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Prac­ti­cal Mag­ic: The Art of Stream­lin­ing Your Busi­ness Process

My fam­i­ly and I just got back from a week-long trip to Dis­ney World. While my hus­band and I have been there sev­er­al times, it was the first trip for my four-year-old niece and two-year-old nephew. Lead­ing up to the trip, we often talked about the things we would do when we got there. There was one con­stant: my niece want­ed to meet the REAL Meri­da, her favorite princess, from the movie Brave.

Final­ly the day came! The night before, I had checked the My Dis­ney Expe­ri­ence app on my phone to see when the park opened, and where Meri­da would be. We were right on sched­ule, awake and ready in time to catch the Wel­come Show at the Cin­derel­la Cas­tle when the park opened. Every­one was fed and caf­feinat­ed, and as we head­ed out to the boat dock to catch the boat to the Mag­ic King­dom… the sky opened with a TOR­REN­TIAL downpour.

And as soon as we got there…the rain stopped, and my niece got a hug from her favorite princess. To her the expe­ri­ence was entire­ly mag­i­cal. But to the trained eye, aside from the clouds part­ing at just the right moment, each step of the way was a supreme­ly-orga­nized process engi­neered by Dis­ney to elic­it the per­fect Guest reaction.

Does that take away from the expe­ri­ence? Not in the slight­est. Because while Dis­ney is known for their princess­es, they are king when it comes to being able to charge top dol­lar for an expe­ri­ence — and yet, peo­ple return year after year for just a lit­tle more of the mag­ic. And that mag­ic is only pos­si­ble through atten­tion to process.

So if it works for Dis­ney, why not your business?

What do we mean by process”?

Let’s first lay out what busi­ness process­es are: Process includes the poli­cies, tasks, and pro­ce­dures used to deliv­er your prod­uct or ser­vice to your cus­tomers. It encom­pass­es every­thing from your inter­nal sys­tems like human resources and billing mech­a­nisms to your exter­nal touch­points like con­nect­ing a poten­tial cus­tomer with a sales­man or actu­al­ly per­form­ing the ser­vice at a home. It’s supreme­ly impor­tant — and yet, some­how, often overlooked.

As Theodore Kin­ni writes in the Dis­ney Insti­tute book Be Our Guest: Per­fect­ing the Art of Cus­tomer Ser­vice, Think of process as a rail­road engine. If the engine does not run prop­er­ly, it does not mat­ter how friend­ly the con­duc­tor acts or how attrac­tive the pas­sen­ger cars look, the train will still not move and the pas­sen­gers will not pay their fares. Process is the engine of Qual­i­ty Service.”

The goal of any grow­ing busi­ness own­er should be to have a busi­ness that can run smooth­ly, with or with­out you doing every­thing. Do you have the free­dom to step away — even if it’s just for a week with your fam­i­ly? Do you have to make every deci­sion about how your busi­ness oper­ates, or does your team know what to do with­out you dic­tat­ing every­thing? Process­es allow you AND your team the free­dom to oper­ate, to do their jobs (that’s the rea­son you hired them, right?), and to do the things that dif­fer­en­ti­ate you from your competition.

Hav­ing process­es in place doesn’t make you a robot, or lim­it your cus­tomers to a one-size-fits-all expe­ri­ence. But by hav­ing a set process for the way you do busi­ness, you can do what you’ve always done — just better!

Top four rea­sons your busi­ness needs to imple­ment processes

There are a ton of rea­sons for why your busi­ness should have good process­es in place to oper­ate. But here are four pret­ty good ones:

