Employing and Developing People with Autism with Thomas D'Eri

January 20, 2023

Employing and Developing People with Autism with Thomas D'Eri

January 20, 2023

About This Episode

Autism has been classified as a social communication disorder in the clinical setting, and those who have it are said to be "poor at communication and social interaction." Recent studies have revealed that individuals on the autism spectrum are not necessarily socially awkward; rather, they simply communicate and interact with others differently than neurotypical individuals.

However, despite recent efforts to increase workplace diversity, equality, and inclusion, 80% of those with autism are still unemployed or underemployed, despite the fact that the majority are capable of developing strong skills and performing admirably at work. Due to the antiquated ways that our organizations are set up and the way that we view talents, there is a sizable talent pool that is denied the chance to work.

That is how Tom D'Eri and his family came up with the idea to launch a business, and he is our guest on this episode of Brilliant Thoughts, a SUCCESS magazine podcast. Despite having only slight intellectual disabilities, his autistic brother Andrew was more than willing and capable of performing well. But his employment options were very limited.

“We knew we needed to do something to help him lead a full adult life that we knew he was capable of,” Tom shares. That’s why they created Rising Tide Car Wash back in 2012—to create a safe space where Andrew and people like him who are diagnosed with autism can thrive and succeed as part of the workforce.

They selected the car wash industry because it was highly regimented, process-driven, and structured. After ten years of developing a company with the goal of empowering people from this diversity by providing them with the means to become elite car wash specialists.

Through countless iterations, they developed a business with objective hiring procedures, scalable operational processes, and a training, feedback, and coaching-focused culture that supports the development and success of neurodivergent employees in the US. They take pride in helping those with autism expand their horizons, give them an advantage and more options, and think about alternative career paths.

The Power of Potential is the culmination of what Tom and his family learned throughout the years of running this business with systems catered to helping their neurodivergent employees succeed instead of the other way around—the traditional way.

“What we learned over the period of doing this was that, issues that people with autism face—they are not really autism issues. They’re universal issues,” Tom says. 

The requirements for success for neurodivergent employees are the same as those for neurotypical employees; they are simply more obvious.

In his book, he outlines four wins that any business in any field or industry needs to succeed, and he tells us how we can accomplish them.

  1. Every employee feels safe.

Over the past few years, the term "psychological safety" has become popular in discussions about leadership and business. To make your employees feel safe, put in the effort to hire impartially, bring clarity to every area of your business, and purposefully develop talent by creating procedures, systems, and tools that are geared toward your employees.

Objective Hiring and Training

During an unstructured interview, we make hiring decisions based on our biases and feelings. Studies say that we make up our minds within the first 10 seconds of meeting an applicant based solely on first impressions and biases, and the rest of the interview is devoted to confirming those biases.

That’s why we often experience a hit-or-miss when it comes to our new hires and whether they are really “fit for the role” or whether they were just able to “wow” us during the interview.

In order to eliminate this bias, entrepreneurs and business owners can consider investing more in job auditions and training programs with clear pass/fail criteria that can show, not tell, whether a person can really perform the job expected of their role. It makes it easier for you to select employees who can carry out your particular operational procedures at a high level.

Another strategy is to develop a structured interview, with standard questions and clear rubrics that help remove the interviewers’ biases from the equation.

Building strong systems

Often, organizations push employees to work the system instead of having the system work and support the employees to function at their highest level.

By looking at it from the perspective of their mission: where they want to empower people with autism to succeed in their careers, Tom says that it forces their business to “look at how the system they are interacting with is failing them. How was the business failing the employee?”

In this mindset, your best partners are your worst performers—because they can help you identify what parts of the system they are having difficulty with and how you can improve them.

“By working with them and designing a process that they could then do and they could do effectively, we built a system that was simple, clear, and concrete enough that anyone could use it,” Tom shares.

Being intentional about building strong systems that set your employees up for success can allow your organization to scale and position itself for rapid growth.

  1. Accountability is a tool for growth.

We usually feel attacked when we hear the word "accountability," but that’s because most organizations use it like a stick to hit people over the head.

For accountability to be fair and effective, you need to set clear expectations ahead of time, train your people effectively so they can meet those expectations, and equip them with sufficient tools to get the job done.

We all need accountability. “It's easy for all of us to slip into this entropy state where, you know, life is getting in the way of us doing our best work. We need to be checked and balanced, and accountability is a really important tool for that,” Tom says.

Consistent feedback is key here. And it is not enough to point out where your employees missed the mark. Additionally, you should point out instances where they performed well and offer thanks when it is due. Coaching also plays a vital role in accountability.

Having someone recenter you as quickly as possible when you’ve gone two degrees off-course is crucial. “You're [off] two degrees over a long period of time. You end up way far away from your goals,” Tom says. 

“A supervisor’s job is to coach,” he adds. “If they miss a spot or whatever, they're the ones who bring the team member back to do it. They don't fix it themselves. They bring the team member back to do the work.”

  1. Your work has a purpose.

Purpose is a big part of success. Then there is the overarching goal of the organization, which explains why it does more than just make money. Then there is the level of purpose that you experience personally—how you view your work every day. 

The individual purpose is not as tied to the organizational purpose as most people think. It has a lot more to do with feeling in control at work—over your day, your growth, and whether you have meaningful relationships in the workplace. These are the things that give employees purpose at work.

The key is to set realistic expectations for them, give them the tools and support they need to meet those expectations, and continuously coach them as they develop.

  1. Customers love their experience.

At the end of the day, what really matters is whether your customer feels satisfied with the overall experience. “We could do all these things. But if the customers aren't happy, it's kind of irrelevant… because if the customers don't feel it, you know, we might not be in business for very long,” Tom says.

But, bringing in the right people, building real consistency in the way that you do things by having clarity, and creating systems, tools, and processes that work really well for your team members can help them produce really consistent, high-quality results that benefit your customers.

When employees feel safe at work, find a sense of purpose in the work they do, and welcome accountability to do better and grow, that leads to a high level of customer service.

“People are engaged and wanting to do a good job at work,” Tom says, and that is something customers don’t experience much of in most retail businesses. When your employees—regardless of whether they are neurodivergent or neurotypical—do not get the three mentioned above, they are disengaged, working like mere cogs on the wheel, and delivering mediocre service to your consumers.

Approaching business processes with DEI in mind changes the way you do business, and when you invest in creating systems that set your employees up for success, you create a business that has a positive impact on your consumers, your people, and society as a whole.

Listen to the podcast for more Brilliant Thoughts from Tom D’Eri.

Follow Tom D’Eri

Get a copy of Tom’s book, The Power of Potential, on Amazon and at other leading bookstores nationwide. It is a great read, and I highly recommend it.

You can also visit their websites, www.risingtidecarwash.com and risingtideu.com to learn more about the business, the book, and how to create businesses that employ people with autism. You can check out their online course, “The Autism Advantage”. It is free for anyone who buys a copy of Tom’s book this January! Just email the receipt to book@risingtidecarwash.com.

Instagram: @risingtidecarwash

Facebook: FB.com/RisingTideCarWash

DISCLAIMER: The people interviewed are well-trained experts and highly skilled in their areas of practice. They take many safety precautions prior to attempting the activities described. The activities or research discussed in these podcasts should not be attempted without qualified supervision and training with professionals.

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