Several years ago we took took a group of our “Emerging Leaders” on the Business Behind The Magic Tour at Walt Disney World.
Our first stop was the laundry. I bet you are thinking, “Wow! The Walt Disney World Laundry – How Exciting! NOT!!!”
With future stops at Epcot Cast Services where all of the Cast Members report in for work and change into their costumes and then with a visit to the The “Utilidor” System (tunnels) underneath the Magic Kingdom, I was hoping that the stop at the laundry would be quick so we could get to the more exciting locations. Turns out that this first stop shared the best Leadership Story of the day:
The annual employee turnover rate at the WDW Laundry services was approximately 85%. WDW was considering outsourcing laundry to another company. But as their leadership met they decided to try another approach. They decided to push leadership down to the Cast Members (all employees at WDW are called Cast Members). Leaders at the WDW Laundry met with all of the Cast Members and asked them two questions:
1. What can we do to make your job easier?
2. What changes would you recommend to serve our Guests better?
They shared that it took some time before the Cast Members began to respond. Initially Cast Members did not feel the freedom to share their thoughts – they feared that their responses would be viewed as criticism. It took about six months of asking before the Cast Members began to engage.
But when the Cast Members began to share their ideas, Leaders listened and changes were made. For example, today all Cast Members can raise or lower the platform on which they are standing to an ideal working height. Air conditioning vents are now directly overhead of their work areas.
There was also a “hook type” tool that they were using to empty the dirty laundry carts – which was tearing a lot of bed sheets. Engineering was brought in and with the Cast Members help they re-designed this tool, saving several hundred thousand dollars a year.
They have machines that automatically fold sheets and towels. This machine has bands that move the sheets and towels forward – but there was a problem – the bands quite often break – stopping the whole process. One of the Cast Members who had recently left the Navy had an idea! He had learned to tie a special knot in the Navy that he thought might be able to be used to tie together the ends of a broken band. It worked! Annual cost savings over $100,000!
Laundry Cast Members suggested some cross training with the Housekeeping and Restaurant Cast Members – where they got to see exactly how the room linens and restaurant linens touch all their Guests. WDW calls this cross-utilization and is intended to have the different teams really “live” in the other teams’ job for a few days. When Housekeeping and Restaurant Cast Members spent a few days working in the Laundry they came back with new appreciation for their counterparts and the daily challenges they face.
The Disney leaders also shared with the laundry Cast Members how significant their contribution is to every Guest – without the laundry done well – everything at Walt Disney World would come to a complete stop.
Today Cast Members set their own Production Goals – Turns out they set higher production goals than their leaders would and have demonstrated they are more likely to actually achieve those goals than if their leaders had.
But the really amazing part of the story is that today Annual Cast Member Turnover in the WDW laundry is less than 10%. Cast Members get hired and stay until they retire! And it all started when Leaders began asking the WDW Laundry Cast Members two questions! WDW calls this “Employee Engagement.”