This Examiner was backstage at Epcot leaving the cast cafeteria when the Epcot Vice President, Greg Emmer, came around the corner. He stooped to pick up trash on the ground. This action struck me because (1) the trash he picked up was nasty looking, (2) he was backstage and not in guest view, (3) he was alone and not surrounded by other suits he might be trying to impress and (4) he did it with a smile. From that day forward, I redoubled my efforts to keep the Park clean as I walked to and from the Land pavilion. This small vignette demonstrates how a leader can make a difference in a front line person’s behavior by living his expectations.
Disney has a reputation for clean parks. It started with Walt Disney. When Walt told his wife Lillian that he wanted to build an amusement park, she responded, “Why would you want to build one of those? They’re so dirty.” Walt replied, “That’s the point. Mine will be different.”
Walt wanted a family friendly place and felt that the dirty “carnie” atmosphere of most amusements was not family friendly. To keep the place clean, Walt and his team took a number of steps.
Custodial services, initially supplied by an outside vendor due to the high costs of opening Disneyland, were brought inside the organization. Walt and his team also staffed more custodians than was the norm.
To encourage guests to dispose of trash properly, Walt’s team identified the number of steps people would walk before dropping trash. The number turned out to be 25 or 26. That number was, coincidentally, the number of steps it took Walt Disney to eat a hotdog. Trashcans were then placed every 25-26 paces.
Walt adopted a philosophy that the guests would respect the cleanliness of the park if he and his team modeled that respect. Everyone in the organization was, therefore required to demonstrate their respect for the property by picking up trash.
There is this famous story about Walt Disney pointing out trash to a Tomorrowland supervisor. The supervisor replied, “I’ll call custodial.” That was enough for Walt. He went over and took care of the mess himself. That supervisor did not stay around long afterwards.
Although the photo at this link is not from that incident, it does capture Walt personally picking up trash in Disneyland.
When this writer saw Epcot Vice President Greg Emmer picking up trash back stage, he was modeling the behavior originally demonstrated by Walt and passed down through the generations of Disney park leaders.
This Examiner, to reinforce the behavior while serving as a trainer in Epcot’s Future World, always met my trainee at Cast Services, entered the Park from behind Horizons, looked for the first trash I could find and picked it up. This small act established the expected behavior for new hires immediately at the start of training.
The behavior has become so ingrained over the years that you can often spot off-duty Disney cast members in civilian clothes. They are the ones picking up trash in grocery stores, malls and other public places.
For any business owner, CEO, President, Vice-President, Director, team leader or trainer, modeling the desired behaviors is critical to their sustainment. This modeling requires—as in trash collection—looking down before looking up.
How about you? Do you look down? Do you look at your offerings through the eyes of your customers? Through your employees eyes? Do you know the bathroom attendants name? The custodians? The receptionists?
When we really get small and look at and appreciate the minute details of what our customers experience and the efforts of those around us, we become more successful. If you’re too busy looking up at those lofty corporate goals and your own career ladder, if you’re stuck in your office all day, every day, you may actually be missing the message on the ground. Just look down. It’s all around you.