March 30, 2020

Why are people officers an afterthought for most startups?

In 2019, Business News Daily published “How to Hire for Your Startup: First 5 People You Should Hire.” The article nods to the importance of chief executive officers, chief operations officers, product managers, chief technology officers and sales managers. 

Noticeably absent? A people officer and human resources. In fact, the author suggests outsourcing those roles.

Forbes, the startup accelerator MassChallenge, and recruiting software firm Lever have echoed those suggestions, sharing similar articles.

Inspirant Group CEO and Co-Founder Amir Azarbad went the opposite route.

Before the consultant firm was even up and running, Azarbad had his No. 2 lined up, bucking the suggestions from the likes of startup advice articles. 

“We had lunch, and Amir said he was quitting his job and wanted me to be a part of his new company to run culture and people,” said Meighan Newhouse. Six months later, she joined Azarbad as Inspirant Group’s chief people officer, co-founder and his second hire.

 

inspirant group

 

“To me, Amir gets it. He’s a people-focused CEO who understands how important it is from the beginning to have the right people in place,” Newhouse said. 

That was 2017, and Newhouse said Inspirant Group’s initial attention to people has only intensified since those founding days.

The company, which lovingly refers to its mix of full-time team members and consultants as “unconsultants,” supports clients with business processes, technology, and people considerations strategies. It’s a smaller firm, with about 30 people total, and one of the reasons its been successful, Newhouse said, is through its equal attention to both contractors and employees.

“We want our employees and contractors to feel like they won the lottery when they join Inspirant Group,” Newhouse said. 

Newhouse addressed how this people-centric approach from the onset has helped differentiate Inspirant Group from other consultancies, what it looks like in practice, and how it contributes to a winning-lottery work environment.

 

inspirant group

 

What does it mean to be “people first” at Inspirant Group?

We always want to do right by our team and make sure our consultants are taken care of. That’s the approach we take with everyone. As a 1099 contractor, you’re looking at all of these firms that you could contract with, and you’re going to come to us because we give you that warm fuzzy. You mean something to us, and we want you to know that.

 

In what ways do you bolster a people-first environment as chief people officer?

I believe everyone has it in them to reach their potential, no matter background or upbringing. In my role, I try to push our employees toward where they want to go, even if it’s scary. If they can help me see where they want to go, then I can help get them there. I ask everyone, “How are you doing? What would you want to do?” If they express to me that they want to lead on a project, I try to find that project. It’s my job to make that happen.

 

inspirant group

 

Across the company, how does people-first show up in practice?

We support and invest in whatever our team wants to do. Recently, a couple of members from our tech group wanted to become certified in Agile methodology. One of our directors is qualified to certify people, so we offered the entire team, contractors and full-timers the training in house and paid for their certifications, which would have cost them thousands of dollars. We also host bi-annual all-hands meetings to bring everyone together. It’s a place and time for people to connect and share their skills and knowledge. Additionally, if they have external learning or development opportunities they want to pursue, then we are 100 percent behind that as well. 

 

HER PATH TO PEOPLE

Newhouse wanted to be a doctor but after watching her dad get stitches, she realized that wasn’t for her. After stints at a law practice and one of the Big Four firms, she founded her consulting firm to support organizations with learning and development operations. Four years later, Azarbad invited her to join him at Inspirant Group, where she infused her practice into the company’s consulting solutions.

 

What does that people-first approach look like in hiring? 

We’re super intentional and thoughtful when it comes to recruiting and planning for the different positions we have. The makeup of our company consists of about 70 percent 1099 contractors and 30 percent full-time employees, and that is also very intentional. Of those full-time employees, about half started with us as 1099 contractors and joined full time after about a year of working with us. This lets us see how we work together and provides a nice, flexible model that benefits both sides. 

 

 

Does a people-first approach help Inspirant Group differentiate itself from other consulting groups?

It helps us stand out. We are definitely not a “funnel all the money to the partnership” firm. We want our team to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit and provide both performance and referral bonuses to both our full timers and contractors, which is usually unheard of for 1099 employees. We give them money for doing good work, and we want them to feel like they are part of this team.

We also say no to projects that don’t fit with what we do or how we do it. In fact, in our first three months of business, we said no to an interested client. Being a small, nimble, boutique organization allows our team to play to our strengths. We know what we are good at, and we stick to it. If we have partners that we know are a better fit, we’ll refer them.

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