The Trail to a Great Work Environment

What Qualities Do You Look For In The Place You Work At?

At Universal’s Islands of Adventure there are two comics that intertwine in Toon Lagoon. They are simply incidental theming to the park, but they offer a couple of great thoughts about creating a great work environment.

Mark Trail and Family Circus Share the Same Trail Here at Toon Lagoon.

Mark Trail and Family Circus Share the Same Trail Here at Toon Lagoon.

The first is a comic known form any years as Mark Trail. Mark Trail is a comic strip created by Jack Elrod, and featured themes that focused on the environment. It was targeted to those who appreciated the great outdoors, and was often instructional in its ideas about how to care for nature and its surroundings. To inspire his small team, Jack assembled his artists in the second floor of a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in the Atlanta area. Windows looked out over a 130 acre forest that surrounded the home. It provided inspiration for many of the comic strip adventures.

In this studio photo are Ed Dodd, Jack Elrod, Tom Hill and Rhett Carmichael.

In this studio photo are Ed Dodd, Jack Elrod, Tom Hill and Rhett Carmichael.

I’ve had the privilege of visiting some impressive work environments. Google has so many cool amenities. Red Door Interactive overlooked the Padres Stadium in San Diego. And speaking of natural settings–the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had a beautiful training facility in the hills of West Virginia. And yet, it isn’t just about the location, the appointments, and the amenities. It’s about the people you work with, and the esprit de corps.

That brings us to the other comic depicted–Family Circus–created by Bil Keane. It’s the depiction of family life, and the humor, love, and camaraderie found therein. In another Toon Lagoon panel, you can trace the trail from Billy back to the rest of the family.

The Family Circus looking for Billy. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The Family Circus taking a walk. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

There were a couple of key elements found in this comic, which coincidentally tie into any workplace culture:

1. Values. There are strong messages written humorously throughout the comic strip. Themes of being grateful, courteous, and caring are among just a few.

2. Gremlins. In 1975 Keane introduced an invisible Gremlin named “Not Me” which becomes a way for the kids to place the blame on anyone but themselves. Other gremlins were introduced like “Just B. Cause” and “Ida Know”. These same gremlins often creep up in organizations, unless they are defined and thrown out.

3. Dotted Paths. A dotted thick line would often show a character’s path through the house or down the street. We can see that same path utilized here in the comics depicted in Toon Lagoon. In business, this is represented by providing people a path of opportunity for them to grow and develop. In Bil Keane’s family, that path provided opportunities for his own children. Billy in the cartoon is really a representation of Bil’s own son Glen Keane, who went on to be a major character animator at Disney, to include Aladdin, Ariel, The Little Mermaid, Tarzan and the Beast in Beauty and the Beast.

The trail even continues along the walk way of the park. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The trail even continues along the walk way of the park. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

What messages does this comic strip have toward our work environment? I just got through doing two weeks of programming for a major college in New York. The comment that came up repeatedly was how when the college was small, it “felt like family”. When you stop to dissect that statement, you really it isn’t that the group was small. It was that they knew each other. They were more dependent on each other. They worked together to make things happen. These are the things that make a family a family–even at work.

And yet, there is nothing that stops a family from being a family–even when it grows bigger. I’ve known families with a dozen kids, and none of the older children ever say: “Back when there were only two kids it used to feel more like family.” Family doesn’t stop because it grows. Family stops because you stop working to nurture it. And the bigger the family, the more you have to nurture it.

People don’t leave brick and mortar. They may be attracted to the physical assets of the organization, but in the end they stay because “it feels like family”. What about your organization? Does it feel like family? Are there strong values that bring people together? Are there gremlins that get in the way? Is there a path for your success? How are you “marking the trail” in a way that makes the organization successful?

New Book! Disney’s Hollywood Studios: From Show Biz to Your Biz

This newest book by J. Jeff Kober celebrates Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and the stories, tales, and lessons behind it!

