What if we needed to provide support for a person with a disability but we just didn’t know what to do? We would feel awful....
Oh I wish we could hire more people with a disability but really it wouldn’t be fair to them as we just couldn’t support them here given the work we do
Our budget is already under so much pressure, we simply couldn’t afford to make any workplace adjustments for someone to work here
Heard it all before? Despite good intentions and a succession of initiatives over several years, people with disability remain significantly under-represented in the Australian Public Service (APS) workforce. It is difficult at times to understand why this continues to be the case. Research recognises the need for and contribution made by those with disability in the APS. We know the benefits of having a workforce that reflects the community we serve. Agencies post detailed disability action plans on websites and, in many instances, include disability employment in strategic and business plans. And yet the number of individuals with disability in the APS is not what it should be. As stated recently by an APS officer with disability employment responsibilities: “The rhetoric is there but the reality is different.”
Why is this so? What stops us from building more diverse workplaces? In most instances, this rhetoric-reality gap can be distilled to one key factor. Disability employment is still considered a ‘nice to have’, not a ‘must have’ to achieve business outcomes. This is a result of a lack of understanding, incorrect assumptions and in some cases ignorance – all of which creates a deep sense of reluctance to explore hiring more people with a disability. It even creates fear. And where this reluctance and resistance exist, change will be slow at best.
Motivation for change is critical. As human beings, we are not always rational in our behaviour or in our choices1. For example, we all know that we can be fit and healthy as long as we exercise regularly, eat healthy food, drink alcohol in moderation and don’t smoke. However, the reality is that a proportion of the population continue to ignore the science and the facts concerning the impact of unhealthy behaviour and do the opposite of what is recommended. This illustrates that while we can read facts about an issue, often it is our own individual preferences and motivators which will dictate how we behave - even when this is not necessarily rational.
Similarly, in encouraging greater support for workers with disability most people will agree that this is a ‘good thing to do’. However, often this is not linked to practical actions that will achieve a positive outcome. In some instances, this is because the individual does not perceive that the issue is relevant or important to the organisation. Trying to change behaviour at the individual and the organisational level then becomes one of understanding preferences and motivators of those in the organisation and targeting communication and actions based on this understanding.
The As One – APS Disability Employment Strategy aims to strengthen the APS to be a more progressive and sustainable employer of people with disability, and improve the work experience of people with disability. This guide provides a comprehensive approach to influencing key decision-makers in your organisation to achieve the initiatives in the As One strategy. It will help human resource practitioners overcome resistance through the use of influence and offer them alternative ways of promoting disability employment as an integrated component of workforce and business planning. It explores the way in which we frame the issue of disability employment; shifting it from simply a moral argument (‘it’s the right thing to do’) to one which is a key strategy in achieving business outcomes.
Using this guide
This guide is organised into two sections. Firstly it outlines key concepts related to influence and persuasion and secondly it identifies some key personal characteristics relating to effective influencing. In many ways it’s a collection of ideas that will resonate differently for different readers. Some may wish to go into the fine detail of all of the approaches provided while others may wish to work with one for two. The aim is to equip you with a range of tools and approaches you can use in a variety of settings.
It is also useful to consider the framework developed by the Australian Public Service Commission in relation to leadership development (Figure 1). For Human Resources practitioners as you lead change in disability employment in the APS, understanding your own development needs can be enhanced by considering the different lenses on development highlighted by the Knowing | Doing | Being framework:
- Understand the key concepts and theory about leading and influencing this kind of change (knowing).
- Developing the skills and behaviours to lead and influence change (doing).
- Developing your understanding of your own values, self awareness, social skills and awareness of how your actions and intent impact on those around you (being).
people: people management; change management; stakeholder management
system: strategic management; analytical skills; public service ‘craft’; government savvy
business: financial/value management; program management; risk management; technology skills; business case
professional: Public policy; delivery; regulatory; professional/specialist
- Shapes strategic thinking
Communicate with influence
Exemplifies personal drive and integrity
Cultivates productive working relationships
- Achieves results
Under self: authenticity; self awareness; self motivation; will/passion/conviction/courage/agility/adaptability; empathy; resilience
Under others: self regulation; social awareness; social skills
- Under situation: situational awareness; stewardship; collegiality; public service ethics and integrity