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Ready or Not: What about Managers?

This is the fourth in a series of 5 blogs focusing on the typical components that businesses think they need to be “ready” to intentionally employ people with disabilities. (see first blog if you want to know what I mean by “ready”)

As I said in the first one, there are 2 points of view related to “ready”:

1. The person is not in a position of authority or influence to make their company “ready”, but they can see flaws in the current status

2. The person is in a position of authority and influence but doesn’t see the priority in creating the “readiness” or doesn’t really understand what “ready” looks like.

Today we are addressing “readiness” through managers’ eyes. Often times, managers get left out of the discussion or provided only a cursory disability awareness training (see last week’s blog on how useful that is in general). But truly, managers are the “make or break” of the longevity and sustainability of a disability inclusive workplace.

Now, trust me, 13 years ago, I would have said that all managers need is a little sensitivity, easy peasy… however now, after working side by side with managers in distribution centers, stores and HQ departments, I know better. If the average associate is your most valuable asset, the manager is the key to accessing that value. Managers are in an awkward situation of being the “middle person” trying to balance the requirements from above and below. They need to have operational excellence, strategic and tactical thinking, human and systems management expertise and view of both the bigger picture and the small individual details that can derail a smoothly running department. So, let’s look at disability inclusion through their lens.

Managers are influential and so their opinion and experience can go far to support, or derail efforts that are driven by others. Here are my best pointers for ensuring your efforts are supportive of and supported by managers:

1. Consider the appearance of conflicting priorities of a disability inclusive initiative in a very competitive fast-paced workplace. This advice is not relevant for everyone, but I worked with too many companies where a company leader offers wonderful inspirational messages and intentions about inclusion and the individual nature of some aspects that truly influence culture and performance management and then 10 minutes later, that same leader is driving home how efficiency and efficacy are crucial for success (and everyone’s bonus), perhaps an agility program is creating good results or other productivity opportunities and these messages can sound contradictory. So, at that point, it is helpful to broaden out the messages and mention all priorities together and how they complement each other. Employing people with disabilities (when done well) positively influences the budget and productivity, but if they are presented in separate agendas or meetings, the underlying message is that they are separate and/or competing initiatives.

2. Don’t always assume that managers have good people management skills. As I said earlier, managers must manage both the workforce, the systems and the work. I have had enough experience with a variety of managers to state emphatically - managers that have good skills managing people, have good skills managing people with disabilities. However, there are many managers who can push out great results without being good people managers. And their deficits are amplified when you introduce some employees with disabilities. This isn’t to be taken uniformly, but I do advise an extra peek at managers’ skills sets in people management and determining if it’s prudent to first shore up those skills prior to adding to their responsibilities. Again, this isn’t true for all, but I’ve had enough experience supporting people through it, that I think the caution is warranted.

3. Ensure that it’s well known that it’s OK (and expected) to discipline up to and including terminate people with disabilities. In fact, the true test of a disability inclusive program is a solid case study of terminating an employee with a disability for cause. One of the top 3 fears of managers is ALWAYS “can I fire this person if it doesn’t work out?” and an overly litigious cautious tone can corrupt everyone’s best intentions. Of course, we never want to fire someone. We’ve already invested in them, we want to try to work it out. Regardless of whether the employee has a disability or not, the managers should not believe that they can’t fire an employee who can’t be developed to deliver value.

4. Now, I want to touch on a couple of routine issues that always come up with managers:

· Yes, you may need to change your management style as an accommodation;

· Yes, people with disabilities can do the jobs in your department, the trick is in the screening, don’t relax the process just because the candidate has a disability;

· Yes, you have unconscious bias, we all do, so just be aware of it and check yourself if you have thoughts like “if I had that disability, I have no idea how I could get around, much less do this job” or “this person’s disability will be a hindrance when they travel” or “I have no idea how to provide an accommodation for this person in this job”, none of those thoughts are valid in determining the fit of a candidate. They’re all typical gut-reactions, but notice they are just bias and move forward to understand what the candidate actually can do for your department and the value they can provide before deciding whether or not to hire them.

5. Always ensure that the managers (and all stakeholders) know the business case for disability inclusion. It isn’t enough to say “it’s good” or “it’s the right thing to do” although managers have hearts, we have to be cognizant of the financial aspects of their job and without a clear business case, disability inclusion can easily be mistaken as a risk to the financial health of a department or company. Be sure to address the potential (positive or negative) impact on bonuses, achieving performance goals and how these potential impacts/concerns will be responded to. (Note: for more info on the business case, feel free to download my new eBook: Disability Inclusion: A Summary of the Direct and Indirect Benefits)

So, as you gauge if you are “ready” to employ people with disabilities, take the managers’ perspective into consideration in messaging and support. They are the keys to success for all employees and that deserves to be honored in design and execution. And honestly, they are the easiest to consider, which is why they are often overlooked.

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Managing Beautiful Music

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