I am so very excited to announce my newest book, Disney’s Hollywood Studios: From Show Biz to Your Biz, published by Theme Park Press. I’m thrilled that it’s available in time for this week’s 25th silver anniversary of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you love Disney, if you love all things Hollywood, and if you love Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, you are going to love this book.

Disney's Hollywood Studios: From Show Biz to Your Biz by J. Jeff Kober

Disney’s Hollywood Studios: From Show Biz to Your Biz by J. Jeff Kober

This is the most comprehensive story of the Disney’s Hollywood Studios ever told. Books have been written about Walt Disney World, the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and even Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but other than the wonderful, but brief Imagineering Guide, there has never really been another book that talked about this park so fully. You’ll find any number of stories that document how Disney has approached this park, its daily operation, and its unique attractions. There’s probably the most comprehensive description of the Tower of Terror. You’ll hear rare stories about the making of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, the creation of the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, and about the rise and fall of Disney Feature Animation Florida. Did you know that one of the biggest deals in Hollywood was created at The Brown Derby restaurant here at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? You’ll read about that and more.

Who was Louis B. Mayer of MGM's Metro Goldwyn Mayer? And how was his studios boss style different than Walt Disney's? Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Who was Louis B. Mayer of MGM’s Metro Goldwyn Mayer? And how was his studios boss style different than Walt Disney’s? Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

But beyond that, you’ll find little-known stories about the Walt Disney, the company he founded, and of Hollywood itself. Who is Edith and Adrian? Who is Min and Bill? Where did the expression “Mickey Mouse Operation” come from? What was it like on the set of The Golden Girls? What created the theme park wars between Michael Eisner and Universal Studios? And what were some of the greatest and most tragic moments of Walt Disney’s life?

Most importantly Disney’s Hollywood Studios: From Show Biz to Your Biz is more than some “tell-all” tabloid from Hedda Gabler or TMZ. Every story has a lesson–has some message for one’s business, leadership and life. Every story ends by asking you questions about how you would approach adversity, competition, or serving others.

Labeled as "Disney's Folly" Walt overcame opposition and premiered his first full-length feature, Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs at the Carthay Circle Theater. How do you face opposition? These are the lesson's in Disney's Hollywood Studios: From Show Biz to Your Biz. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Labeled as “Disney’s Folly” Walt overcame opposition and premiered his first full-length feature, Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs at the Carthay Circle Theater. How do you face opposition? These are the lesson’s in Disney’s Hollywood Studios: From Show Biz to Your Biz. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Perhaps one of the most unique leadership, business books out there, discover for yourself  Disney’s Hollywood Studios: From Show Biz to Your Biz. Now available through Amazon.

The “Face” Of Passion At Work

A month or so ago I went to the Genius Bar at Apple to have my laptop looked at. While he was working on my laptop, I noticed the young employee’s watch:

No, this is not an iWatch. But it says something about the people who make such things. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

No, this is not an iWatch. But it says something about the people who make such things. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

I inquired. He said, “when you love what you do, time doesn’t matter.”

Do you feel that way about where you work?

Mid Life Celebration

The logo for my company is this symbol:

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It represents three things:

1. Half of it represents a time piece. This represents performance. It’s about attaining results.

2. Half of it represents a compass. This represents having your values and priorities in order–being pointed in the right direction.

3. The color is gold. Gold occurs when you heat ore to an intense temperature, removing the dross until the metal is purely refined. Together with other two it comes to represent excellence.

Few people represent that more than my former Disney Institute colleague Jeff Noel. Jeff is simply one of those people most look at and say, “I wish I was like him.” He is humble and kind; patient and cheerful; but never relenting about being the very best he can be.

Jeff Noel

Jeff Noel

Jeff has written a new book entitled Mid Life Celebration: Rethink, Reprioritize, Recommit. Whereas having a midlife crisis is spending our life chasing our dreams, a mid life celebration is a wake-up call to rediscover–and improve–what matters most.

Mid Life Celebration: Rethink, Reprioritize, Recommit--by Jeff Noel.

