Since Tom D’Eri and his father John launched Rising Tide in 2013, it has become one of the highest-volume car wash chains in Florida, with a retention rate five times that of its competitors. D’Eri shares his formula for success: Put employees first by offering them clear job roles, efficient processes and empathetic, organized managers. Fully 80% of D’Eri’s employees are autistic. By addressing the needs of his unique workforce, D’Eri overcame numerous talent management challenges that plague many businesses.
- Design efficient, consistent processes and clearly defined employee roles.
- Your hiring process should include work-related tests, structured interviews and an emphasis on character.
- Rely on training and transparent processes to improve employee performance, customer service and workplace safety.
- Select and develop caring leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence.
- Train managers to help employees avoid mistakes.
- Ensure that every employee feels psychologically safe.
- Hold employees and leaders accountable by establishing clear expectations.
- Infuse day-to-day work with meaning and autonomy.
- Craft a compelling company narrative and share it with your wider community.
Design efficient, consistent processes and clearly defined employee roles.
John D’Eri, the father of Andrew D’Eri, an autistic child, and Tom D’Eri, Andrew’s brother, founded the Rising Tide car wash in 2012 and staffed it almost entirely with autistic workers. Today, as many as one out of every 44 children receives a diagnosis of autism. D’Eri’s business, with three locations in Florida, succeeds because of its unusual workforce, not despite it.
“Andrew and his teammates are no longer onlookers or outcasts in our community. They are participants. Contributors. Producers. They are part of something bigger.”
Tom and John designed airtight processes for their workers. The founders invented tools and systems to make their operation efficient, consistent and profitable. They recognized that a workforce of neurotypical employees may not need such systems but believe anyone would benefit from similar processes.
Neurotypical employees thrive in a culture of clarity, but can function without it; autistic workers need more structure. Leaders of autistic employees must do the things managers should do for any workforce to overcome mediocrity. Rising Tide devised a talent management formula that offers pertinent lessons to any business seeking success.
Your hiring process should include work-related tests, structured interviews and an emphasis on character.
Conventional hiring approaches, which depend on résumés and interviews, do not effectively identify candidates most likely to succeed in your business. The process doesn’t “contextualize” talent. Businesses search in the same pool of candidates, inadvertently excluding many eligible individuals. Improve hiring and the diversity of your workforce in the following four ways.
“The first step to improving your hiring is to identify those skills or attributes that will make someone most successful in a specific role.”
- Develop a work test – Create realistic assessment or training focused on the most essential functional skills for the role, such as cleaning a car interior, coaching an employee through a problem or conducting a sales call. Establish clear pass/fail criteria. Rising Tide requires candidates to complete a cleaning task flawlessly within six minutes, three times consecutively. Structure your work test as paid training so unsuccessful candidates gain from the experience.
- Enhance interview techniques – Adopt structured, scored interviews. Establish clear hiring criteria for skills and behaviors and assess them during the interview. Create standardized, non-leading questions to determine candidates’ alignment with the behaviors or traits your job requires. Incorporate behavioral history and hypothetical questions to allow for objective grading.
- Implement a scoring system – Design a “scoring rubric” that designates what each score, ranging from one to five, represents. Look for specificity in candidates’ responses, as detailed thought processes or experiences often signal authenticity. Have each interviewer score candidates independently and compare results as a team.
- Assess behaviors – When outlining skill requirements for positions, establish behavioral expectations. Identify character traits or values that contribute to success in your workplace. Involve your top employees in generating and refining these lists. Prioritize behaviors and cultural values over skills to broaden your candidate pool, diversify your firm and reduce attrition.
Rely on training and transparent processes to improve employee performance, customer service and workplace safety.
Give your workers the gift of structure. Don’t immediately blame them for poor or average work; first consider your systems. Strive for role clarity and link your processes to your values. Ensure people know what they’re supposed to do and how to do it well. Focus on your most critical processes: the work performed by a large percentage of staff; activities essential for delivering customer service; and behaviors crucial for maintaining a safe work environment. Outline what successful execution of the processes entails, considering functional standards – such as completion within a specific time frame – and broader objectives. Wherever possible, create visual flow charts, steps and checklists and make them available.
“No matter who you hire, if you’re struggling to grow and scale, there’s a good chance you’ve failed to engineer your business for excellence.”
With team members, test your processes in their intended environment. Have one person document the steps through notes, pictures or video. Consolidate these notes into a detailed, step-by-step procedure. Demonstrate the process to team members who will be responsible for performing the task. Allow them to try it and then provide feedback. Adjust the process according to their input. With one person overseeing the process, obtain consensus on the final process, using the decision maker as a tiebreaker if needed.
To implement the process, develop initial training materials, certification criteria and visual reminders such as checklists for the team. Establish a review schedule to assess the process and make the necessary adjustments. Begin with regular reviews and gradually decrease their frequency. Continue refining and improving the process, learning from experience and adapting to your team’s needs.
