here. My first reaction to the initial days of my experience at Fjord was, “I truly belong here. I have arrived!” 

Every project I have worked on, every client I have worked with, and every peer I interact with truly amazes me. I am extremely proud and lucky to be a part of an organization that leaves no stone unturned for its employees' well-being and progress. I have had the honor of leading some internal initiatives and leading workstreams and workshops for our clients. 

SQ: Of all the companies you've worked with, have you noticed any commonalities when it comes to their needs and what you can help them develop?

PR: Each company I've worked with has its own vision and a set of objectives. I support those objectives and give my all. All these organizations I have worked with in the past have ambitious goals and allow for their employees to grow. 

While every company creates spaces for social events, it’s only at Fjord that I've seen and experienced a culture where you can be your most authentic self. We don’t shy away from having difficult conversations about the state of the world. We function with empathy. We put our people first. 

SQ: What would you say is at the center of your own career success?

PR: Life’s a journey of learning. Having said that, my people-based thought process, creativity, and drive have combined to fuel my professional journey, along with the people I've interacted with.

It would be unfair to say that my career success is all my doing. I draw my inspiration from my parents, who without any formal training in human-centered design have constantly empathized and problem-solved by putting people first. My father is a sports journalist and media specialist who is proud and constantly promotes Indian sports. He would tell me stories he learned from athletes, about their triumphs and failures. His wisdom inspires me to design solutions with emotions. 

My mother is a homemaker and I have often seen her be quick on her toes with any problem. The ease with which she’s able to find solutions to any problem amazes me. She is perhaps the best at reading people and connecting with them on a deeper level. Even if you were to meet her for the first time, she’d make you feel so comfortable and taken care of that you’d end up sharing your deepest concerns with her. She really ends up being the confidant for the people she interacts with. 

Without this support from my parents and learning from their life lessons, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. Even today, my dad recommends books and articles to read that make me a better business designer. 

My professors from my undergrad in Engineering at the Manipal Institute of Technology, India and graduate school for MBA at California College of the Arts, San Francisco pushed me to be the best version of myself. Each professor taught me something new, and those learnings have also shaped me into the Business Designer and person that I am today. 

Lastly, I need to thank my mentors at Fjord, for believing in me more than I believe in myself, giving me the opportunities to learn, grow, and lead. 

SQ: What separates your approach to business design from other professionals in this space?

PR: I have always put people at the center of my thought process when seeking efficient solutions for clients. I believe the empathy I have for people is my biggest strength.

​​I pursued a master’s in Business Administration from California College of the Arts, a design school. However, my MBA had a focus on Design Strategy, which vastly differs from a traditional MBA from a Business School as a Design MBA focuses on Design Thinking or human-centered design, whereas a traditional MBA only talks about achieving the bottom line.

There has been an increase in the need for human-centric business solutions, especially due to the global pandemic. The market structures have experienced a paradigm shift, and we truly live in an experience economy. Now more than ever, organizations need to provide high-quality experiences to their consumers to sustain and grow their businesses. Those organizations that couldn’t keep up with the change in demands of their consumers simply didn’t make it through the pandemic and were forced to shut down or pivot their business models. 

My role as a Business Designer at Fjord/Accenture focuses on these ever-evolving needs, wants, and desires of the consumers and provides business solutions that create a sustainable impact for years to come. Now more and more are partnering with us for our human-centric expertise. We have been seeing the need to think not only broader but also deeper about our client’s consumers across all industries such as retail, healthcare and public services, hospitality, banking and finances, human resources, etc.

The sorts of projects I work on specialize in large-scale operating model transformation of organizations that are experience-led. I have been honored to work with some of the leading Fortune 500 organizations, transforming their businesses to adapt to the shifts we are seeing in the markets, economy, and consumers.

SQ: Is there any overlap between your professional philosophies and your professional philosophies? Has your work influenced your own approach to life?

PR: Work occupies the central place in my life. And the lessons I've learned from my work have helped me enhance my approach to life.

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