Mid Life Celebration: Rethink, Reprioritize, Recommit–by Jeff Noel.

I heartily recommend reading this book–even if you’re not somewhere in “mid-life”. It’s the next best thing to dragging Jeff along with you. It will offer some simple, inspiring ideas for anyone trying to figure out what matters most in life. And nobody does that better than Jeff.

More important, please order a paperback version from Amazon this weekend. Jeff is using the sales to raise awareness and donations for those suffering from Crohn’s disease. People with Crohn’s suffer many challenges, and are 20 times more likely to get colon cancer than others. Jeff’s own son deals with Crohn’s, and so buying a book allows Jeff to support those who are trying to make researching inroads on this disease.

A worthwhile cause in pursuit of helping two important causes–Crohn’s disease–and you! Buy it today!

Challenging the Process

Perhaps one of my most frustrating experiences are front line employees who simply say: “That’s the policy, I’m just doing what they tell us to do.” In those moments two things happen. I become irate because management should have created a culture that invites critical thinking around what is working and what is not working with the customer. Secondly, I grieve sadly that employees would want to work–or settle–or put up with that kind of culture. I know, they’re just trying to make a living. But who wants to make a living in an organization where thinking is not encouraged and rewarded?

If there is any reason to hire an employee–as opposed to creating more computers and robots to do the job–it’s that employees can provide needed critical thinking to the job. It’s a skill that truly cannot be replaced by machine.  Therefore, if you’re going to spend money hiring humans, teach them to seek innovative ways to improve their organization and the projects they are working on. And that requires challenging the process. It consists of the following:

  • Searching for opportunities to change, grow and improve.
  • Getting excited in finding new ways to approach one’s work.
  • Treating problems as opportunities as opposed to fearing their arrival.
  • Looking outward for fresh ideas. Benchmarking what others are doing and applying those ideas.
  • Experimenting and taking risks through small wins.
  • Learning from mistakes.

Managers should promote the psychological hardiness of their employees. Even when solutions aren’t obvious, hang in there. If doing something were easy, it would have been done already–and probably by a machine.

Ask yourself:

How can we seize the initiatives on our plate? How can we make the challenges we face more meaningful?

How can we experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from our mistakes?

How can we create a culture that wants to take the right road even when it’s the more difficult route?

 

Announcing The New 2nd Edition of The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney

2nd Edition of The Wonderful World of Customer Service by J. Jeff Kober.

2nd Edition of The Wonderful World of Customer Service by J. Jeff Kober.

I’m very excited to announce the 2nd Edition of The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney.

When the first edition of The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney came out, my rationale for writing the book came from the fact that I didn’t feel anyone was really telling people what customer service was really all about at Disney. I had developed the customer service curriculum that was to be the foundation in the development of the Be Our Guest book Disney released. That book had a forward by Michael Eisner. I doubt that Michael ever read the final draft it was finally written, but he did decide who was going to author it. While we thought it made sense for people at The Disney Institute to write it, we were told he wanted to go outside of the organization to have it written. Being responsible for customer service programming at the Disney Institute, I disappointingly relinquished all of the materials I had written to the author. I never met the author, and after a year went by nothing came of it. We inquired and begged for the opportunity to write the book ourselves. Eisner still didn’t want the book written by anyone at The Disney Institute and chose another ghost writer to do the book. I again sent the individual a copy of my materials, but never met the person. It was all too disappointing. Not that long thereafter, I moved on when a new opportunity became available.

But I didn’t leave the ideas that were at the heart of providing a great guest experience at Disney, and when Be Our Guest came out, I was determined someone had to tell the story–not only the truth of what works and what doesn’t at Disney–but how to make the experience come alive in one’s own company, whether it was a hospital, an airport, or an insurance firm.

The result was my first edition of The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney. I was pleased with the response–especially since my copies didn’t get space on a shelf at the Emporium. It was truly one of the proudest things I have done in my career. It has literally been read by thousands of people who have implemented its ideas into their own workplace.

