Strategic planning for Disability inclusion


Strategic planning is honoured more in name than action. Maybe we should just call it planning, but strategic has such an aura of importance about it. It might be useful to visit a dictionary to refresh our understanding of these words. 

Strategic: relating to the identification of long-term or overall aims and interests and the means for achieving them.

Plan: a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something

So, a strategic plan identifies long-term aims and provides a detailed method for achieving them.

There are two elements – a goal and the means of getting to it. 

In 2019 the 15 members of my then employer’s (now the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ)) DEN’s Guidance and Action Team (GAT) was privileged to participate in a 2-day facilitated planning workshop. It wasn’t called a Strategic Planning workshop. We called it an Action Planning workshop. We needed to lay down the foundation of the DEN’s future actions and culture. We had presented to the Board in February that year and we returned to the Board in November with a bold spreadsheet detailing what we wanted to achieve. 

What gets counted gets done

In my time in DCJ I was frequently required to prepare project plans, which I did with a sense of despair. They were signed off and forgotten. Even when I went back to a manager to review the plan, I was mostly met with a blank look – “You are taking this seriously?”Well, yes. The whole point of making a plan is to follow it. 

That doesn’t mean a plan is followed rigidly. In the “fog of war” of reality, circumstances will drive the need for changes and revisions. But while the plan must be adaptive it still must be followed. 

While our original Action Plan was a great foundation, it was essentially a manifesto for influence. It had a bold time frame and clear success measures. But with 13 action areas it was wildly ambitious. It was what we wanted rather than what we had contracted with the department to make happen in a clear and precise way. 

This was a vital distinction. Setting a set of aspirational goals for DEN wasn’t the same as contracting a set of outputs with the organization. That was where we wanted to get to, but a lot had to change first – and we were exploring what that was. 

I recently looked at that plan, developed around this time (September) in 2019. Some of the actions are still being pursued. Most actions have been achieved, but well after our bold 2020 target date. However, there were only 2 actions that remained unfulfilled – greater awareness of invisible disabilities and a degenerative disease and disability transition program. 

Planning for cultural change

Culture is the accumulated expression of lived experience, and it is grounded in behavioursand actions. There are actions that can be planned, executed, and measured in terms of outputs but the outcome can often only be hoped for. 

Strategic planning is about planning to maximise the chances of your desired outcome happening. Straight planning works when we are dealing with outputs, not outcomes.

The distinction is critical. Outputs are the consequences of rational and predictable actions. Outcomes are the benefits conferred by such actions and more. Well intended outputs do not assure desired outcomes. Influence upon culture is independent of outputs but is also interdependent.

We need to ensure that our organizations’ culture is conducive to turning outputs into outcomes. With most public sector organizations, we are dealing with a reservoir of goodwill that may need to be assured it can freely express a willingness to be inclusive. Sometimes an organization’s culture can be dominated by change exhaustion or workload demand and hence be more in a survival mode than a celebratory one.

In 2019 the DEN was committed to generating positive cultural change. The 2019 DCJ’s annual People Matter Employee Survey (PMES) score for disability was 4% of staff. In 2022 it had doubled to 8%. The DEN’s approached paid off. It had laid the foundation for continued cultural evolution.

That doubling of the percentage of staff with disability signaled a critical shift in confidence by those staff – but that would not have been possible without a wider change across the organization’s culture.

Planning for procedural change

This is harder because it requires agreement at an organizational level that things will be done differently at a policy, procedural and practice level. Cost may be directly involved. Changing policies and procedures is slower than we’d like. It always is.

When I joined the DEN in 2010, I wanted a return-to-work policy for people with acquired disabilities not related to work-related events. This morphed into the idea of a workplace adjustment passport. It has taken nearly a decade of steady change in attitudes, maturation of ideas and the evolution of methods. There had to be a cultural shift first. What seemed self-evident at the level of living with disability has slowly evolved into a workplace adjustment passport, a flexible working policy, accessible technology, and other forms of accommodation of needs – but for all staff and not just those with disability. 

The Disability Inclusion movement may have been the most focused drive for change, but it wasn’t the only influence. 


We plan everything of consequence. The more complex the task the more detailed the plan must be. 

I exited hospital in March 2009 after 10 months. Going home was a profoundly desperate need that had to be planned on so many levels. I was still facing at least 6 months of intensive home-based physiotherapy. It wasn’t well-planned and I was constantly discovering needs that had to be met by my own makeshift effort rather than the health system. 

My return to work was good-spirited but ramshackle. I was a novelty to my employer and myself. We struggled through, though sometimes causing more pain that was necessary. We were all learning how to be adaptive and inclusive on the job. 

The following year the DEN was established and now multiple staff with disability and key people from HR shared discovering what a DEN could be. It took 9 years before the potential of what the DEN could be was evident. It had sufficient agency to imagine what might be possible and plan to achieve clear goals. 

