There are two types of manager: those who tell people what to think and those who want to make people think.
Now that all managers are expected to be leaders, to inspire their staff and take responsibility for making things happen, it is all too easy to claim to be the latter but perceived to be the former. When you address staff your passion and enthusiasm, your dismissal of the sceptics and cynics, your conviction that this is the right way can be heard as lecturing and sound like you’re telling people what to think.
Are you going to concentrate on changing behaviour or influencing thinking? Organisations often claim to want to change the culture but in focusing on the way things are done they end up with new policies and procedures but no new mind set.
Staff know what they are supposed to do but they don’t necessarily think it is right. You can give the staff the “have a nice day” script but that doesn’t guarantee they will be customer friendly.
If you want to make people think, you don’t simply tell them your vision and what you believe in. That can come across as preaching. You tell stories, you quote some challenging statistics and you ask questions. You give people the opportunity and space to think about the issues and you create a safe environment to challenge and be challenged. Naturally this involves a lot more risk.
Applying these two approaches to the challenge of employing more staff with a disability would involve different initiatives. You can change behaviour by introducing an interview guaranteed scheme for all applicants registered as disabled. You can set recruitment targets, you can change the wording on application forms and job adverts to make it explicit that the organisation positively welcomes applications from people with a disability but this is unlikely to challenge the stereotypes and myths of those on the interview panel or make work colleagues think about disability.
The most effective way I have experienced of getting people to think about disability was when a young person with a learning disability was placed in the admin team supporting the senior management team. This was more than work experience, some hours were taken from an existing vacancy to create a part time post for someone with a learning disability as part of meeting a recruitment target, but also to identify and overcome any problems, real or perceived, in employing someone with a learning disability.
The result was a lot more thinking, debate and shift in views than would happen through any exhortation to equality or training course because of course this was no longer about people with a disability - this was about an individual.
Of course this was risky and involved a lot more management input. Which is why so many managers resort to telling staff what to think: it’s easier!