Sav­ing time and mon­ey through stan­dard processes

Once upon a time, Walt Dis­ney World’s food and bev­er­age divi­sion pur­chased 25 dif­fer­ent kinds of french fries to serve in the var­i­ous restau­rants across the resort. The park had grown so fast that there was lit­tle struc­ture in place in the depart­ment, so each restau­rant was choos­ing and order­ing the type of fries they want­ed or could find. Obvi­ous­ly that cre­at­ed some logis­tics prob­lems, though — not only were there wide­ly vary­ing expe­ri­ences (and price points) for the Guest, but pur­chas­ing and ware­hous­ing so many types of fries was a headache. To rem­e­dy that, a struc­ture was put in place, with one cen­tral­ized group of man­agers mak­ing a deci­sion on oper­a­tions and pur­chas­ing, includ­ing on fries. By the time that was imple­ment­ed, reduc­ing the num­ber of types of fries ordered result­ed in a half-mil­lion-dol­lar sav­ings in a sin­gle year, and the Guests were none the wiser.

Now think of your busi­ness. Are there a lot of incon­sis­ten­cies in how things are done on any giv­en day? When you talk about one phase of busi­ness with an employ­ee, but it takes a while to explain what you mean? If so, you’re prob­a­bly cost­ing your­self time and money.

Rou­tines aren’t a bad thing! In fact, as lead­er­ship expert and for­mer Walt Dis­ney World Resort Vice Pres­i­dent Lee Cock­erell says, Pos­i­tive rou­tines cre­ate pos­i­tive out­comes.” And by com­ing up with pos­i­tive rou­tines that are done time and time again to deliv­er ser­vice to your cus­tomers, you can start real­iz­ing some sav­ings — both in time (from not wast­ing min­utes mak­ing things up on the fly) and in mon­ey (from being able to pur­chase what you need and not what you don’t). You can also intro­duce tech­nol­o­gy (hi, Com­pa­ny­Cam!) to help make things run even smoother and save time, because tech­nol­o­gy tends to run the same way every time and, with good process­es in place, so will you.

Cre­at­ing a con­sis­tent expe­ri­ence for your customers

Have you ever had a friend rec­om­mend a restau­rant or ser­vice to you because of the out­stand­ing expe­ri­ence they had — but when you went, on their sug­ges­tion, it was awful? Maybe the wait­ress ignored your emp­ty water glass, the fit­ting room employ­ee was rude, or the ser­vice tech­ni­cian didn’t show up on time with no call to let you know. So you check their online reviews (because any­more, that’s what we all do!) to see if this was an iso­lat­ed inci­dent — but the reviews are all over the place. Some folks love the expe­ri­ence they had, while oth­ers were put off by it.

Don’t be that busi­ness: put process­es in place.

This doesn’t mean you shoe­horn every­one into one way of doing things. But it does cre­ate a base­line for your cus­tomers, so they know what to expect when they do busi­ness with you. When they call, what infor­ma­tion will you always ask for? When your sales­man vis­its, what infor­ma­tion will he always ini­tial­ly pro­vide? When your ser­vices are deliv­ered, what will clean-up look like after­ward? When will the invoice be mailed? Con­sis­ten­cy is at the heart of any rep­utable busi­ness. And con­sis­ten­cy is cre­at­ed by stick­ing to defined process­es that guide your cus­tomers through their expe­ri­ences with you.

Because…

Think of process as a rail­road engine. If the engine does not run prop­er­ly, it does not mat­ter how friend­ly the con­duc­tor acts or how attrac­tive the pas­sen­ger cars look, the train will still not move and the pas­sen­gers will not pay their fares. Process is the engine of Qual­i­ty Service.” - Theodore Kinni

Mak­ing trou­bleshoot­ing wayyyyy easier

Inevitably, every busi­ness will deal with some­thing tricky that comes up. But hav­ing good process­es in place can make han­dling these sit­u­a­tions much eas­i­er two ways. First, hav­ing a process in place makes find­ing the prob­lem sim­pler. When talk­ing through the issue with your team, you use the same ter­mi­nol­o­gy to sig­ni­fy the same things — often a prob­lem in and of itself! But when you can iden­ti­fy what usu­al­ly hap­pens, and where some­thing isn’t work­ing with­in that process, it’s much eas­i­er to make the nec­es­sary tweaks or mod­i­fi­ca­tions than start­ing from scratch.

