Cast of thousands Featured

6:20am EDT April 2, 2003
With a huge corporation like Disney, you would assume all the procedures for how to entertain its visitors come from top management and are circulated through the company's 55,000 employees by memo or handbook. But as it turns out, the "Magic Kingdom" is not so rigidly controlled.

At Disney's Wilderness Lodge in Florida, employees, which Disney calls "Cast Members" were asked how to improve food service for guests at the Whispering Canyon Cafe. Servers and entertainers, who dress as Old West characters, suggested wooden horse rides for parents and children, and cap gun fights with servers while guests waited for their food.

Employees also recommended that the cooks serve the food, so if a server was in the middle of entertaining a guest they wouldn't have to run to the kitchen to pick up the order. As a result, children were entertained while the orders were prepared and attendance increased at the restaurant.

"Because involvement was the key, the cast member buy-in was much higher," says Joel Strack, a facilitator for the Disney Institute's "Keys to Excellence" leadership program, which recently visited Cleveland for the Greater Cleveland Growth Association's COSE Small Business Week. "Transfer power and decision-making authority to employees and they will have a greater sense of ownership."

The employee ideas were not all fun and games. Resort housekeepers asked their managers if they could replace their carts, which were too heavy for some employees, with motorized models. The new carts paid for themselves in months due to the decrease in housekeeper injuries and downtime.

To increase involvement, employees must trust their leaders. So if an employee suggestion cannot be used, you must tell the employee specifically why it's not feasible, says Strack.

"If employees don't trust their leaders, they won't want the ownership because they don't want the blame if something goes wrong," he says. "They have to feel like they've been heard and you're listening."

How to reach: Disney Institute Keys to Excellence, (407) 566-2650.