Episode 75: The Importance of Autonomy for Your Employees and Contractors (Transcript)

Jan 10, 2023



Nicole (00:00):
Hi everyone. Welcome to this week’s episode of Pixie Dust and Profits. I’m Nicole.

Yasmine (00:05):
And I’m Yasmine.

Nicole (00:06):
And we’re joining you after a little bit of a winter break so we could spend time with our families during the holidays. And we hope that you are entering 2023 rested, refreshed, and ready to go and go. Doesn’t mean you have to go far. Go could be just getting out of bed in the morning. So we’re not here to say that you have to reinvent everything, but we thought that we would start the year off talking about leadership lessons. So our next few episodes for the rest of this season are all about being a leader in your business, having contractors, having employees, what we can learn from Bob Iger, who if you have listened to the show for a while, you know we are big fangirls of talking about how we can get a culture of caring in our businesses. So stay tuned for the next few weeks. We’re talking about being a leader in your business.

Yasmine (00:53):
So one of the things that we really wanna talk about is how Disney gives autonomy to their employees within the business. And you might think autonomy like isn’t bus Disney very structured? Don’t they have like a lot of rules and policies in place? And yes, they do. Autonomy doesn’t mean like people can go off and do everything willy-nilly. Autonomy means allowing them to act freely within certain constraints. And there are two examples that we really wanna talk about. The first one Nicole will cover, which is what they do in the costume design department. And then I’ll go into the autonomy that they give cast members who interact with you at the park. So Nicole, do you wanna kick us off with costume design?

Nicole (01:34):
Yeah, sure. So when we’re talking about autonomy in the context of being small business owners in particular, this is really shows up when you’re working with contractors. Mm-Hmm. . But even if you have an employee or you’ve been an employee or you’re on the other side of this, or you’re not the leader, you’re the service provider this is really about letting your employees have the freedom to work how they want to get the thing done. Sometimes it also includes when, so with contractors, they probably work at all different hours. So I just wanted to let you know, like this is all about not micromanaging, essentially giving someone, Hey, these are kind of the goals that I have and what I’d like to see in the end. But you don’t micromanage how they get to that end product. You get feedback, you it, it’s definitely two-way conversation, but it’s not, you have to do it this way because I said so.

Nicole (02:24):
You listen to their feedback, absorb it and move on. So with this, I’m going to go back about three years ago now. I feel like it was a very long time ago. It was the pre covid days. I went on a tour of the costuming department at Wal Disney World and it blew my mind. I am not a fashion person in any way. So I’m sure there are others who were really looking forward to this part. It kind of took me by surprise how interesting this all was from an operations perspective and I shouldn’t have been cuz it’s Disney and they wouldn’t show us things that were amazing. But there’s two facets to this whole operation that I thought were really interesting. And the first was that Disney actually designs all of the uniforms or costumes that the cast members wear. So if you are at Magic Kingdom and you’re in tomorrow land and you see someone wearing it’s usually like silvery pants, a futuristic looking vest, Disney actually designs those now they have 75,000 employees.

Nicole (03:27):
So they don’t hand make all of those. What they do is they had, they had a room of designers just sitting on their computers designing all different things. I think when we were there they were working on some of the Galaxy’s edge stuff because they had some things blocked off that we couldn’t look at and they designed different pieces. So pants, skirts you know, headbands, like all the accessories that everyone needs to wear. And they then digitize all of those patterns to keep an archive of it so they can always go back if things are changing a little bit. You know, they can put different colors for different areas of the park because, you know, if you’re walking in Tomorrowland, they wear different colors and so on in adventure land and they have this whole system where they design everything and then they get those patterns get digitized and sent overseas to be made in bulk because there are 75,000 employees.

Nicole (04:25):
But, you know, all those are designed in house. The cool part, I mean that’s pretty cool in and of itself, but the cool part is this. They have a warehouse where every single article of clothing and every size imaginable is, and when you are a cast member, you get your assignment for, you know, the week or the month or wherever you’re working and you get an R F I D process where you come in and you’re like, I want these three uniforms. And it’s almost like shopping when you’re going back to clueless in the movie when she’s looking at the monitor and picking what she wants to wear. That’s kind of what I picture because they go and choose the different tops and bottoms and all of those things that they want and they can check them out for, you know, three different outfits a week I think is what they had said.