Over that time the idea of Disability Inclusion was maturing across the sector as well. The idea was also evolving inside the organization, as its culture changed. We had created a collaboration between the DEN and the organization. We had shared goals. We could now think about planning for positive change in ways that are more effective than our earlier efforts.

We can see that there is an essential difference between project planning and strategic planning. I still think the word ‘strategic’ is often used just because it sounds important. However, when we understand that strategic planning embraces the outcome of actions, not merely the output, the real power of that meaning can become apparent.

What is the outcome of effective Disability Inclusion action? An output might be that accessible technology is readily available, that recruitment is fairer, that workplaces are more accessible. But the outcome is that equity of access to opportunity and equal standing in the organizational community is no longer a ‘gift’ that can be withheld by action or constrained by inaction. It is a right and dignity that is acknowledged without ever having to be asked for.

The outputs are matters of process. The outcomes are matters of culture. Each influences the other. An ERG must seek to influence both, but its highest goal must be cultural change. Outputs are stepping-stones on the path to the outcome, but never the destination. The outcome is a ‘guiding light’. This is the foundation of the strategy for success.

Success is built on effective strategic planning.

Selling Disability Inclusion


Now and then I listen to audiobooks on communication, with an emphasis on selling. I do this to remind myself just how important it is.

Selling is not an idea many people have positive emotions about. That’s understandable. Back in the 1980s I did a week-long course with a now non-existent insurance company. I learned how to manipulate people into buying. It was unethical and I knew it. I didn’t last long as an insurance salesman and cancelled the only policy I sold. I felt bad that I had put a family into financial stress through my manipulation. Maybe they would have still bought insurance without that manipulation? Maybe not. Nevertheless, I was immensely grateful that I became conscious of the process of manipulation. I could choose not to act that way.

A decade later I had a regional role in northern NSW with the Department of Community Services. I was licensing aged and disability residential services and disability workplaces. I was often out in the field 3-5 days at a time. 

I borrowed a 6-cassette course on conflict resolution from the department’s library. Over the next few months, I played the cassettes repeatedly, using each visit to a service to practice the skills described. That exercise transformed how I worked and served me very well in my in that job and subsequent roles when I was involved in contentious or fraught situations with service providers.

I also had some tapes of Zig Zigler on salesmanship (without the flagrant manipulation). They came from an associate who encouraged me, with no success, to become an Amway distributor. I listened to them repeatedly. Zigler is perhaps the most prolific author on this theme, with books from 1982 to 2011.

Over the subsequent years I have become aware how those three experiences have profoundly influenced my professional life in powerful and positive ways.

There’s nothing more unpleasant than being the target of poorly executed selling. That’s what we remember. Beautifully executed selling is something we rarely see – because when it is done well, we don’t see it as selling. 

Selling is also called influencing and persuasion and negative the connotations that fit both words are easy to bring to mind. It is quite simply an activity that we have little respect for, or trust in.

Ethical selling, influencing, persuasion – acts of relating where everyone feels good, and the outcome is good, is what we generally try to do on a day-to-day basis. But we so often fail to achieve our desired objectives because we lack the skills needed to be effectively persuasive.

We all sell

The act is natural to us, the word has been given a bad rap because we recall it being done badly and/or unethically. 

Learning to sell well (and ethically) is something we should all be striving to do. 

Selling is not just the pitch. For a time, it was popular to talk about one’s personal ‘brand’ (maybe it’s still a thing?). Every aspect of who we are is bundled into the act. 

We can use less loaded words like ‘communicator’, or serious words like ‘negotiator’. In the end we all want to be able to convey ideas we think are valuable and generate actions that create good outcomes.

Being able to sell well is a skill we should value and celebrate. The question of ethics is real and must be addressed.

How do I sell disability inclusion?

ERG leaders have the necessity of selling thrust upon them, but they usually do not appreciate this reality, and are often unprepared for the challenge that now faces them.

Let’s rephrase the question as “How do I influence people to be more inclusive of people with disability?” We could also say “How do I persuade people to be more inclusive of people with disability?”

Without the loaded language the task takes on a more noble tone.

What is important is that influence or persuasion is a form of communication and relating that can be done skillfully and ethically or poorly and unethically. It can be also done skillfully and unethically and poorly and ethically. We often do the last when we want to do the first. 

So, the answer to the question is: “Skillfully.”


In previous posts I have explored the forms of resistance advocates for disability inclusion encounter. It is important that we don’t misdiagnose the reasons and motives for the resistance met. It is equally important that we do not expend time and energy on remedies that do not work, or which work to only a limited degree. Time and energy are scarce commodities for both the influencer and subject of attempts at persuasion.

Skillful ethical selling/influencing/persuading serves everybody well.

Some books from my audiobook list

These are also available in hardcopy and ebook formats (except the Dale Carnegie book)

  • Influence – Robert B. Cialdini (1984)
  • Exactly What to Say – Phil M. Jones (2017)
  • How to Talk to Anyone – Leil Lowndes (1999)
  • How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work – R Kegan & LL Lahey (2000)
  • How to Win Friends & Influence People in the Digital Age – Dale Carnegie & Associates (2011) 
  • The Surprising Science of Meetings – Steven Rogelberg (2018)

The Cialdini book is a classic and a must read. In fact, I have just discovered he has another book that seems to be as good – Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. I bought the audiobook version immediately.

