More Pussycat than Tiger - Why Accessibility is Nothing to Fear

For the past ten years, Cookie Time Limited (CTL) has been on a transformation journey. This has put it well ahead of the curve in creating an accessible and inclusive culture and workplace.

Many businesses seem to fear that ...

... improving accessibility will be like having a tiger by the tail, unleashing something that becomes out of control and difficult to solve. In Cookie Time’s experience, there is nothing to dread and everything to gain by getting on the front foot.

Making Businesses Accessible and Inclusive is Critical

Guy Pope-Mayell, Cookie Time Managing Director, says making businesses accessible and inclusive is critical, and will over time become legally mandated.

“Proposed accessibility legislation currently being developed will set out a framework for progressive implementation of accessibility over time, focused on the prevention and removal of barriers to ensure every New Zealander can participate and access the same opportunities on an equal basis with others.

“We support the proposed legislation – and the Access Alliance’s work in this space – but in essence this is about basic rights to accessibility and inclusion in the workplace, and there is no need to wait for the law to tell you what to do”.

“The simple truth is that people like to be heard. The surprising truth is that most things they ask for are small ticket items and changes that are easily implemented. And the surprising upside has been radically enhanced performance across our business.

“Accessibility has proven to be way more pussycat than tiger. We have found that business can be nuanced for individual needs without significant disruption. Adjustments that improve accessibility and inclusion deliver more engagement and fulfilment for employees and greater efficiency and profitability for business. So a real win-win.”

Committed to Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Cookie Time is an iconic, family owned New Zealand company, home to some of New Zealand’s most loved brands including Cookie Time, Bumper and OSM. Cookie Time was founded on 7 February 1983, with the delivery of 70 jars of Original Chocolate Chunk Cookies to 70 Christchurch dairies. Close to 40 years on, Cookie Time is New Zealand’s most trusted cookie brand, and the Original Chocolate Cookie remains a best seller. At the same time, the company is committed to innovation and entrepreneurship – recently launching a number of plant based products, and it’s first compostable packaging.

Pope-Mayell says businesses have to roll with the times. “Start-ups and social enterprises are by nature flexible and may seem better equipped to handle this changing landscape. Whereas legacy businesses must be consciously flexible and nimble to adapt. Whatever business you are in, however, accessibility is non-negotiable”.

Transformation Journey

Cookie Time’s transformation journey has centred around operational excellence, customer intimacy and cultural change. The current cultural focus is embedding emotional and psychological safety within an accessible and inclusive workplace. 

Key actions to improve accessibility include updating the environment, removing barriers to engagement, identifying unmet needs, pinpointing what an individual/team needs from the leadership team to improve their ability to perform their role/s effectively, implementing new systems to make the teams function more effectively, and improving inter-team understanding and communication

CTL has also conducted qualitative research within the business, inquiring what would need to change for individuals and teams to improve accessibility. From this research, small changes that make a big difference have been identified. These include recognising an individual’s preferences, for example not expecting them to attend social events if that makes them uncomfortable. Or phoning them instead of messaging or emailing.

Socialise and Connect

Common across teams was a request for an annual get together to socialise and connect. Other changes have included a new bakery cafe dishwasher, and improvements to office set-ups, including new blinds or tinted windows and carpet replacement. 

A powerful yet simple change has been to include someone with neurodiversity on the health and safety committee. Additionally, we have expanded our view of health to include wellness, and safety to include emotional and psychological safety. By doing this our committee are on the lookout for accessibility opportunities and staff know that if they identify something we have a structure designed to have it investigated and actioned.

Focus on Individual Empowerment

Pope-Mayell says a guiding principle has been to put people at cause, rather than subject to effect. This focuses on individual empowerment, so that individuals feel able to ‘cause’ change, rather than being affected by events ostensibly outside their control.

“The millennial generation is one that some businesses seem to struggle with, and it has seemingly been fashionable to expect businesses to conform to millennial expectations. We have found that by being at cause, individuals are working in partnership with the business to harness their passion. And skilfully direct this in ways that add value.”

“Bottom line, with emotional and psychological safety top of mind, simple changes to improve accessibility and inclusion are a no brainer. When employees feel valued and accommodated, the result is increased productivity, higher morale and better business outcomes,” Pope-Mayell says.