As Kin­ni writes, When ser­vice process­es work smooth­ly, their key com­bus­tion points are con­trolled. Qual­i­ty Ser­vice is deliv­ered with­out a hic­cup and every­one wins. How­ev­er, when com­bus­tion points are out of con­trol, ser­vice process­es mis­fire. Guests are incon­ve­nienced, and unless their prob­lems are solved, com­bus­tion points can eas­i­ly turn into explo­sions. Iden­ti­fy­ing and con­trol­ling com­bus­tion points are an impor­tant part of deliv­er­ing ser­vice through process.”

The oth­er way trou­bleshoot­ing is made eas­i­er through process is through that sav­ings of time that we talked about ear­li­er. When man­agers are uti­liz­ing rou­tines and process­es, Cock­erell says, it pro­vides the sta­bil­i­ty need­ed to adapt when chal­lenges arise. Being orga­nized reduces the num­ber of fires to put out, and when sparks do flare up into lit­tle fires, you can more eas­i­ly find their source and spend the nec­es­sary time to solve them the right way.

Cre­at­ing the mag­i­cal experiences

By hav­ing base­line process­es in place that become rou­tine, it’s much eas­i­er for you and your team to cre­ate the mag­ic” expe­ri­ences for your cus­tomers and guests. Cock­erell, in his book Cre­at­ing Mag­ic, writes, Even well-trained peo­ple in a great envi­ron­ment can’t cre­ate mag­ic if they don’t have sound process­es for get­ting the work done right.” 

When you have process­es in place to deliv­er your ser­vices con­sis­tent­ly well, and that becomes sec­ond nature to your team, and you’re real­iz­ing those sav­ings in time and mon­ey, and trou­bleshoot­ing is eas­i­er, you’ll find your­self and your team with a lit­tle more free­dom. And that free­dom is where the mag­ic can hap­pen: a bet­ter sales pre­sen­ta­tion, an extra com­mu­ni­ty invest­ment, even some­thing as sim­ple as a kind note from your recep­tion­ist to the poten­tial cus­tomer she spent an extra minute talk­ing to when the cus­tomer got teary on the phone because her hus­band would typ­i­cal­ly have han­dled this but he just passed away (real exam­ple there). 

As Cock­erell writes, Effec­tive process­es make the rou­tine things run smooth­ly and con­sis­tent­ly, free­ing employ­ees to do the extra things that can turn a good busi­ness into a great busi­ness.” This is what Dis­ney is known for — and, with some good process­es in place, you can be too.

Putting process­es into practice

By now, you’re con­vinced you need to get this under­way and put some process­es in place to run your busi­ness. How do you go about doing that?

1. Doc­u­ment what you do

As Gino Wick­man lays out in his ground­break­ing book Trac­tion, the first step to cre­at­ing process­es is to doc­u­ment what you already do. As you go through your work week, write down what you do, and have your team do the same. Doc­u­ment it from a high lev­el, with bul­let-point­ed pro­ce­dures for each step. Don’t get too caught up in the details, though — you don’t want a 400-page how-to guide that tells you exact­ly what file to open at 12:02 p.m. on Tues­days, but a list of the core things that make up your job.

Once you have a guide to your busi­ness, make sure every­thing is using the same ter­mi­nol­o­gy, call­ing each area by con­sis­tent names. It’s all a moot point if no one knows what any­thing means! Work with your lead­er­ship and man­agers to put it all togeth­er into a guide for your busi­ness, and make sure every­one is actu­al­ly fol­low­ing it — includ­ing you.

2. Be honest

As you read through your process­es, ask ques­tions of it, and be hon­est about the answers. As Kin­ni writes, although noth­ing may be wrong, the process­es may not be deliv­er­ing a wow” to your cus­tomers and guests, and maybe they could be. That intro­duces what Walt Dis­ney called plussing”, which is still an impor­tant part of the Dis­ney cul­ture. If some­thing can be made bet­ter, Kin­ni says, it’s done. Cock­erell writes of Walt Dis­ney, Walt didn’t wait for employ­ees and cus­tomers to com­plain about has­sles before he re-eval­u­at­ed his process­es. As a great leader always should, he looked for ways to improve how things are done because We’ve always done it that way’ could mean that you’ve been doing it wrong all along.”