Select and develop caring leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence.
Success springs from great managers who act as coaches, vest in employees and treat each team member as a high-potential contributor. This unlocks excellence in everyone, not only those with autism. Consider an experiment at a San Francisco elementary school in which teachers identified random students as high-potential performers. Those selected outperformed other students, likely due to teachers’ high expectations and attention. Adopt a management style that treats all employees as high-potential performers.
“People trained to be great managers produce great associates, almost every time.”
Like the author’s car wash, become a Deliberately Developmental Organization. These organizations inspire employees to contribute to the business, regardless of their position. By providing the right framework, employees become problem solvers and share the burden with their leaders, enabling business growth.
Problems requiring management intervention often involve personal and emotional obstacles that hinder employee performance. A great manager develops emotional intelligence and related personal skills, such as clear communication, resilience and patience, as well as the crucial traits of humility and curiosity. These emotional competencies prove twice as important as IQ or work performance expertise.
Clear communication includes providing recognition and appreciation. It demands candid feedback. Tell employees directly when they make a mistake. Emotionally intelligent leaders build trust that facilitates difficult conversations. In rare cases, include employees who bully or threaten others, though astute managers know when to dismiss an employee.
Train managers to help employees avoid mistakes.
Terminating employees too quickly can hinder business growth, as it may overlook underlying problems. Consider first whether you provided the right clarity, processes, systems and resources for your employee to succeed.
When an employee at Rising Tide allowed an important customer to drive his van into the car wash, she could have been fired because the van got stuck and caused considerable damage. She had a stick that measured the height of vehicles and failed to use it. But Tom considered her perspective. The wash was busy, the customer had power, and she felt under pressure. Rather than fire her, Tom improved the system by installing a clearance bar to clarify which vehicles could and could not enter the car wash.
“What most organizations miss is that people in the bottom tail represent the biggest opportunity to improve performance in your company.”
When employees know they face immediate punishment or dismissal for their mistakes, they conceal them. By understanding the context, you can identify and resolve business issues, boosting everyone’s performance. Provide training on empathy, compassion and human-centered design principles to help your managers gain this perspective. Empower your managers with authority and a small budget to develop experiments and prototypes that help employees avoid mistakes.
Ensure that every employee feels psychologically safe.
Psychological safety at work involves more than feeling sufficiently secure to express yourself and make mistakes without judgment or penalty. It encompasses a sense of belonging and showing employees that you value and understand them. Achieve psychological safety by requiring managers to care about and vest in each worker’s well-being and potential.
“Your paycheck buys only their time. If you want their enthusiasm and their loyalty, you’ve got to be someone they’re rooting for.”
Encourage those in leadership positions to own their mistakes, remain accessible and approachable and make time for one-on-one check-ins with their direct reports. At Rising Tide, managers spend at least 80% of their time on the shop floor, working directly with their teams. They consistently express gratitude and appreciation, which encourages open communication.
Managers should coax workers to share their feelings about factors that influence their performance. Managers must ask for opinions, enforce speaking rules in meetings and allow silence after posing a question. Some employees may not be able to find the words or confidence to express their feelings on sensitive matters right away. Leaders should use short polls and surveys to test the state of psychological safety in their company.
Hold employees and leaders accountable by establishing clear expectations.
Even your best employees’ performance will gradually slide without accountability standards. Great hiring, processes, managers and culture ease implementing and sustaining accountability. Develop roles and job descriptions that emphasize accountability. Establish clear expectations and track them by using transparent metrics.
“The more we hold employees accountable, the more they develop personal agency: the belief that success or failure is in their hands; that they have significant control over outcomes.”
Introduce accountability rituals, such as regular inspections, check-ins and management presence. When employees fail, coach and re-train them. Dismiss them only if they repeatedly fail after remedial coaching and training. Encourage managers to help team members craft solutions. This approach supports employees without rescuing them and promotes accountability. Remain vigilant; maintaining accountability is an ongoing process. Regularly review and update your practices, assessing factors such as clarity of expectations, potential obstacles and managers’ capacity to hold their teams accountable.
Infuse day-to-day work with meaning and autonomy.
Many management books tout purpose as a cure-all. But a vague, overarching purpose doesn’t help employees get out of bed each morning or clean their hundredth tire of the day. Assist team members in understanding their individual purposes. Show them why their work matters; how they contribute to the bigger purpose of the firm and who they help.
“All the advice in this book adds up to the creation of a positive environment where autonomy, competence and relatedness flourish.”
To discover, define and clarify the company’s purpose and values, hold team discussions. If your organization lacks a well-defined purpose, involve your workers in establishing a shared vision. Connect everything you do and every decision to your values and purpose. Once you’ve established a shared purpose, clarify and communicate it. Leaders should consistently convey the company’s mission and values to their teams and lead with purpose in mind.
