Increasing inclusion of employees with disabilities in the workforce improves a company's bottom line. So with all these resources and information, one question remains:
“Why aren’t more companies trying/doing this?”
What else could be missing? And then it dawned on me: change management is as essential as the Why and the How!
Why it Works: The benefits of including people with disabilities in your workforce (from now on referred to “disability employment inclusion”) are now well documented. ICYMI, Neurodiversity is a Competitive Advantage, Disabled Workforce Actualizes Adaptive Leadership and Organizational Learning; Autistic Employment in Agriculture, or the Series on Hiring People with Disabilities Helps with: Retention, Safety, Labor Shortage, Management Efficiency, Workforce Stability, Brand Identity; Debate Behind Disability Hiring, or any of the myriads of articles and posts circulating this month (October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month).
How it Works: There are a plethora of resources out there to define how to be successful in including more people with disabilities in your workforce: Workplace Initiative, Neurodiversity is a Competitive Advantage, Disability Strategies that Work, and just about any Google search of “disability employment how to”. There are plenty of primers that all basically outline the ingredients you need: Leadership, Goals/Metrics, Opportunity, Partners, Flexible Ways to Assess Talent/Fit, Communication, Plan, and Adaptability.
So, here is a 6 Step Change Management Roadmap to help you on your way:
1. Creating an Imperative with Intention that is also Iterative: ensures that everyone in the company has a chance to understand the business case for disability inclusion and how it feeds the company’s overall strategy for growth. Perhaps it is as simple as pointing out: when the company benefits, we all have job security and opportunities for a good future.
2. Providing Education, Empowerment, and Engagement: no matter the empirical evidence stacked up, people will be skeptical. After all, the data defies the current state (which is why it is called “change management”). Unfortunately, disability inclusion is so new; most people are unfamiliar with experiencing people with disabilities as their peers, supervisors, and subordinates in the workplace. And this lack of experience can breed fear; so offering opportunities for people to ask questions in an open and safe environment provides a great chance to debunk the old myths about people with disabilities in employment.
3. Engage in Partners, Plans, and Participation: to date, no company has successfully employed people with disabilities in meaningful integrated employment in a sustainable manner without disability expertise. These partners can take many different forms, but are essential, even if it is a simple tour of another company’s inclusive workplace or a full-scale partnership with a local disability entity. Creating a meaningful plan including multiple stakeholders will help ensure the success of the effort.
4. Develop and use Metrics, Management, and Measurements: just as all new efforts, disability inclusion needs someone in charge, a goal, and measurement of that goal. Meaningful objectives are always defined with numbers, timelines, and responsibilities. These components magnify the seriousness of the goal and the path to get there.
5. Be sure to Communicate, Celebrate and Commiserate: most efforts that fail, do so because the company tried to keep the effort a secret until they had enough “success” to talk about. However, if the above model is used, communication of the progress is essential. Seeing is believing and believing is seeing: make progress the center of regular communications and celebrate the small and big wins. But like all initiatives, there will be lessons learned and collaboration and consolation from those who have been in your shoes help you learn more techniques to cement the program.
6. Finally, aim for Sustainable and Scalable Success: the hallmark of getting a plane off the ground is the ability to keep it in the air. In fact, some people have created the simile that disability inclusion is like rebuilding a plane and refueling while in the air. I prefer to think of it as first building that plane, and then flying it but either metaphor means we will all be soaring higher!!
IEPMCS (sorry it isn't a clever acronym). If you need a mnemonic, try to remember: It Eases Perplexity, Making Companies Successful
Now, we have the why, the how and the formula for change management... Give it a try and, if you need any additional guidance, leverage the resources listed in this article.
Thanks and Happy National Disability Employment Awareness Month to all!!