There are a lot of books on the selling/influencing/persuasion theme, including looking at the darker side of unethical manipulation. Books on marketing are also helpful. You will find something that suits your needs.

I included The Surprising Science of Meetings not because it is about communicating so much as the environment or setting for the act of selling to occur. Where and when we seek to persuade are just as important as the how

A reflection on leadership and commitment


Over the past few months, I have had the privilege working with ERG leaders – disability and others – though the intersection with disability is a persistent accompanying theme in most cases. 

Leading an ERG effectively is a demanding and tough job. It’s not a case of putting on one’s leadership hat a couple of times a month. It is a passion that is constantly present. 

Here I want to reflect on and celebrate the role of ERG leadership. 

The wildcard role

Most significant organisations these days have a formal DEI team that sits within a defined hierarchy and has a clear status. Now DEI teams have their passions and challenges too, so I don’t want the reader to infer that what I say about ERG leads doesn’t apply to DEI teams. 

Some things do not, however, apply and one of those things is the wild card nature of an ERG leader. 

I have met NSW public sector ERG leads who have been at grades significantly below the usual manager grade of 11/12. This includes 3/4, 5/6, 7/8, and 9/10. Of these grades, typically 9/10s and some 7/8s may lead teams. 

Depending on circumstances it is not usual for staff under grade 11/12 to engage directly with executives. One is generally definitely seen as a subordinate in status, power, influence, and skill. 

ERG leaders must perform key management functions, but without any official standing beyond their role title. And to make things just that little more interesting the members of their ERG are all volunteers. While there may be explicit recognition of the fact of being an ERG lead, all else is essentially contingent. 

Who an ERG leader is is really down to the luck of the draw. Any ERG could end up with a person with substantial proven leadership skills and experience or somebody with nascent potential which may or may not flower during their leadership term. 

Possession of potential plus passion is the mark of a truly interesting wild card. 

The potential isn’t rare. There are always people with potential at lower grades, though some may be stuck there through circumstance or bias. Becoming an ERG leader can unplug that potential and when it is mixed with passion for the ERG’s cause great things can happen. But being a wild card is also a risk.

The art and science of leadership

Doing leadership well isn’t easy. It is an art and a science. Knowledge of the science can be acquired through self-directed learning, training, coaching, or mentoring. The art can be developed only through passion-fueled practice.

Typically, though, leading an ERG is under-appreciated. To be fair, sometimes ERGs bring this upon themselves because of perceptions created when ERG leaders who have the passion and commitment get stuck for want of understanding the science side of leadership equation. This can be more often true of new ERG leaders with no formal leadership experience.

Being an effective leader takes knowledge plus the necessary personal attributes.

Leadership is a function, not a role

In books such as Fearless Leadership by Loretta Malandro (2009), The Fearless Organisation by Amy C. Edmondson (2018) and Dare to Lead by Brene Brown (2018) we develop an understanding that leadership is less a formal role and way more about personal attributes. So, people who are not leaders can find themselves in leadership roles. But equally so, people who are leaders may not find the opportunity to get into a formal leadership role. Happy the days when the two come together.

For ERG leaders whose backgrounds have given them limited formal leadership opportunity and whose status in the organisation is decidedly subordinate, moving into their new role may precipitate a conflict between their passion and ability and their reflex to be responsive to their normal position in the organisation’s hierarchy.

For them, being a wild card is a distinctly uncomfortable and even perilous position to be in.

An intense learning curve

Books like Primal Leadership by David Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee (2001), Quiet Leadership by David Rock (2006) and Leadershift by John C. Maxwell (2018) remind us that the art of leadership can (and must) be continually refined. It is often an ongoing journey of self-discovery and personal development.

For those new to ERG leadership roles settling into that role can be a demanding time, especially if critical guidance isn’t available. While organisations are happy to facilitate ERGs it is rare that there is commitment to supporting leaders to develop into their roles.

Becoming a great ERG leader is a big challenge that those with the passion needed to drive them will meet. But they must also seek out the guidance they need. 


I have been deeply impressed by ERG leaders emerging from the middle to lower ranks in organisations. Their passion for their cause gives them the energy to meet the considerable demands of their roles.

Leadership is a function before it is a role. And whether it is looked at as either, or the happy marriage of both, it must be seen as an art and a science. Natural leaders still must develop the rational skills that give their potential expression of the art the necessary coherence.

Being a wild card isn’t easy, but it is full of great potential if played wisely. This is part of the art of leadership that can’t be learned anywhere but on the job. This is perhaps the most important, challenging, and rewarding insight for any ERG leader to embrace.

There is a future potential for organisations to recognise that ERG leadership in an outstanding opportunity to develop and hone leadership skills, and to invest in supporting emerging leaders.