010 – Creating a Culture of Empowerment

Welcome to the Autism Advantage podcast! I’m your host, Tom D’Eri, the COO and co-founder of Rising Tide Car Wash. In case you’re not familiar with what we do, we employ a fantastic team of individuals with autism, allowing us to empower our staff while offering a fantastic experience to customers. We believe that individuals with autism are an incredible untapped resource for many business, and this show is dedicated to proving that employing these people can create real competitive advantages.

I’m honored to introduce today’s guest, Randy Lewis, who is a true legend in the autism employment world. Randy is the visionary behind the Walgreens Disability Employment Program, which is one of the most well-established disability employment programs in the corporate world. He’s also the father of a young man with autism.

Unlike every previous guest on the show, Randy didn’t create a new organization to employ people with autism. Instead, he created change within an existing company. Doing so involved navigating the systems in place that weren’t designed for people with autism and other disabilities. In our conversation, he’ll explain how he did this and offer recommendations for others who might be in a similar position.

Randy points out that parents have all had the same experience of having been taught by their children. One of the things Randy’s son taught him was to confront his unknown biases and look past disabilities to see the person. He also learned how easy it is to underestimate people, which he applied to the concept of employment. This was his inspiration to hire people with autism at Walgreens.

One of the differences between managing neurotypical employees and employees with autism is that in the latter case, managers need to actually manage. This means that managers need to treat everyone as individuals, understand them, and figure out what motivates them. This practice ends up making these managers stronger in managing typically abled employees as well. Randy digs into this in depth, and we talk about how many ways it benefits managers to have employees with autism.

In our conversation today, we’ll also cover lots of other topics including what talent is (hint: it’s not just about going to an Ivy League school and landing a high-powered job), what advantages Randy has seen from hiring people with autism, and how things have progressed for his son, for whom Walgreens wasn’t the perfect fit. Tune in to hear all this and much more!

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In This Episode:

[01:35] – Randy talks about his inspiration for trying to hire people with autism at Walgreens.

[03:57] – At Walgreens, there were established processes in hiring new employees. Randy knew that hiring people with autism would involve changing those processes, and reveals the secret magic word that makes people get past their block of resisting change.

[06:03] – Tom reiterates what Randy has been saying: instead of challenging the establishment, you create a side door.

[06:26] – What was the reaction of the typical employees who were working at the pilot site? After the first reaction of fear, there was complete acceptance, Randy explains.

[08:20] – Randy points out that working with people with autism requires that managers manage. This ends up making them better managers all around.

[09:51] – Tom has found something similar at his car wash, where it’s clear that the need to treating all of your employees as individuals creates managers who are better listeners and clear communicators.

[11:22] – Randy talks about a study that explored the culture at Walgreens, and mentions his website, which you can find at this link!

[12:34] – Many of the people who are affected by autism hold a huge variety of roles, Tom points out, explaining that one of the beautiful things about autism is that it’s completely indiscriminate in terms of who it affects.

[13:36] – What would Randy say to someone at a relatively high position in an existing company who is interested in hiring people with autism?

[15:17] – Tom digs into the topic of what, exactly, talent is.

[17:14] – We hear about what business Randy has seen by employing people with autism at Walgreens.

[19:00] – Randy addresses the topic of the impact he has been describing on his son specifically, and explains that his son worked at Walgreens for several years.

[20:52] – Has Randy seen any changes in his son? In his answer, he shares an entertaining way that his son has been making money.

[23:14] – Randy discusses whether Meijer has other employees with disabilities, and whether his son has made any relationships with the people he’s working with.

[25:06] – Randy talks about his vision for the future and what his plan is now that he has moved on from Walgreens.

[27:53] – How can listeners get involved with Randy’s organization, or find out more about his speaking engagements or workshops?

Links and Resources:

NOGWOG (Randy Lewis’ website)

Randy Lewis on LinkedIn

No Greatness Without Goodness by Randy Lewis

Tom D’Eri

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

Autism Advantage

University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism & Related Disabilities

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