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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Watch, Listen, and Learn: What We Miss When We Stay Too Busy

    Tuesday, June 26th: I'm spending some time right now watching how people use our pool. It's amazing to see kids having fun just merely jumping off the edge into the water. These kids are not on the slides or playing under the tumble buckets or even in the current channel, rather they are just playing . . . . imaginations fully engaged.
    It is my opinion, as a parks and recreation professional, that we don't sit and watch our participants using our facilities or participate in our programs nearly enough. Perhaps we view time spent in such observation as a waste of time or non-constructive since we have an awful lot of work to do at our desks, emails to get to at our computers, meetings to go to, or phone calls to make and voice mail messages that we need to return. I know that is often my excuse for not getting out and watching programs.

    Let's not make the mistake of thinking that what our staff tell us and what our participant surveys show us is all we need to hear in order to know what's working, what's not working, and how our participants are using our parks and programs. That input is very important, but we need to see it firsthand. We need to see it so we can have a better appreciation for the joy our participants get from our efforts, can better understand our customers wants and needs, and give our minds and imaginations the chance for inspiration to strike. Because of our levels of responsibility we will often look for the things others don’t think to look for and simply don’t see. By not personally observing – just sitting back and taking the time to watch others use, play and interact – we miss seeing how our end-users benefit from our planning and efforts, and we may miss the opportunity to make things better.

    I wrote that yesterday and had thoughts of sending it to my staff, but decided not to. Then I read Look At Your Facility With Fresh Eyes  this morning and decided it was the perfect compliment to the point I wanted to make. The practice of observation was something Walt Disney was well known for.
         During his visits to Disneyland, Walt was always “plussing” – looking for ways to improve the appearance of Disneyland and provide more pleasure for the customers. He would study an area and tell his staff: “Let’s get a better show for the customers; what can we do to give this place interest?    

    If it could work for the man who dreamed up and built Disneyland, why can't it work for those of us in parks and recreation or any type of business that serves people?
        During the day [Walt] walked through [Disneyland], observing the people and their reactions, asking questions of the ride attendants, waitresses, store clerks, janitors. From the beginning, he insisted on utter cleanliness. Remembering the tawdry carnivals he had visited with his daughters, he told his staff, “If you keep a place clean, people will respect it; if you let it get dirty, they’ll make it worse.” He didn’t want peanut shells strewn on the sidewalks; only shelled nuts were sold. No gum could be purchased inside the park. Young men strolled through the crowds, retrieving trash as soon as it was discarded.

    Walt had common sense, but he also felt personally responsible for everything in his work, even when the labor was done by someone else.  Observation was an extremely important management tool for Walt and it should be for us as well.  So, take the time to stop being so busy, grab a cup of coffee or a bottle of water, find a place to sit and relax, and just watch how your customers use your services and facilities.  Take some notes and pictures, develop some ideas, and let the insight and inspiration begin.