The only challenge is that Disney is constantly changing. How they approach customer service ever evolving, and I felt like I needed to address those changes. In particular, there were three areas I especially focused on in this new edition:

1. Disney’s Service Behaviors. Back when I wrote the first edition of The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney the company was trying to move away from it’s original Seven Service Guidelines to more practical behaviors. Since then it has nailed a really solid set of behaviors expected not only of every Cast Member at Disney, but of leaders as well. We address both.

Cast Members greeting Guests into the park. It's part of the service behaviors discussed in The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Cast Members greeting Guests into the park. It’s part of the service behaviors discussed in The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

2. Making Guests Feel Special. I wanted to provide some clearer ideas about the ways Disney creates interactions as opposed to transactions. New stories in this second edition of The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney really press upon the way that guests experience something truly magical as a part of their stay at Disney.

This story of Wilderness Explorer Kalah and my son is an example of interacting with every one of your guests--even until the end of your shift. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

This story of Wilderness Explorer Kalah and my son is an example of interacting with every one of your guests–even until the end of your shift. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

3. High Tech/High Experience. With the addition of MyMagic+, FastPass+ and Magic Bands, Disney has done some innovative things to address the biggest complaint guests have about their experience at Disney–waiting in line. This is whey I waited as long as I did to do a new edition of The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney. I needed to evaluate how Disney is creating a more interactive, more high-tech experience.

New high-tech turnstiles are just the beginning of the High Tech Magic discussed in the Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

New high-tech turnstiles are just the beginning of the High Tech Magic discussed in the Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

That’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the changes. Every chapter was touched upon with new stories and ideas, and some chapters were substantially changed. Also, I re-did the order of the book so as to make it easy for people to take The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney and adapt it to their own organization.

What I didn’t change was the cover. It still hearkens to the early days of the Wonderful World of Disney show when everything seemed to come alive on your old TV set as you watched as a family on Sunday evenings. Those same traditions of excellence, great service, and magic are still a part of this book as well.

Please check it out, and let us know what you think. We’re excited for this new edition of The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney.

How Disney Vacation Club Changed Negative Perceptions

Do you work for the IRS and seem to have difficulty maintaining a positive image with your clients? Are you a dentist who confronts patients who don’t like to sit in the chair? In selling used vehicles, do you have a hard time proving to customers that the car in question isn’t a lemon?

Some industries are perceived negatively by most consumers. Such is the case with the time share industry. This last month the Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort opened at Walt Disney World. It’s the most recent of a string of Disney vacation club destinations that stretch from Florida to Hawaii. This location is among one of the most opulent (and thus expensive) destinations ever.

A fountain of penguins from Mary Poppins welcome guests to the new Villas at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.

A fountain of penguins from Mary Poppins welcome guests to the new Villas at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.

Critics were shocked when Disney went into the time share business. Most people equate the experience to being a group of hucksters holding you hostage until you buy and get stuck a piece of property that is over-priced. But Disney went into the business by taking everything that is negative about the experience and turning them into positives. Consider the following:

  • Rather than buying a piece of property, Disney gets you to buy points, thus accessing a wide range of properties.
  • Where before you were limited to a particular week and location, with Disney you have complete flexibility about not only the date and place, but even the size of the accommodation.
  • In the industry employees are given bonuses based on sales and margins. The focus is on the sales transaction. At Disney you are given bonuses on satisfaction as well as sales. This requires a much higher level of interaction with guests.
  • Disney Vacation Club Salespersons continue to answer questions and support the customer long after the sale. In the time share business, you typically don’t have any involvement once the sale goes through.

And the result? With a time share you have 3 days before the contract becomes binding. This results in 10 percent opting out. At Disney you are given 30 days before the ink dries on the paper. And only 1 percent opt out during that time. Where 5 percent are repeat purchasers industry-wide, 65 percent or more are repeat purchasers at Disney. Disney also gets 80 percent of their work through referrals. That compares to only 15 percent in most time shares.

