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To Improve Management Efficiency, Hire People with Disabilities

Improve Management Efficiency

One of the great contributors to poor morale and loyalty in a workplace is poor management techniques (better known as “bad bosses”). Let me be clear, hiring people with disabilities doesn't change managers’ effectiveness, however, running an efficient disability inclusive department will provide an incredibly valuable opportunity to refine good management practices.

Management is a Tough Role with Limited Training

The first layer of supervision of the workforce is a complicated job of juggling human dynamics with operational goals set by the finance departments. Managing machinery, process, training, personalities, motivation and other dynamics is a daunting learning curve for even the most ambitious and skilled new manager. And unfortunately, most companies provide little instruction on how to be an effective manager of their workforce. The bulk of new manager training balances between the HR paperwork; processes; operations; reporting structure; and a long list of “don’t do this” (for risk mitigation).

Knowledge of Disability in the Workforce can be Daunting

All too often, fear paralyzes managers once they know an employee has a disability. Unsure and less than confident, they become hyper-aware of the disability and lose sight of the person. "I didn't consider Betty (not her real name) for the assignment because I thought the stress of the deadline would be too much," one manager told me last year. "But," I pointed out; "you never talked to Betty about it." Managers are unprepared for the personal conflict they have of knowing an employee has a disability - they know that they should treat the individual "just like everyone else" - and society's patronizing view of people with disabilities as those who "need to be taken care of" overwhelms them. Typically, the managers have completed a one-hour training that gave them some basics of disability etiquette and awareness. But without a coach to remind them to practice this new lesson, s/he slips back into what is familiar. While at I was at Walgreens, we asked distribution center managers to submit a "success story" every 2 weeks. This may seem excessive, but it forced the conversation, "OK maybe you do not have a success this week, but what has been going on?" and with that, we could learn about the subtle bias that we all have toward others with disabilities - kindness and compassion push us to overcompensate. It is hard, even for those managers intent on being inclusive, to learn to do it instinctively. Through these dialogues, we would hear of some situation and then ask "how would you have handled it if you didn't know the person had a disability?" and the manager would remind her/himself that we wanted to try to be fair and that means allowing the employee to limit themselves based on their disability, not to do it for them.

Over time, the stories came in without us having to ask for them and the managers and coworkers learned to squash their instinct to protect the person with a disability and acquire a new perspective. They learned to celebrate success and manage performance that was stellar, average or lacking for everyone in the same manner.

Research Studies this Further

An interesting study was done recently at Walgreens distribution centers analyzing the impact of a disability inclusive workplace on the behavior of managers. It was observed that managers had learned to treat everyone the same by treating each subordinate as an individual. This enhanced their skills as effective managers for everyone and translated into productivity and safety performance that exceeded others in the enterprise (where those buildings are still striving to achieve an inclusive balanced workforce). Generally, as already mentioned, little is provided to help a manager learn what “to do”; in most cases, managers figure it out and learn from their peers over time. This was the case at Walgreens when we started the inclusion initiative. Up until then, the department’s production was the key performance indicator and the methods used to achieve the performance were not considered as long as there were successful outcomes. When we started, we believed that we simply needed to educate the managers on the unique aspects of disabilities and allow them to incorporate that knowledge into their managerial style. The resulting study 10 years later, named that approach “organizational learning and adaptive leadership skills”. Although we “accidentally” learned the lessons documented in this study, it sheds light on how an organization can set up the prerequisite leadership and organizational culture necessary to manage a complex workgroup, which in turn deliver innovative, creative, and highly effective results. The first finding describes how a manager changes from being rules-focused to employee-focused. The second finding is how managers maximize organizational learning to exceed production standards. The third finding is how the manager learns adaptive leadership skills through experiential learning. “ What we learned wasn’t intentional, but was a wonderful lesson of one of the biggest reasons that hiring people with disabilities increases profit. As the study showed, the managerial styles adopted increased measurable organizational innovation and performance!

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