Many organizations require business systems to run smoothly. One spring afternoon at Disneyland, I watched people enjoying the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes. I was amazed by the great job the Disney crew did in a short time to take a group of strangers of various physical abilities and get them paddling successfully around Tom Sawyer’s Island through their organization and planning.

It struck me how many companies struggle because they fail to implement the basic systems that promote a cohesive team demonstrated by the canoe crew. Companies with no basic business systems, along with trying to perform more complex activities and more external force than were present, is a recipe for a disaster.

Business Success Planning Lessons from Disneyland

business systems in place

The Disney canoe crew put into place systems from which many businesses can benefit. If you’re trying to figure out how to run a successful small business, it starts with creating business systems.

Set expectations during the on-boarding process

The on-boarding process, also known as the hiring process is essential to set expectations with your prospective employees. At the canoe ride, the on-boarding process started as the new riders approached the crew.

The canoe crew let the guests know what type of ride they were boarding. There was no motor—it’s the only guest-powered ride in the park. They would need people to physically paddle. If they didn’t paddle, the others would have to make up for it. They let the guests know it was okay to omit the ride if they didn’t feel like paddling. The Disney crew let their guests know where and how to use the oars, in addition to explaining what not to do while in the boat (like no standing, reaching for items that fall in water, rocking the boat, etc.).

In your business, if you don’t let people know what is required before they start working, you’ll often deal with expectation gaps. The explanation given by the crew may seem obvious, but letting people know what is expected and what is likely to happen reduces the probability for issues to arise.

Conversely, by explaining what behaviors were not allowed, Disneyland can prevent dangerous situations. Many years ago, one canoe capsized as rowdy youngsters stood up and rocked the boat while trying to splash other boats. Businesses that take short cuts on protocol, procedures, and education run the risk of, at the least, employing a dysfunctional team and at the worst, sinking the canoe.

How would the typical Disneyland canoe trip go if there was no on-boarding process? Would people get on the boat who did not know they were expected to paddle? Highly likely. Would people find the oars and know how to use them? Most of the time, but not always. Would guests engage in bad behavior? Highly likely. For these reasons, an on-boarding process is an essential business system for any company.

Create goals and pace

Business success planning is another crucial part of maintaining a strong company. At the canoe ride, a crew member explained how fast to row by saying you could follow the pace of the Disneyland crew member at the front of the boat. The more people who paddled together, the more their energy would propel the boat forward. The goal was to make it around the island in less than 10 minutes. They said not to paddle too hard at the start and to pace themselves so they don’t run out of energy.

Many companies don’t explicitly communicate where they’re going and at what pace. Some people may work too slow or fast and end up throwing off the momentum of the team. By setting a goal and having people manage their pace towards that goal, your team is more likely to achieve it.

If the canoe ride had no plan or pace setter, it’s likely that people would paddle at different speeds—resulting in a number of outcomes:

  • Fast starts without energy to finish
  • Various paddling speeds which could make the canoe move in circles instead of a straight line
  • Conflicting energy levels that can affect the team in countless ways

This is why a business system should communicate the expectations, outcomes, and goals to set the pace. This way, you channel the efforts of the individual and team to achieve the desired results.

Adjust and measure as you go

The last part of a successful business system requires proper management. At the back of the canoe, a Disney crew member had the primary job to watch the direction of the boat and make course corrections. This crew person was responsible for steering the boat away from obstacles on the river.

She would work with the crew member at the front who was focused on paddling and setting the pace and gave feedback to the paddlers about how things were going. She would paddle when necessary, but spent more time watching and adjusting to make sure the boat stayed on course towards its destination. She was also responsible for calling out any of the guest paddlers who started to behave in an unruly manner, like standing up or reaching for a hat that had fallen in a river.

Could anyone imagine the canoe ride without this structure? Yet, many companies struggle because they don’t have a business system like this in place. They assume the adjustments and feedback will occur spontaneously. The business owner is paddling as hard as possible, nose to the grindstone at the front, trying to generate new business, complete projects, and lead the team. Without feedback and measuring systems, however, almost all canoe trips would be unsuccessful.

Key takeaways for creating successful business systems

The Disneyland canoe crew used at least three essential business systems that are critical for any organization. (I define essential this way: would the system be missed if it were eliminated?)

When you start creating new systems for your team, start with these three:

  • Onboarding (hiring process)
  • Goal and pace setting (planning)
  • Adjusting and measuring (management)

Learn the Keys to Business Success with Assured Strategy

Most businesses are more complicated than the Disneyland canoe ride, but the ride wouldn’t work without the systems. How can a business expect to be successful if it doesn’t have the same basic systems that simple group activities require for success? Planning, direction, and pace are vital when trying to reach a specific destination.

Grow your business by exploring our options for management training and finding out how to implement these systems in your company.