It was one thing to hold a vision of introducing non neurotypical individuals into the workplace, changing the thinking of top performing business men and women was another thing entirely, but that’s what Randy Lewis took on. In his previous roles before Wallgreen’s, Randy had been a peace corps volunteer, Arthur Murray dance instructor.
We took a moment out of Randy’s week long British marketing tour to find out how.
“Taking on people who had different needs was and always will be a steep learning curve. We didn’t want to be a charity. We wanted to empower these people with the desire to work at a job they could do. We didn’t want to lower our standards, but at the end of the day we were a business. And the work done had to be efficient,”
“We opened a new distribution centre and decided then that we would try it out. What we learned was that we had created all these kinds of rules and impediments for ourselves as a business. The people that we took on forced us to re look at our rulebook. In order to get the best out of our new employees we had to follow a more flexible model.
“Nearly 70% of individuals with disabilities and 95% of people with severe cognative disabilities such as Austin’s will never hold down a job. When it comes to employment people with special needs die from a thousand cuts: they look different, they don’t interview well, they probably aren’t able to drive to work, and they don’t learn in the ways employers are used to teaching. But the unkindest cut of all is that no matter what they can do and how well they can do it, we employers rarely give them a chance.”
It definitely worked. Wallgreen adopted an inclusion policy now employs over 1200 people from all over the spectrum, be they autistic, schizophrenic, depression to amputee’s and physical disabilities. Those who want to work are given free range to do so.
“I wanted to do great things. I wanted to build something big. I was looking for great success, great achievement, a great future. The opportunity to work full time and for full time pay –with no distinction between between workers with disabilities and those without–was both inspiring and frightening. Although most candidates had never made the kind of wages we were paying, parents had to be reassured that they would be able to go back to Social Security payments if they took a job and lost it.”
The task was a gargantuan one, but the implementation of the distribution centre and its success has given the employees to take ownership of the team and be a part in its success.
You can read part one of this interview here
You can read part three of this interview here