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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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