Did we mention that purchasing a vacation club experience at Disney is much more than most other time share options? Yet they still get these stellar results.

It’s important to understand how customers view your business, whether positively or negatively. Then it’s important that you leverage the positive, and separate yourself from the negative by delivering unparalleled service. It’s what world-class organizations do. Take what’s negative, and stand out among the competition.

The spectacular Disney Aulani Vacation Club Resort in Hawaii.

The spectacular Disney Aulani Vacation Club Resort in Hawaii.

Join Us In San Diego!

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Are you heading to SHRM’s Strategic Conference? If so, you must join us for our pre-conference workshop this year.

Our Lead With Your Customer program this years takes a look on the inside of three great companies and brands. Listed as one of the 100 great places to work by Fortune Magazine, Scripps Health is an outstanding health care provider that aligns employee recognition to patient satisfaction. You’ll not only visit Scripps, but talk to senior staff about what they do to be one of the best medical centers in the country. Then it’s off to Red Door Interactive, a hot and upcoming marketing firm in an ever-changing world. Also known as one of the best places to work in San Diego, this culture guarantees its employees to be “100% Jerk Free.” And the beautiful Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina, will take us behind the scenes to see what it takes to create a care-free Southern California stay for its guests. All this, plus great insights from scores of best-in-business greats and your peers will leave you with new ideas for taking your organization to the next level.

Sign up by visiting here. We definitely look forward to seeing you.

The Golden Rule & The Platinum Rule

Rocks1

A few years ago I found myself outside the hospital walking past this presentation. Following the name of the hospital, the sign says:

“For our Non-Smoking Patients, Visitors & Staff

“If You Must Smoke Please Move Further Down The Sidewalk To The Seating Area

“THANK YOU”

If you look further on you can see that there are seats and standing ash trays for those wishing to smoke.

My guess is that they wanted to create a smoke-free area for people to enjoy so they stuck a sign in the middle of the rocks to tell people where they should go to smoke.

Nice…I suppose.

Now look carefully at the rocks below. In memory or concern of loved ones who have been treated at the hospital, guests have started taking rocks and writing their names. Over time it’s become a sort of memorial rock garden with hundreds of named rocks.

Yet there is no acknowledgement of this spontaneous memorial. Nor has there been any embellishment of the area to more fittingly pay tribute to this gathering of stones. Indeed, if anything, the sign telling people where to smoke almost stands as a sword stuck in the middle of the pile, completely oblivious to what people see as the real purpose of this unplanned sanctuary.

If you had planned this garden out, would you have put a glaring non-smoking sign in the middle of it? The fact that they put so much attention on the sign and not on the garden sends a flag to me as to what is really the priority.

Most of us are familiar with the Golden Rule: Do unto others and you would have done unto yourself. Few of us may be familiar with the Platinum Rule: Do unto others as they would like to have done unto themselves.

I think there was good, caring intention with the sign. We all want clean air. But I think to overlook the rock garden was a bigger mistake. Clearly, this little pile of stones means a great deal to people. I think that’s what is really important to them. Why take away the focus or make it ugly with a sign–even if the sign’s message is important?

This happens all the time in organizations. We do things with good intent. But do we do them with the customer’s intent? Do we really think what might matter more to them? That’s the opportunity for all of us.

Consider this example: When you think of a great dining experience, do you think of a fine restaurant with serving staff in tails, towel over their arms and fine food on a tray?

Now consider the following image:

At Your Service

This little guy reminds me of an important concept in customer service. This server is dressed up in tails and tie. He has the towel wrapped around his right arm, and the tray holding dinner extended on the right. He parodies that which you might find if you were visiting the Ritz-Carlton or the Waldorf-Astoria. He is delivering what many think would be great service.

Only this location is neither. It’s really the Hungry Bear Restaurant at Disneyland, a rustic counter-service location tucked in the corner around the bend of the Rivers of America. He is serving the main entree on the menu–hamburgers!

