Quality Standards

There are tens of thousands of books regarding management, leadership, and culture. They all boil down to a list of base principles that are key to running a sound business. Simple to understand, very hard to execute. We should beware to confuse simple with easy. In fact, most of the behaviors that make us healthy and happy, that create our personal culture, are simple; eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, be organized and manage stress. We all intellectually understand the value of these behaviors , however, why can’t most of us deliver on them consistently? Because it is hard! Lack of time, too many easy, unhealthy options around us, committing to too much, lack of focus, lack of will, lack of clarity……the list goes on.

The same principles apply to our organizations. The culture we have is based on the behavioral expectations we communicate to our employees. If we do not communicate our expectations a culture will still form. It just may not be the culture we want. So, how do we as leaders create the culture we desire? Well that answer is much longer that the space I have available for this article, however, I would like to share with you one of the “secrets” that Disney Parks and Resorts uses that is the foundation of everything we do to build culture, The 4 Keys, also known as our Quality Standards.

In the 1960’s, as Disneyland was becoming more popular with the public the department that was responsible for training decided to formalized Walt Disney’s thoughts on customer service. They wanted to create a simple model that employees (cast members!) could remember easily, that would influence how they behaved and how they made decisions. As mentioned above, culture is built through behaviors, and everyone in the organization needs to understand expected behaviors as well as the priority order in which they fall. In human resource terms, this is called alignment, and insures that everyone from the C-suite to the frontline employees are using the same set of decision making tools to serve customers.

Key #1, Safety. The idea of Disneyland came to Walt as he sat on a bench in Griffith Park in L.A. He was at a local carnival (theme parks did not exist yet), with his two daughters watching them ride the merry-go-round.. He looked around and saw all the things that were associated with carnivals at that time. It was dirty, not organized, poorly maintained, and alcohol was present. It was not an environment that lent itself to a great family experience. He imagined a safe, clean place for families to create memories together. He was ahead of his time, because as we know today, if we do not feel safe and secure, it is very hard to think about anything else, so safety clearly became the #1 priority.

Key #2, Courtesy. Walt was not only creative but understood human nature and what it took to create a sustainable business, in a mid-western, common sense sort of way. He knew that if you treat your customers right, provided them a good value, and treated them courtesly they would enjoy their experience and come back again and again (Intent to return is one of the most important metrics in business!). He was the first to create a company that interacted on a first name basis. He knew that courtesy should not only extend to his guests, but also to his employees. Be nice!

Key #3, Show. Walt Disney and his team of theme park designers were movie people. His vision was to take the two dimensional stories from movies and books and turn them into three dimensional environments where his guests could escape reality into a fantasy world, and forget all their woes and worries, if just for a few hours. In order to create this environment, he knew that every detail counted.. This includes the architecture, the landscaping, the sounds, smells, lighting, cast costumes, the list goes one……. Disney theme parks are thought of as a show that is put on by the cast everyday. Just like in a Broadway show, there can be no missteps or the magic is broken.

Key #4, Efficiency. Move people from point A to point B as quickly as possible, reduce wait times, be accurate. In my 26 Disney career this seemed like this key that was always trying to push itself to the top of the list. Being able to have a carefree vacation, moving quickly, reducing waits, and getting from point A to point Z is something that the designers of the Disney theme parks thought about. When entertaining over 50 millions guests a year, efficiency needs to be a top priority, but not “the” top priority. It is important to deliver efficiency, but not at the expense of the other three keys.

Once Walt and his team settled on these 4 keys, the next step was to define the behaviors that demonstrated them. Remember, the behaviors are where the rubber meets the proverbial road (or Main Street USA). The way we behave is the culture we build, and what defines our customer experience.

Once you have your quality standards, the generic term for the 4 keys defined, then you can apply those towards any role or any area department in your organization. For this exercise I will apply the 4 Keys to a Quick Service Dining location, Pecos Bill’s, situated in Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom.


  • Wash your hands before you handle food
  • Keep kitchen floors free of debris and water to prevent slips trips and falls
  • Check food temperature periodically to confirm it is at safe temperature for consumption
  • Check expiration dates on food, and label them properly
  • Use proper techniques when lifting or carrying boxes or bags
  • Put down “slippery when wet signs” when it rains


  • Greet each guest and smile as they enter the restaurant
  • Pay attention to children and kneel down to speak to them when possible
  • Be knowledgeable about the menu and know where other options are available in case a guest would like a different option
  • When bussing tables, ask guests how their meal was, and if they need anything else.
  • Offer beverage refills during moments that time allows (we do not officially offer free refills, but this is a nice magical moment)
  • When seeing someone with a celebration button, make sure to acknowledge the moment (ie birthday, just married, wedding anniversary etc)


  • Greet guests in the Old West theme. (ie “howdy partner”, “yee haw”, “hello desperado” etc), remember this is Pecos Bill’s place!
  • Keep the topping bar wiped down and well organized
  • Wipe down tables and dry them off for incoming guests
  • Always have your proper costume (uniform), as well as nametag on the left side of your shirt
  • Complete your opening and closing checklists accurately to insure that the location is “show ready” at opening
  • Smile and make eye contact with guests when possible and appropriate
  • Hand menus to guests as they enter the restaurant so that they may make their selection and be ready to order when they arrive at the cash register
  • Offer to clean guest tables when they are done eating, as a courtesy, and to turn the table faster
  • During busy periods form the line outside the restaurant to insure that guests who have already ordered have a table available
  • During busy periods streamline the menu with less selections to allow faster food prep

These are just a few behavioral expectations from a microcosm of the Disney world. This work takes time and focus, and above all continual training and reinforcement. And, when it is executed well, it is world class.

The quality standards that you create for your organization may not be the same as Disney’s, however, you should take the time to determine your organization’s values and what kind of experience you want to create for your customer. Then, determine the appropriate quality standards and associated behaviors. This will create clarity for your employees on how to behave, how to prioritize, and will ultimately empower them to make decisions quickly and correctly. Then, you will start to understand how to make magic!

(c) 2019 Dan Cockerell  All rights reserved.


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