Market Dominance Via Simplicity & Popcorn Empowerment

Picture the following scenario in front of “its’ a small world” at Disneyland:

“Timothy, a custodial cast member, is scurrying about sweeping up trash when he hears the child crying. Making his way through the guests converging on source of this commotion, Timothy sees the problem. A small boy, melting down in tears, is focused on the ground, stomping his feet in anger. The empty popcorn box and scattered kernels tell the story. Making matters worse is the boy’s father, scolding the boy for his carelessness. This is not “The Happiest Place on Earth” for the boy, his father, nor for the scores of guests watching the scene unfold.

“Within moments, Timothy appears next to the boy, kneels down and says, “I’m sorry about your popcorn.” Instantaneously, two things happen: dad stops yelling and the child, almost startled by the question, nods his head and stops wailing. Continuing, Timothy says, “Mickey Mouse told me he saw you drop your popcorn and knows you’re really sad right now.” Pausing for a moment to let this message sink in, Timothy continues, “And Mickey Mouse wants to know if you would like this big, fresh box of popcorn.

“Miraculously, a box of popcorn appears from behind Timothy’s back.”

“Profound” doesn’t come close to describing the impact of this interaction on the child, his father, and the many guests who’ve gathered. Timothy is equally buoyed by the interaction.

Unfortunately, some organizations seem determined to undermine employee trust, morale, creativity, and effectiveness—up and down the hierarchical chain of command—with restrictive and complex policies. Far too many organizations spend more time worrying about “the cost of the popcorn,” than creating easy to follow policies and procedures.

Handing out free stuff is, indeed, “simple,” but certainly not the answer to every problem. The organization that constantly rectifies problems by doling out free goods and services (“comping”) is likely plagued by more fundamental issues. Yet, companies with the best products and tightest service standards must prepare for eventual customer complaints and requests. Too few are well prepared. “I’ll have to ask my supervisor,” reflects the sad state of organizational health for legions of employees and their disgruntled customers:

  • Potential problems are not discussed.
  • Resolution strategies are not considered.
  • Employees aren’t trusted.

Simplicity + Skills Practice = Moments of Magic

Those managing the Disney University, and their counterparts in Operations, at theme parks and resorts around the world relentlessly consider potential problems and their resolution. And, most importantly, how to empower Cast Members via simple, actionable policies: “What do we do when operations don’t go ‘according to the script’ and, ‘how do we make life simpler and easier for our Cast Members’?” Managers and cast members constantly assess, and even role-play, guest problems and resolution strategies.

The cost to Disney of a box of popcorn is mere pennies, yet the message conveyed to guests and cast members is worth the weight of the popcorn, in gold:

  • Actions speak louder than words. “We really do care about your happiness.”
  • Trust. Empowered cast members can solve the most commonly occurring problems.

Popcorn empowerment embodies an organizational culture crafted carefully and methodically. Timothy’s problem-solving strategy is but one example of creating a culture dedicated to service excellence via simplicity and continuous employee development.

From Bucket of Soup to Bouillon Cube

In closing, assess the simplicity … or complexity, of just one of your policies via this brilliant analogy from my mentor and Disney University founder, Van France:

“If your policies aren’t being followed, it’s because you’re probably overwhelming your employees with too many rules, regulations, and mixed messages. Why force your (employees) to eat a metaphorical bucket of soup (your Standard Operating Procedures) all at once? They won’t remember a thing! Instead, provide digestible nuggets of information, (a bouillon cube!) that employees remember and act upon!”