I woke up the other morning to the news that Bob Iger is returning as CEO of Disney.  Iger came up through the ranks in a 50-year career at Disney and has an almost mythical status as the leader. He spent 15 years as CEO and was instrumental in acquiring major brands like Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm, the home to Star Wars. Iger also closed the $71 billion deal to buy most of 21st Century Fox and kicked off the streaming revolution with Disney Plus. Most people would say that anyone would be hard-pressed to find someone who says a bad word about Iger.  And what does he attribute his success to? Building relationships, demanding excellence, and sweating the small stuff.

I’m sure most of you have been to the magical world of Disney. It is a rite of passage as a parent that you bring your kiddos to Disney to see that look of wonder when they set eyes on Mickey and the Princesses for the first time in person. We did that as a family…staying on property at The Animal Kingdom, getting Fast Passes, chasing after those character autographs, and watching Tinkerbell float across the sky during the evening light show. It was magical! But one of the memories I have of that trip has nothing to do with the Disney characters and more to do with a mistake I made that Disney helped me correct with their legendary service.

We had been having a great day in the Magic Kingdom…until I realized I didn’t have my phone. Now, this was in the early days of cell phones, and I remember that phone well…it was small and had a black and white checkered Coach phone case. Of course, panic struck and as I made my way to Lost and Found, I had very little hope that it would be there. But guess what I walked into? A room filled with cell phones…and there was mine sitting on the shelf!  I couldn’t believe it and automatically told the lady at the front desk…if this was any other theme park, it would have never been found. She nodded and said they had a swift protocol of how to handle a lost phone. They had even shut it off so that it wouldn’t drive the employees crazy and so that the battery would be saved when found by its owner. That was a WOW experience for this customer. It perfectly illustrated the care and planning for every single detail that Disney is known for.

The Story Behind Disney’s Trash Cans
Along with this “small catch” the theme park had implemented, there are 1,000 other small things that are tended to. At Disney, attention to detail is something of an art form, stemming from the founder, Walt Disney. His passion, which one could argue is at the very core of the company’s values, was famous for his eye for detail, and he made sure that everyone paid the same attention that he did. As an example, Disney trash cans are legendary. It Is rumored that there are holes underneath the cans where the trash is swept away in underground tunnels. It isn’t true, but what is true is that each and every can is created to be a piece of art that is specific to the part of the park that it is located. The cans are ever present in the background of Disney vacation photos. They’re a vital necessity to a pleasant guest experience. Yet, they’re barely noticed. The humble Disney trash can might be easily overlooked, but actually has celebrity status with people vying for the trash can merchandise and swag that can be found in the Disney stores.

Why did Disney focus on trash cans?  First, Walt realized that if you keep a place tidy, it’s more likely that guests will throw away their trash, so he did research into how far someone would walk before they dropped their trash on the ground. He found that 30 feet was the magic number, so wherever you go in a Disney Park, a trash can will never be more than 30 feet away from you. Second, every trash can is designed in a way that blends into its surroundings and doesn’t remove the guest from the immersion of their experience. They are works of art and are meant to enhance the customer experience.  Again, the little touches here and there truly make a difference.

Customers Notice Everything
You may not be consciously aware of it, but you are subjected to annoyances every day.  Some you might just filter out and move on, but others might really bug you over time and impact your satisfaction. Interestingly, there is a human premise that it’s always the little things people seem to notice and get annoyed about, not the big things. See if any of these annoyances resonate with you:

  • The dust ball in the corner after the professional cleaners “finished” their job.
  • The dirty marks on your cupboard door after the hinges have been replaced.
  • The realtor who didn’t remove their shoes when entering your home with a client.
  • The absence of free WIFI on the cruise you spent a lot of money on.
  • The appetizer you didn’t order on the restaurant bill.
  • The grease on the steering wheel after they have finished servicing your SUV.
  • The dropped call when we are trying to book a hotel room by phone.

These are the things we notice; they cause us to rethink whether we want to continue to do business with the guilty organization. These are the things they expect NOT to happen. They represent the basics of business, and we expect them to be performed without a flaw. But when things break down, we are emotionally caught up in the event and often behave in a way that doesn’t reflect who we really are. We confront the person who greets you at the phone store for not seeing us on time. It’s a small issue and shouldn’t matter, but it does. These are the things that we tell ourselves might indicate an organization is not concerned to do what’s necessary to finish the job completely for us. It says to us that they want to get it done and move on to the next customer.

Take Care of the Little Things
People get tired of the “big box culture”.  Someone once told me – people want to feel special and that they matter.  To be honest, that includes not just customers, but employees as well. That mantra has always stuck with me and has made me become more intentional in how we show up at Steople. My question to you is what small details in your company would frustrate customers? Not the big things, but the little things that might negatively impact your brand. How can you work on making the minute details as important as the big deliverables? What can be done?  Here are some sample actions that might be taken to implement strong “little things matter” values.

