Even in the best of times corporate leadership often isn't thrilled when those in middle management and the front lines have ideas that exceed how to clean the counters. Bruce Jones, programming director for Disney Institute, says that closed-off approach frequently has an unexpected—and unwelcome—result: lower productivity and poor customer service. Jones has some tips to offer:
- "Poor economic conditions are the best times to get creative," says Jones, whose company trains business professionals on Disney best practices. "Some of Disney's best ideas have come out of a bad economy or a time when our company wasn't doing so great."
- Like bystanders watching a tragedy unfold on television, says Jones, most employees would rather help than feel helpless, especially if their jobs might be on the line. And more often than not, it's the front-line employees who have the best ideas.
- "Since our company was founded, we've always looked to front-line 'cast members' to help us improve our business," says Jones. "These are people who deal with guests every day. They hear the complaints and the frustrations, and usually are the first to recognize kinks in the system. Without them and their feedback, we'd have a hard time creating magic."
- In Disney's Approach to Leadership Excellence, one of five training programs offered by Disney Institute, facilitators suggest leaders do the following with employees:
- Ask them how they are doing, and mean it. Ask questions about their family and home life, and pay attention to the answers they provide, Jones advises. Many times, these informal discussions will make the employee feel more comfortable about sharing concerns/issues about his or her job.
- Disney leaders don't answer the phone or check e-mail/Blackberries during cast member meetings and don't reschedule unless it's absolutely necessary. Jones says this shows cast members they care about the meeting and what the cast member has to say.
- If employees raise concerns about a project, ask them for recommendations on how to make it better. Provide constructive feedback, Jones recommends, even if the idea seems far-fetched. Then have the employees go away and put together a plan for how the idea could work.
For years, Disney turned down couples who requested to get married in front of Cinderella's Castle because the company didn't want to disrupt a regular guest's experience. Eventually, says Jones, an innovative cast member spoke up and said there had to be a way for Disney to provide wedding space without closing down the park. Disney's Fairytale Weddings was launched in 1991 and now hosts more than 1,500 weddings per year.
- Always share your dream, vision, and goals with employees and be clear about your expectations for them. When they understand your goals, they understand how to help you achieve them, says Jones, and how to help the company. It also keeps employees focused on the strategic vision of the company and can help prevent extraneous work that can cause discontent among the ranks.
- Empower your employees to make decisions on their own, but more importantly, support those decisions even if they don't turn out the way you expected. Jones points out that employees who don't feel empowered are usually hesitant to go above and beyond for customers.
Disney cast members are allowed to exercise guest service recovery without consulting management. So if a child drops his ice cream right after he bought it, the cast member can give him another one. This makes the child happy (as well as his parents), says Jones, and helps the cast member feel good about his job.
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