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The $100,000.00 Salt & Pepper Shaker

Empowerment is an oft-used buzzword.  Everyone wants to believe they empower their teams, but the proof is in the behaviors of their team members.  

The enemy of empowerment is the mentality of “just doing my job”.  Team members walking a tightrope of compliance, just trying to stay out of trouble.  Those team members are memorable to guests for the wrong reasons.

The alternative, genuinely empowered team members, are the ones that make our experiences memorable.

Here is an unforgettable story about the results of empowerment:

The $100,000 Salt and Pepper Shaker (Randy Pausch: The Last Lecture)

Over 35 years ago, when Randy was 12 and his sister 14, their parents took them on a vacation to Disney World.

Towards the end of the vacation, their parents allowed Randy and his sister 90 minutes to explore the park by themselves without being monitored. They all agreed on a spot to meet.

Randy and his sister wanted to show their appreciation to their parents for the trip and especially allowing them 90 minutes to explore by themselves.

They pooled their allowance money and headed for the nearest Disney gift shop.

They soon found the perfect gift, a ten-dollar ceramic Disney salt and pepper shaker featuring two bears hanging off a tree, each one holding a shaker.

Randy and his sister were giddy when they left the store, excited to see their parent’s faces when they opened the gift.

Minutes later, tragedy struck when Randy accidentally dropped the shaker and it broke on impact.

Randy and his sister were in tears. An adult guest in the park saw what happened and suggested they should take it back to the store. 

Randy knew it was his fault but he decided to go back to the store not expecting a positive outcome. After Randy had told the clerk what happened, both Randy and his sister were surprised and delighted when they were told they could get a new shaker. 

The Disney employee even apologized to them for not wrapping the shaker appropriately and gave them a new one…no questions asked.

So Why is the Salt & Pepper Shaker worth $100,000?

When Randy’s parents learned of the incident, it really increased their appreciation of Disney World. 

In fact, that one customer service decision over a ten-dollar salt and pepper shaker would end up earning Disney more than $100,000.  That small act of kindness made an indelible mark on Randy’s parents that they would take to a whole other level.

Randy’s parents made visits to Disney World an integral part of their volunteer work. They had a twenty-two passenger bus they would drive English-as-a-second-language students from Maryland down to see the park. 

For more the 20 years, Randy’s dad bought tickets for dozens of kids to see Disney World. All in all, since that day, Randy’s family has spent more than $100,000 at Disney World on tickets, food, and souvenirs! That’s a pretty large return on investment…wouldn’t you say!

Later in his career as a consultant for Disney, Randy would often ask Disney executives this question:

“If I sent a child into one of your stores with a broken salt and pepper shaker today, would your policies allow your workers to be kind enough to replace it?”

Randy stated that “the executives squirm at the question. They know the answer: Probably not.”

Every day, our teams are faced with similar opportunities.  How would your team handle a similar situation? 

What leads a team member to feel empowered enough to act as this Disney team member acted? 

There are two pillars to empowerment:  Psychological safety and defined values.

“Trust is the highest form of human motivation.”  AMP Up1 Culture Values

It all starts with safety, and safety comes from trust.  Trust your team.  If a team member believes there will be negative consequences if they make a bad decision, they will err on the side of indecision.  When a team member makes a mistake, but acted within your company’s values, how did you respond?  Treat mistakes as an opportunity to calibrate and learn.  This safety will allow them to make good choices without fearing for their job. 

What set of values or principles guides your team’s decision making process?  What is their “north star” to consult when the situation in front of them is not covered in training?  Having clear expectations on how to behave gives the team member direction and confidence that their decision will be the right one.

If you’re a customer-centric company, your values should clearly state that your team’s actions should be customer-centric.  If you want your team to go “above and beyond”, reflect this within your values.  Which rules are okay to bend to make a guest happy, and which are non-negotiable?  If you have rigid policies, your team will act rigidly.

To empower your team, give them values and expectations, then trust them to do their job.  You never know which guest can be the next $100,000 salt and pepper shakers.  

Brand affinity is usually built when the guests experience is customized.  There is no cookie cutter guest and there is no cookie cutter experience.  Stay agile and break the rules (not law), more often!

“It’s okay to break the rules; just not the law.”  AMP Up1 Culture Values

February 9, 2024

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