No one who really works at that restaurant dresses in that fashion. Nor does their demeanor align with this concept. But that doesn’t mean they don’t provide great service in a beautiful setting in a way guests come back again and again to enjoy. To me, delivering meals in a tux may be what some consider great service, but it’s not what people go for when they visit the Hungry Bear Restaurant.

Seeing someone in a tux delivering a hamburger seems to me as off target as stabbing a makeshift rock garden memorial with a non-smoking sign. There may be great intent, but it’s still a miss. We have to think not what we think is appropriate for our customers, but what they would see as great in their eyes.

That Alternate Universe Known as Entitlement

A couple of months ago I took my daughter to a hospital that out of the kindness of my heart I will not name. It is a prestigious hospital being well known nationally. Yet it was a disappointing experience. We had driven two hours to see a particular specialist, only to have that individual replaced by another colleague–supposedly in the same field. We also waited nearly two hours to see that replacement doctor, a matter I patiently tolerated only because I did not want to embarrass my daughter. Still it suggested something else:

1. They’re really disorganized–something I didn’t get because it really wasn’t all that busy.

2. The doctors could really care less about the patient waiting experience.

You might argue that perhaps they were in ER or having to handle some major issue. Maybe, but I could hear the doctors chatting away next door in their office, so I knew they weren’t out doing something else.

I should mention that this was a children’s unit in this major medical center,   and as such they had decorated the walls and even the ceiling in a way that tailored specifically to a preferences of a five year old. It was an awkward setting for my 17 year old daughter, as nothing in this environment made her feel at home–and in fact, only served to make her question whether she should still be seeing this doctor at this stage in her life. Unfortunately, you can’t see this kind of specialist that tailors to 17 year olds unless you go to a children’s unit.

In total I felt the experience could best be summed up by this image found in the hallway of this hospital:

A Captain Marvel wall decor sticker thrown on top of a Princess Castle wall decor sticker

A Captain America wall decor sticker thrown on top of a Princess Castle wall decor sticker

This image suggests a bigger metaphor for what is not only happening at this hospital, but many like it. You’ve put Captain Marvel at the draw bridge of a pink, princess castle. Disney Princesses and Marvel Heroes live in alternate universes. Captain America really can’t help a Disney princess because he doesn’t live in that world.

The same thing I think is true of healthcare: I think some Doctors can easily live in alternate universes from everyone else. I would title that universe as “Entitlement”.

I’ve worked with lots of medical groups trying to help them deal with the customer experience. I get the same message every time. Everyone is on board to doing what it takes to improve the customer service experience through training and development and a host of initiatives–except the doctors. The doctors are simply above it all. When I ask why, everyone always says that they work from a sort of entitlement.

They’re not alone–if it’s company they’re wanting. I hear the same message when I work with universities and professors. The same happens with government and politicians. Please know–it’s not a compliment when your organizations perceive politicians, professors and doctors as having an entitlement mentality.

But the truth is, many people outside those professions live in an entitlement zone. They may see themselves as the old-timers on the block who have “paid their dues”, and therefore, don’t have to do what everyone else has to do.  Or they can be newcomers who see themselves as coming in to “save everyone” in the organization by bringing in new blood. Entitlement doesn’t require a specific title–just a lot of pride.

Nothing blocks the ability to deliver really great service than an entitlement mentality. It puts blinders on you that keep you from truly seeing how you come across. You can’t be a hero if you’re blinded to the reality around you.

Doctors are in many ways super heroes. They aren’t imaginary. They do things that truly save lives. But they can’t do it by themselves and they can’t do it if they are too above themselves to be there for their patients. For that matter, nurses are super heroes too. And so is that third shift custodian. Go beyond what’s required of you. Demonstrate concern to others around you. And you can be a super hero as well.

As for my daughter, she has moved onto another state and another set of doctors who frankly, seem more attentive to her needs. And isn’t that what it’s all about?