Making Disney Better Through Continuous Improvement

by Jeff Kober, contributing writer

Part of what works for engaging employees is putting them at the forefront for improving the organization. While it's called many things, it's largely a process known as continuous improvement. Such improvement can focus on creating a greater guest experience, the work of fellow cast members, or simply finding ways to lower costs without impacting either of those two areas. Here's an example:

Come on over to the Magic Kingdom. When you enter, head under the train station to pick up a stroller for your child. After that, decide on your first attraction. How about riding the Walt Disney World Railroad? Great—but what about the stroller? If it was yours, you would have to fold it up, or park it here and come back for it later. But if you just rented one of Disney’s strollers—well that’s worse. They can’t be folded up. And here you just rented the stroller.

That was the dilemma and it was voiced to cast members for some time by frustrated Guests who had just rented a stroller. As a company, do you buy new strollers that can be folded up? Sounds fairly expensive. What do you do?

Cast members between stroller rentals and The Walt Disney World Railroad saw this problem a number of years ago and partnered together to create a plan whereby Guests could leave their rented stroller at one station, and pick up a stroller at the next station. A supply of strollers would be available at each station. Strollers left in the park would be returned to one of those three train stations, rather than brought back to the front of the park where rentals occurred.

Doing so not only created greater guest satisfaction, but also created a decrease of labor and time each night to hoisting all of the strollers to the front of the park. Now strollers are simply scurried over to the nearest train station.

This is a great example of the importance of a continuous improvement process. In order to engage employees, you need to have processes in place that allow employees to take ownership and create solutions for improving the operation. Such a process was instituted with great effect.

In your efforts to improve your organization, you need to identify a system for tracking and monitoring your progress on an ongoing basis. Such a process involves steps such as the following:

  1. Measure—Track your results quantitatively and qualitatively
  2. Act—Take action on devising some solution. Pilot those ideas.
  3. Re-Measure—Test to see if the ideas piloted create the desired solution.
  4. Implement—When you get the idea right, make it happen on a consistent basis.
  5. Share/Celebrate—One of the great activities that occur at Disney is that cast members get together on an annual basis to share their learning’s and to gain insights from others. Plus, cast members celebrate their successes as they create these improvements. 

Let's look at another example that happened a few years ago over at Typhoon Lagoon. The Bay Slides are body slides designed for children. They empty into the waters on the edge of Typhoon Lagoon. As such, there was a height restriction that prevented children 4 feet and taller  from enjoying the smaller slides. Cast members measured over a period of time those children who were too tall to ride but who wanted to enjoy the experience. Some 181 Guests on average any day were being turned away, and Guest Services cast members were answering a large volume of calls regarding this height restriction.

Looking for a way to allow more children to enjoy the slide, cast members met with safety consultants inside Walt Disney World and external water park firms  to see if taller children couldn't experience the slide, as well.  From those conversations came the conclusion that the sign could be increased to allow children up to 5 feet.

Afterward, they measured not only the safety of such a decision, but also the number of guests who were being turned away. As few as two Guests were being turned away given the changes in height restriction. It also offered a financial benefit to the park, as well, by increasing the slide's capacity without spending additional money to build a new structure.

These examples not only improved the Guest experience, but vested the Cast Members in feeling like it was "their company" they were running.

Ask yourself:

  • What continuous improvement processes do you have in your organization?
  • What opportunities exist for improving your organization?

Continuous Improvement is empowering, as well as engaging. If you want to create magic in your own organization, teach your employees to find ways to continuously improve the operation.