  • “They Notice Everything” posters should be plastered about the workplace to remind employees to take care of the little things for not only customers but their fellow employees.
  • Leaders should monitor every nook and cranny of the organization to pick up on and change “maybe they won’t notice” attitudes and behavior.
  • If customer surveys don’t already have questions relating to how well the little things are performed, add them. And include write-in comments to obtain a more personal customer perspective on what needs to be addressed.
  • Include “little things” as part of the internal quality control of your organization. If little things aren’t taken care of on the inside among employees, it won’t happen on the outside with customers. Set meaningful metrics to meet these.
  • Get input from frontline employees on the little things that are regularly missed and treat these as priorities for resolution. They know what the major issues are; listen to them.
  • Hold the leadership team in every function of the organization accountable for improving how well the little things are taken care of. Make it part of their annual performance and bonus plan.


Attention to detail is a culture that leads to sustainable competitive advantage because most organizations don’t have — or don’t desire to have — the competency.  They don’t understand the little things aren’t little at all, they’re HUGE and can make the difference between a wildly successful business and a mediocre or failed business.

This is the time of year for reflection on the last 12 months.  I encourage you to take stock of those things that might need to be focused on in the new year.  Here at Steople, we are always here to support you and help you with the things that matter most in your culture.  We are grateful for your partnership and wish you a great holiday weekend!


Every year our team attends an annual conference joined by our friends and colleagues from across the country and even around the world!  This year the conference was in Philadelphia and we got to do some awesome activities like running up the Rocky steps, seeing the Liberty Bell, and having a Philly Cheese steak at Pat’s.  However, the real reason we are there is to learn about the gold-standard practices in our field and the scientific research that backs up the work we are doing.   There was some amazing speakers and I thought I would share just a few of the many gems of wisdom that might be relevant to your own daily leadership practice.


Embedding a Culture of Innovation

The former Vice President of Innovation & Creativity at The Walt Disney Company, Duncan Wardle spent his 25-year career at Disney developing some of their most innovative ideas and strategies. Ideas that would forever change the way the company expands its impact, trains its employees, and solves problems creatively.  Duncan Wardle and his team were tasked with leading the creative process for Lucas Films, Pixar, Marvel, Disney Imagineering, Disney Parks and ESPN. He currently serves as CEO of id8, a top innovation consulting firm.

The ability to think creatively is the one core human truth that will remain relevant in the coming era of 5G and artificial intelligence. Duncan believes everyone has the power to be creative. Even though the world may be doing its best to inhibit our creative expression, our childhood creativity does not dissipate — it just lies dormant, waiting to be brought back to life.  So how can you encourage creativity on your team?

  • Our imaginations start to be hindered around age 6.  Having an energizer in meetings to get people to switch to the creative side of their brain can pay dividends to innovation.
  • No idea is bad, it’s just bad timing.  Have a way that you can document ideas that come up in discussions so they don’t get lost.
  • Children automatically think expansively, and adults automatically think in a reductionist way.  We automatically shoot things down.  Find a way to open your mind up and ask questions instead of automatically saying “Yeah, but…”
  • Some of the brightest artists and thought leaders get their best ideas when they sleep.  As soon as you wake up jot down what you dreamed about and any solutions that came to you overnight.
  • The biggest barrier to creativity is being too busy.  Take one day a month that is unscheduled and you will be shocked at how many amazing ideas and possible  strategic initiatives you can come up with.



Psychological Safety on Teams

Eduardo Salas, Ph.D. is one of the world’s leading experts in the use of simulation training and optimizing learning and development on teams.  He has studied these areas extensively in a variety of fields, including aviation, health care, and during a 15-year stint in the US Navy.

How can we begin to “crack the code” on building high performing teams?  Having an understanding from Eduardo, who has studied some of the best teams on the planet, was enlightening.  Turns out one of the most important factors in creating effective teams is establishing a sense of psychological safety.

Psychological Safety is “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for asking for feedback, asking questions, requesting help, and speaking up.” You can promote this on your team by admitting mistakes, remaining open to dissenting views, not tolerating a teammate saying disparaging things about other teammates and creating time for good ideological debate.

The question to ask yourself about your team is simple…in what ways are we boosting psychological safety and in what ways are we draining it?



Fascinating Entrepreneurial Traits

Rodney Lowman, PhD, is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the CSPP/Organizational Psychology, Alliant International U., San Diego and President of Lowman & Richardson/Consulting Psychologists. He does research in career choice and change, professional ethics, and occupational mental health.

One of my favorite presenters at this conference and one I have come to rely on for his counsel, Rodney, is a wealth of research and statistics. During his presentation I learned a few things about the personality of an entrepreneur.  We know entrepreneurs are creative in nature, but they not all cut from same cloth!  There are, however, certain things we know about them that are well-grounded in research.

  • They usually don’t like being managed.
  • They are very risk-tolerant and don’t fear failure.
  • They have an uncanny ability of pattern recognition – they see things that other people miss and before other people figure it out.
  • In order to have the ability to execute an idea they may need to partner up with experts.
  • Many entrepreneurial companies outgrow the founder due to either the founder’s inability to lead effectively or the organization needing to establish stability and reduce risk.

The questions to ask yourself as an entrepreneur, is are you leveraging your ability at pattern recognition?  Are you collaborating enough with experts to ensure you are executing on your ideas?  Are you the best person to lead the team?


As always, growth is at the core of what we are about.  What opportunities are you taking to continue to build your leadership IQ?  I encourage you to to invest in yourself and continue to build those leadership capabilities as you work towards becoming the leader you were meant to be.