Craft a compelling company narrative and share it with your wider community.
Engage your team and loyal customers. Pitch your story to local media. Consider hiring a public relations firm to refine your story and secure media attention.
“Our extraordinary customer experience is a powerful trifecta, all flowing directly from our employee-first model.”
Engage brand advocates beyond your product or service by building authentic community experiences. Examples include the Harley-Davidson Owners Group that organizes events; Peloton’s social features that connect users; and 4ocean’s beach cleanup efforts.
About the Author
Tom D’Eri is the co-founder and COO of Rising Tide Car Wash.
“The Power of Potential” by Tom D’Eri is a thought-provoking and insightful book that explores the untapped potential of a nontraditional workforce and how it can positively impact business operations. D’Eri shares his personal experiences and the lessons he learned while running Rising Tide Car Wash, a successful social enterprise that employs individuals with autism. Through engaging anecdotes, practical advice, and compelling research, the author challenges conventional notions of work and presents a compelling case for embracing diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.
In “The Power of Potential,” Tom D’Eri emphasizes the transformative power of harnessing the talents and abilities of a nontraditional workforce, specifically focusing on individuals with autism. The book highlights the remarkable achievements of Rising Tide Car Wash, a business that D’Eri co-founded with his father, which has become a shining example of how inclusive employment practices can lead to business success and social impact.
D’Eri shares the challenges and rewards of working with individuals on the autism spectrum, highlighting their unique strengths and abilities that often go unrecognized in traditional workplaces. He dispels common misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding autism, urging readers to see beyond limitations and embrace the potential of neurodiversity in the workforce.
The author provides practical insights and strategies for creating an inclusive work environment that taps into the strengths of individuals with autism. He emphasizes the importance of clear communication, providing structure and routine, and adapting job roles to suit the unique skills and preferences of employees. D’Eri also stresses the significance of empathy, patience, and understanding when working with individuals with autism, emphasizing the positive impact it has on employee morale, productivity, and overall business performance.
Throughout the book, D’Eri intertwines personal stories of the individuals employed at Rising Tide Car Wash, showcasing their incredible growth, increased self-confidence, and the profound impact employment has had on their lives. These narratives humanize the concepts discussed, making them relatable and inspiring for readers.
The author also presents a wide range of research and case studies from various industries, demonstrating the competitive advantages of inclusive employment practices. He illustrates how businesses that embrace diversity and provide opportunities for nontraditional workers often experience higher employee loyalty, improved customer satisfaction, and increased innovation and creativity.
“The Power of Potential” is a call to action for businesses of all sizes to reconsider their approach to hiring and employment practices. D’Eri challenges readers to recognize the untapped potential within their communities and understand the immense benefits that inclusive employment brings to both individuals and organizations. By adopting a nontraditional workforce, businesses can cultivate a culture of inclusivity, tap into new talent pools, and ultimately improve their bottom line while making a positive social impact.
“The Power of Potential” is a compelling and engaging read that combines personal anecdotes, practical advice, and well-researched evidence to make a persuasive case for embracing a nontraditional workforce. Tom D’Eri’s passion for inclusivity shines through in his writing, and his experiences at Rising Tide Car Wash serve as a powerful testament to the transformative power of inclusive employment practices.
One of the book’s strengths is its ability to challenge conventional notions of work and success. D’Eri encourages readers to move beyond traditional metrics and redefine what it means to run a successful business. By highlighting the stories of individuals with autism who have thrived in their roles at Rising Tide Car Wash, the author challenges readers to consider the broader definition of talent and potential.
“The Power of Potential” also excels in providing practical strategies and actionable advice for implementing inclusive employment practices. D’Eri offers insights into the specific needs and strengths of individuals with autism, providing guidance on how to create a supportive and accommodating work environment. The book offers a wealth of knowledge that can benefit employers, managers, and HR professionals seeking to build a more inclusive and diverse workforce.
Furthermore, the book’s inclusion of research and case studies from various industries strengthens its arguments. D’Eri presents compelling evidence that businesses that prioritize diversity and inclusivity outperform their competitors in multiple key areas. This data-driven approach enhances the credibility of the book’s message and makes it relevant to a wide range of industries and organizations.
If there is one area for improvement, it would be to delve deeper into the challenges and potential pitfalls of employing a nontraditional workforce. While the book acknowledges the need for patience, understanding, and adaptability, providing more detailed guidance on navigating potential obstacles could further enhance the book’s practicality for readers.
In conclusion, “The Power of Potential” is a must-read for anyone interested in transforming their business through inclusive employment practices. Tom D’Eri’s passionate storytelling, combined with practical advice and compelling research, makes a persuasive case for embracing neurodiversity in the workforce. By recognizing and harnessing the unique strengths of a nontraditional workforce, businesses can not only improve their bottom line but also create a more inclusive and compassionate society.