So as you go through your process­es, be hon­est about the steps you have in place that don’t need to be. Your goal is to stream­line and sim­pli­fy, apply­ing tech­nol­o­gy where pos­si­ble, and find ways to deliv­er that wow” to your customers.

3. Exper­i­ment

Be cre­ative in how you eval­u­ate your process­es, and find new ways to keep fresh eyes on them. One great way is to hold an audit exchange” — have your man­agers exam­ine oth­er depart­ments’ process­es, both to find hic­cups and mine ideas. It’s also incred­i­bly impor­tant to open up the brain­storm­ing process to your front-line employ­ees, the ones who are on the ground work­ing every day with­in the process­es you enact. When you seek input from your team, it relays how crit­i­cal their voic­es are, and cre­ates a sense of own­er­ship that leads to even more pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, bet­ter morale, and often bet­ter ideas. This is a strat­e­gy Dis­ney uti­lizes constantly!

Cock­erell sug­gests: Always approach a process change as an exper­i­ment. Try out new process­es for thir­ty to nine­ty days; then fol­low up sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly to see if they’ve been imple­ment­ed as you envi­sioned and have gen­uine­ly tak­en hold, or if things have revert­ed to the way they were before or oth­er­wise gone awry. When it comes to inno­va­tion, it’s impor­tant to remem­ber the Chi­nese injunc­tion to be like bam­boo: firm and strong but also flex­i­ble enough to bend with the winds of change.”

4. Fol­low up

It is crit­i­cal to con­tin­u­al­ly com­mu­ni­cate — even over-com­mu­ni­cate — through­out the process. As you exper­i­ment, seek hon­est feed­back, and tweak your process­es accord­ing­ly. If you ask for feed­back, but change noth­ing, your cred­i­bil­i­ty is dimin­ished — so when you do ask for input, real­ly expect to hear it!

As you imple­ment new process­es, too, you should expect resis­tance. Change is hard! But by solic­it­ing feed­back from your team, you can be hon­est with them about why you’re mak­ing changes, and how they can help imple­ment those. Includ­ing your team in your deci­sion-mak­ing, where pos­si­ble, will con­tin­ue to help give own­er­ship and min­i­mize any neg­a­tive impact of the new changes you’re mak­ing. In the end, it’ll be worth it, but you need to be as trans­par­ent and adapt­able as pos­si­ble through­out the process.

5. Con­stant­ly re-evaluate

Final­ly, nev­er set­tle — con­stant­ly eval­u­ate what you’re doing. Kin­ni says that, at Dis­ney, stand­ing still is not a viable option; they are always debug­ging and look­ing for ways to improve. Find new ways to deliv­er a WOW!, stream­line a process using new tech­nol­o­gy, or share respon­si­bil­i­ties and cross-train to diver­si­fy your team’s expe­ri­ences. You’ll grow more as a com­pa­ny the more you exam­ine and improve your processes.

And when some­thing doesn’t go right, look first to your process­es to see if that’s where the prob­lem lies: often, it is. Cock­erell writes, When a mishap aris­es, instead of imme­di­ate­ly look­ing for some­one to blame, first see if a flawed pro­ce­dure or pol­i­cy is caus­ing the prob­lem. Rul­ing out process snags first is a more effi­cient way to respond, and it makes a huge dif­fer­ence in morale.” 


Going back to Dis­ney World — I know my niece will be talk­ing about the mag­i­cal day she met Meri­da for years to come. And that’s exact­ly what the Cast at Dis­ney World engi­neered, through a series of process­es. Time for you to design a process that will give your cus­tomers a pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence worth remembering.

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