An ‘Unconsultant’ for the 21st Century
Many aspects of the pandemic went unpredicted, perhaps none more so than the wave of employees opting to walk away from or not return to jobs that left them undercompensated and unfulfilled. As co-founder and CEO of Inspirant Group—a team of management “unconsultants” (their neologism) who create workplaces where employees are productive and happy—Meighan C. “Meg” Newhouse, ’01 LAS, EDM ’02, has watched the transforming corporate landscape with a keen eye and proven techniques for addressing fallout.
Customer service seems to have become customer avoidance. All of us can relate to calling to get information or make an appointment, only to be diverted through endless branches of a phone tree and put on hold for what feels like forever. When and if we do reach someone, the person isn’t empowered to provide help. Is this the new normal?
Systems that are mass produced to help people at volume are missing the point of this hyper-personalized society that we currently are in. There is no replacing the human. Technology is changing the way people interact. However, I don’t think you can fully recreate empathy or compassion or the human elements that you just can’t teach computers to do. They can simulate as best as possible. It’s never going to have the same impact.
How will companies adapt to technology’s shortcomings and serious worker shortages?
The traditional management model that developed in the 20th century has completely changed. Our ideal client is an organization that knows things need to change but doesn’t exactly know how to make that happen. We want to transform the way people get things done. There is no one size fits all solution for management anymore; as I mentioned it’s hyper-personalized. Gone is the idea that your employee is lucky to have a job: you know, show up and shut up. Now it’s “We are so lucky that you chose to work at our company. How can we best help you reach your potential?” Talented people have their choices of where to go, and the world is literally your competitor now that people can work from anywhere.
So, companies have to change. Isn’t there an app for that?
I think before technology—or anything else—can be offered as a solution, organizations need to understand process. What are they actually trying to solve? You can take it back further; organizations need to define their values and explain what that means to everybody who is working for them as well as any of their stakeholders—not only their team, but also their customers and suppliers. Everyone has to understand what the purpose of that organization is. Then, you have those processes optimized to make sure you have the right people doing the right jobs. Only then can you know what would best support your organization. Tech—which is often adopted as a quick fix—often runs way ahead of this process.
Inspirant helps with process optimization, as well as technology development and implementation, but we focus on the people transformation side. Companies go out to market hoping to find a tech solution. They hear digital transformation and think, “We need to get technology that is going to make things easier.” But nothing out there is going to do that. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Inspirant offers “unconsulting.” What is that?
We started as a group of “recovering” consultants. We’d all done the big consulting firms, and we knew it could be done differently. Little did we know how quickly differently would come around. We had developed our model and were just up and “selling ourselves” when the pandemic hit. At first we shut that down immediately. Then we became the mom and pop shop: “Whatever you guys need, we’re partners. We’re friends. Let’s help each other out.”
We’re definitely more interested in people than profits. You look at everything that goes into being a business owner and operating a business in the 21st century and it’s about treating people right. People are a team, but also our clients, the community around us. It’s about giving back, thinking about our impact on the environment. We have a really low carbon footprint, but how can we lower it even more? We work from home. How can we do better in the world?
I think all businesses should focus on mindfulness—through things like conscious capitalism, meditation and yoga. I want to show executives how to consciously lead. It’s just so important. You make 1,000 decisions a day. How many of them are rote? On auto-pilot? How many are choices for the greater good? It’s not easy to do, but you’ll never do it if you don’t practice, if you don’t try.
This sounds like somewhat of a lifetime calling.
I have always wanted to help people since I was a kid. I thought I’d be a doctor. Then I saw my dad get stitches and I passed out, so that was not going to happen. I was a psychology major at U of I. When I moved into the sorority house, my sorority sisters would tell me problems all day long and I loved it. I also was a Student Ambassador, and I learned how to build connections and relationships. I wanted to help people to be happy in their lives and jobs. A career counselor suggested I look into human resources/business psychology. My graduate work was in instructional design. I turned ones and zeros into words that end users can understand. I found that I can be the difference between people loving their job and hating their jobs. Spending time with people trying to figure that out is a passion of mine.
I believe in treating people the way they deserve to be treated. One of my core values is to care about the greater good, so how is everything we’re doing effecting, like what is the ripple effect of the things that we do? I have two tweenagers—my son is 12 and our daughter is 14. I keep telling them, you guys are going to get to fix everything that we broke. I want to think by the time they’re running the world, they will be able to lead in the way that we should have been leading the whole time. Thinking of that legacy and the greater good, my husband and I founded Colette Allen Charities to support individuals to improve their lives through education and training. He and I both received scholarship support, so we wanted to give that back.