Book Excerpt

Note: The following is an excerpt from The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney

Chapter 10

At Disney, Everyone Picks Up Trash!

Throwing Away Your Trash—Everyone is Doing it!

It will never stay clean!” That is what many critics said of Disneyland when it first opened. Even Lillian Disney was skeptical that the park would be kept up. “When I started on Disneyland, my wife used to say, ‘But why do you want to build an amusement park?’” He wanted to keep the park clean to the point that people would be embarrassed to throw anything on the ground.

Since then, Disneyland has become renowned for being clean, friendly and fun. All Cast Members learn this at Disney Traditions, Disney’s infamous employee orientation. The first rule is: “We create happiness.” But the second is right behind it: “Everyone picks up trash.” Of course, there are wonderful Cast Members assigned to emptying trash receptacles, handling sweeper pans and brooms, and carrying out specific maintenance duties, like changing light bulbs. But no Cast Member, whether a host for The Great Movie Ride, or an executive vice president, should walk by a leftover napkin, a park map, or an empty water bottle, and not pick it up.

Modeling this behavior was demonstrated by Claudio Diaz, my Disney Traditions trainer, while we walked the Magic Kingdom that first hot summer day. As we stood in front of Cinderella Castle he modeled this message as he picked up the tiniest pieces of trash out of the planter. The message was clear—Everyone picks up trash!

Even the customers pick up the trash of others. You don’t think this happens? Consider the comments of Brian S.:

My family visits Disneyland in California often and last summer took our first trip to WDW.  Being involved in scouts, my family always picks up trash wherever we see it – including in a Disney park.  My boys have actually beaten Cast Members to the trash several times, with the Cast Members thanking them for helping to keep the park clean.

But it actually hasn’t stopped there.  Having a small retail store ourselves, when we go into shops we generally find ourselves straightening shelves, putting product that has been taken away from it’s sale area back where it belongs and generally helping out when we can.  I can remember a very hot August evening at Disney/MGM Studios near closing when we came upon the Mr. Potato Head parts bar and found it woefully mixed up.  We just set about putting everything back where it belonged and, even at closing time, the Cast Members came over to help and let us stay to help them finish the job!  We actually had a great time hearing about the joys and perils of running a Disney toy shop!

Cleanliness is a “Kroc”

This way of thinking is not so different from McDonald’s.

Over a number of years McDonald’s has been in a marketing partnership with The Walt Disney Company but their relationship goes back much further. Ray Kroc and Walt Disney met briefly as ambulance drivers in World War I. Curiously, both misstated their ages in order to go into the war and serve in the Red Cross. Ultimately, on separate journeys, they both created two of the most recognized companies to ever cater to families the world over.

McDonald’s has been known consistently for its logo, look, product, and efficient service. As Kroc tried to create a product that was in tune with the drive-ins of the 1950s, he also focused on maintaining the facilities. Attuned to the quality of the restaurant experience, Ray Kroc was known to tell his employees, “If you’ve got time to lean you’ve got time to clean!”

The emphasis here is not just one of cleanliness. The important message is that, when teams work together to make improvements that positively affect everyone, they become more cohesive. Their pride improves, productivity increases, and quality becomes apparent. Simply said, involvement creates ownership, which leads to employee engagement!

Now I know what you’re thinking—we’ve all been to a McDonald’s that’s been anything but kept up. Food has been left on the tables, the restrooms are unkempt and the trash receptacles are overflowing.

While this is true of many a McDonald’s I’ve entered, I’ve also been in several that are fairly outstanding. At the end of the day, it’s really about the management taking the lead at each location deciding how clean they want their particular McDonald’s operation to be. The whole of it tiers up to one large message about how clean you can expect it to be when you go to McDonald’s.

Leaders Matter

Despite the fact that someone always seems to complain about the bathrooms in the parks at Disney’s annual shareholder’s meeting (and that consequently the whole organization is going south), it is seldom as a whole, that Disney is going downhill.

In reality, when it comes to creating priorities, it’s about the individual leader. Leaders really do matter. They matter most when they take the reins, when they pick up trash, when they are involved. An operation is no better than its immediate leadership. Leadership for me is many things, but one of the most important is modeling what you want others to do. If you pick up trash, everyone will pick up trash. If you show courtesy to your employees, your employees will be friendlier to your customers. If you take the time to have a little fun, your employees will make it fun for others.

The net effect? It will be cleaner, it will be friendlier, it will be fun.

Hmm… Clean. Friendly. Fun. Sounds like something Walt Disney would say.

So wherever you work, make the magic in your business. If you don’t know where to start…try picking up the trash!