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Hiring for All Abilities

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As the home page of our website boasts, we at Voice and Vision are living proof that labels like mental illness, disabilities, and addictions do not stop us from living out our dreams.  We are advocates for inclusion (check out our blog from earlier this year) and we believe individuals will flourish if we focus on their unique gifts and strengths. 

That’s why we are highlighting another employer in our blog this week, one whose values are closely aligned with ours.  Perhaps you’ve seen the Father’s Day Video or heard that President Bush is a fan of their products.  Maybe you haven’t, but we hope you will help spread the word about a business that does inclusion well:  John’s Crazy Socks. 

How It Began

Like any typical teenager, John Cronin, who has Down Syndrome, started to ponder what he wanted to do after his senior year of high school.  After considering some options, John decided he would prefer to go into business with his father Mark, who was already working on his own online business ventures.   

After tossing around some ideas, John came up with a brilliant one that suited him perfectly:  they could sell crazy socks!  John wore wild socks his whole life, and they were an outward representation of his outgoing, fun, and creative personality.  And so, on December 9, 2016, John’s Crazy Socks was born.

Fast forward to today, and the company has grown to 35 employees, and in their first full year of business, fulfilled 42,000 orders, and generated $1.7million in revenue (which is anticipated to double this year).  Of that, they have generated $100,000 for charity.  And yes, a former president of the United States wears John’s Crazy Socks.

Inclusive Model

Of the 35 employees, 17 have ‘different abilities.’  All employees work side by side to accomplish daily tasks and the company’s long-term goals.  John is involved in all major company decisions and designs many of the socks. 

“There is more to life than verbal and analytical abilities,” says Mark. “John’s social abilities are off the charts; not to mention his dedication and attention to detail.”

So how does one run a successful business by hiring individuals with various different abilities?  We had the opportunity to speak to co-founder Mark Cronin, who told us how it’s done.

Business Structure

John’s Crazy Socks is a complex business  divided into two main components: 

1) Development, which includes new products and customer service and

2) Operations, which includes running a pick and pack warehouse: ‘picking’ the orders from the warehouse and packing them for shipment.   

Most employees start out in operations as Sock Wranglers, responsible for pulling the right socks from the warehouse to fulfill customer orders.   There are also Happiness Packers who pack the orders for shipment. 

Hiring & Training Strategy

When interviewing potential employees, John and Mark don’t focus on past experience or what the individual can’t do.   They talk about the mission of the company, what the job will entail, and then ask the interviewee, “Do you want this job?”  It’s important that everyone buys into their culture and mission. 

If the candidate is a good fit, they start them out with an on-the-job-training shadowing a Sock Wrangler.  They are not paid during this time and they can take as long as they need to master the job.   Some individuals take 30 minutes while others take several weeks.   

When the candidate decides they are ready, they are required to complete a test: fulfill five orders in 30 minutes accurately.   That’s it.  Once they pass the test, they become a paid employee. 

Set Up Employees for Success

To ensure their employees are successful in their position, John and Mark recommend the following steps:

  1. Convey the company’s mission plainly and clearly.
  2. Put employees in a position to succeed by focusing on what they can do, not what they can’t do.
  3. Help employees understand how important their work is to the organization’s overall success.
  4. Get out of their way and let them do their job.

It’s also important to make them feel like an integral part of the company.  While the employees with different abilities don’t work in front of a computer, they are still provided with a company email.  They are trained on how to use it, even on their phones, and they are expected to check it. 

Employees also receive their own business cards with a discount code on the back. They can share with family, friends, or strangers.  This too gives them a sense of the critical role they play in the company.    

This leads to high productivity, high morale, and a unified team. 

Success Stories

“We see great things happen here,” said Mark as he shared some of the success stories of his employees. 

Matt

Each employee must be willing to participate in videos that will be shared through social media and other channels.   Matt, who has Asperger’s, felt he was too shy and awkward to be in the videos.   The team convinced him just to try one short video, so he did.   Gradually, his confidence and self-esteem grew so much that he was eager to lead an interview team from a local news broadcast that featured the company. 

Thomas

Thomas, who is on the autism spectrum, was going through a tough time.  He had a bad attitude, wasn’t leaving his room, and refused to speak to his father for over a year.  Desperate, his parents pleaded with John’s Crazy Socks to give him a chance.

So, John & Mark interviewed him and asked, “Do you want to do this? Can you?”  Thomas agreed and became an employee. At first, Thomas wouldn’t speak to anyone on the job, but today he is having conversations every day, and he has even spoken to his father.

Andrew

Andrew, also on the spectrum, did not like strangers.  Whenever he encountered someone he did not know, he found a corner and would not budge.  Now, however, Andrew greets people and regularly holds conversations.  “Look at all the talking I’m doing!” he exclaimed recently.   

“All these individuals were able to grow simply because they were given the chance, “ says Mark.

Opportunities

Some employees are perfectly happy being sock wranglers, but there is room for growth.  After employees have mastered their current roles, they can request to learn other areas of the business.

Leah, for instance, is currently learning the ropes of marketing.  Matt & William have started writing the sock descriptions for the website.  Another employee is learning Photoshop because of his interest in sock design.   He’s being integrated onto the product development team.

Everything’s Personal

John and Mark want customers to know that people, not machines, pack their orders. Each packer has their own character sticker which they place inside each order they pack.  In addition, John’s Crazy Socks will soon publish a  a web page for each member of the team so customers can get to know them better.   

John also still makes some local deliveries in person. 

Message to Employers

John and Mark want to show other businesses what’s possible when you give people a chance.  Here’s what John & Mark want you to know:  It’s not altruism to hire employees with different abilities.   It’s good business. 

Many small business owners lament over how hard it is to find good employees.  Mark considers it an opportunity to tap into a whole new workforce that has not typically been considered.  It yields better productivity, morale, and retention. 

What can you do?

John’s Crazy Socks proves that you can run a successful business leveraging employees with all abilities.  We hope their story inspires you to consider how you can be more inclusive in your workplace to individuals with different abilities.  We’d love to hear your ideas, so shoot me an email:

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Photos courtesy of John's Crazy Socks

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