Everything Speaks


If there was ever a universal philosophy that transcends barriers of business, industry and government, it is a page I will borrow from our good friends at Disney. Quite simply, ‘everything speaks.’

Or, in other words, details matter.

Walt Disney believed strongly in the ‘everything speaks’ philosophy. That’s why even the walkways change surface when walking from one land to the next in a Disney theme park. He believed that people experience with their feet.

That’s why there will always be a trashcan within 29 steps of wherever you are at a Disney park. That’s why sounds, and sometimes smells, are piped into certain areas to create ambiance. That’s why the New Orleans Square train station at Disneyland plays Walt Disney’s opening day speech from 1955 in Morse Code as the station’s background sound. And, that’s why the audio-animatronic figure of Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Walt Disney World’s Hall of Presidents wears polio braces under his trousers.

Those last two items, in particular, are items that most guests will never know. But, everything speaks and details matter.

When asking a crowd of any size that has visited a Disney Park what they remember most, chances are the top three answers won’t be Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean and the teacups. The first answers usually have to do with how clean everything is, how helpful employees are and how well they take care of guests. Then, comes Space Mountain, Pirates and teacups.

The Disney philosophy is that it’s not always about the ‘big wow,’ although there may be plenty of those in a Disney experience. More often, it’s about the little wows, because they add up.

Here’s an example. I was dining with my family one evening at a restaurant inside WDW’s Magic Kingdom. Our son had just turned 10, which means, according to Disney standards, he was an adult. However, all he wanted were kids chicken nuggets, which he ordered and happily received. Later, I realized that we had been charged for three adult meals, despite the kids nuggets. Taking my receipt to Guest Relations, two days later, I sought a refund of the difference between the adult meal and kids meal. The cast member, without hesitation and without approval from anyone else, took my receipt and credited the entire $108 dinner bill.

Somewhere, someone just said ‘wow.’

They empower their employees to make decisions like that to enhance the guest experience and ensure that all-important return visit.

What we do in government is not so different.

When people visit City Hall, do they expect to have a positive experience? Probably not. But, what if you empower your people to turn that expectation on its ear? We hear from people all the time about the wonderful experience they had dealing with City employees. We actually received a thank you note from someone who had a great experience getting a speeding ticket from one of our Police Officers.

It begins with the organizational culture and that is modeled from the top down. Some components of a culture that builds quality service to citizens are:

  1. Engagement – Government employees should take responsibility for interactions with citizens. They should adopt the mindset that this citizen is going to be better off because of their one-on-one interaction with me.
  2. No transfer policy – When an employee receives a call or letter or email from a citizen, they own that exchange. Even if the topic is outside their area of expertise, the employee should find out necessary information or, at very worst, get someone back to them with necessary information. There’s no such thing as “that’s not my job.” All facets of the organization are everyone’s job.
  3. Onstage/backstage – Employees should be familiar with the Disney concepts of areas that are open to public display and those that are not and take appropriate care and caution.
  4. Care – Employees should exercise as much care and compassion in dealing with each other as in dealing with members of the public.
  5. Trust – At all levels of the organization, trust must be emphasized and exercised. If you’ve hired well, you should trust your employees to do their work efficiently and empower them to do what is necessary to achieve maximum effectiveness.

Whether it is Human Resources, Communications or some other department, someone needs to be charged with furthering the organizational culture and evolving it to even greater heights. Two words …

Everything speaks.

Tom Bryson is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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