One Step at A Time

One step at a time

By: Jerry DiCola

At the beginning of each year we are inundated with commercials to improve our health through fitness center memberships or weight loss programs. We hear friends and colleagues say they are going to lose weight, get their finances in order or simple be a better person. All are great goals to explore and take steps to achieve. But what if your new year’s goal (or life goal) was to improve the life of another individual. Possibly someone with a disability. During Randy Lewis’ TED talk, Why I hired a workforce no one else would, he tells the story about the transformational steps that Walgreens took to embrace and encourage the employment of individuals with disabilities. Walgreens did not make a new year’s goal they made a business goals to employee individuals with disabilities and found more success than they had expected.

As SVP- Supply Chain & Logistics with Walgreens, Randy was responsible for running 20 Walgreen’s distribution centers and employing over 10,000 employees. As a parent of a child with a disability Randy openly discusses his fears for his child and the obstacles his child will face. During the TED talk, he talks about bringing down the “invisible walls” and creating new operations and changing how the Walgreens employees connected with the employees with disabilities. They also took steps to listen. They created a simple acronym, ATP (Ask the Person). When they did not know how a change or procedure would be received by an employee with a disability, they simply asked the employee for their input. This provided them with the guidance they needed and delivered the respect the employee deserved.

When Walgreens was building a new distribution center, their goal was to hire 200 individuals with disabilities. Due to the steps that Walgreens took to listen and adapt their approach to hiring individuals with disability they had hired over 1200 individuals with disabilities for their new distribution center. Walgreen’s demonstrated the culture, innovation, leadership, patience, community and risk taking needed to embrace the challenges of hiring individuals with disabilities. When Walgreens began their journey, they did not have all the answers and recognized when they needed to modify their plans along the way. They took “One Step at A Time”.

As organizational leaders we may not have the ability to make the changes that Randy did while with Walgreen, but we can take the first step. It may be to discuss the process with our human resource team. You may be surprised that your company may already a plan which simply needs to be acted upon. The first step may be reaching out to other organization’s which specializes in helping with individuals with disabilities to find employment. They have the knowledge and support you need to begin the conversation and develop the process. As leaders we do not need to have all the answers, we only need to go to the people who may have a few more answers than us. Some of my personal favorites are Aspire Chicago,, Best Buddies,, and Total Link 2 Community,

As we embrace the new year, let’s improve ourselves and the life of another individual by taking one step to reaching a goal to employee one individual with a disability a priority.

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