Nicole (05:13):
And so they check out their uniforms and they go through the other door, they’d walk out with what they didn’t have and then they can get them laundered there. So it’s just this really cool operational process of like, how do you get 75,000 people in their uniforms every single day, especially when you’re sending people to a different part of the park. I mean, most people have a given assignment and they change, you know, every few months, but there are people that are kind of floaters and they have to, you know, work at a store one week and then a different store the next week. And so how do you do a quick costume change for those roles? So I just thought it was really interesting how they did all of this. So there is autonomy in the perspective of you. We have people who are designing these outfits and then also people get to choose what they want to wear within the handbook of these positions can wear these certain things.

Nicole (06:06):
And so, you know, it’s not autonomy in how they go about their day or how they go about their job, which is what Yazmin will be talking about. But giving people the freedom to feel comfortable and giving options. Especially as a woman, when you have ever worked a job that requires a uniform and you’re typically wearing smaller sized men’s clothing, which doesn’t feel comfortable, it doesn’t feel like you are yourself, you’re kind of wearing like another layer of skin. And when you, when you’re not comfortable in your clothing, how can you provide like a good level of service to the people that you’re trying to interact with? Right? So I just think it’s really cool that they have multiple versions of everything and you kind of get a little bit of, I can be myself, but I’m still in Disney uniform.

Yasmine (06:51):
One really cool change Disney made recently is they’re letting you show up how you’d like to present yourself. So if you like to present yourself as a man, you can choose for more of the air quotes, traditionally male clothing. And if you wanna show up as a woman, you can choose from the outfits that had traditionally been for the women. So it’s really your choice. And the fact that Disney is doing this is really incredible because they’re respecting people’s gender identities and how they like to present themselves. And I think that’s really cool and a great autonomy that they’re giving their employees.

Nicole (07:29):
And again, like the, the whole research behind having autonomy for your employees is happy employees, comfortable employees, people who feel like they’re respected and valued in that they have a voice at the table are going to be better workers. They’re going to be absolutely better brand custodians. They’re going to be more friendly with the customers and guests that they’re interacting with because they’re not in the back of their head. Also worrying about the micromanaging of, oh, did I wear, you know, exactly what they said to wear and tie it exactly the way that it needs to be done. The other thing with cast members is they’re really given the authority to make magic.

Yasmine (08:13):
Mm-Hmm. . Yeah. And that’s something that I really want to talk about because Nicole and I, I’ve experienced it. I know many people look forward to being pixie dusted is what we call it at Disney World. And you know, with Pixie dusting, it’s something that is a nice surprise, you shouldn’t expect it. But it’s really the cast members that are empowered to create these magical moments for guests at Disney World. So the big experience that Nicole and I had with being Pixie dusted was last year when we came from the Pixie Dust and Profits retreat. We always rent deluxe Studio the night before because we like to come in early with how crazy flights have been. We just don’t ever wanna be in a situation where our attendees are there before we are. Plus we like to prepare beforehand. So we always fly the night before and to obviously save on cost so you don’t have to pass that on to attendees.

Yasmine (09:05):
We rent out a deluxe studio the first night and then for the remainder of the trip we’re in a two bedroom that we typically share with another attendee or we share it with another like coach who’s attending with us this year it was Latasha from Uncanny Content. And last year, because they saw that we were immediately switching to a two bedroom and staying there, you know, they figured they had a two bedroom available that one night rather than have us move, they just put us in there from the get-go. So we got upgraded from a deluxe studio to a two bedroom at Saratoga Springs, which was pretty sweet because it meant we didn’t have to move everything around, figure out, you know, how to get outta the room at 11 and then check back in at four with all of our stuff. It allowed us to get a headstart on some of our shopping cause we didn’t have to worry about refrigerated items.

Yasmine (09:52):
And it definitely made the trip a lot easier this time. I think we had our fingers crossed that that would happen again and it didn’t. And you know, it was fine. We figured it out. But those little things that they did a to make things more efficient, I mean, on their end they didn’t have to worry about cleaning another room and turning it over. Really delighted our experience. There have been a couple times when I was at Disney World with my daughter this past May where, you know, cast members would just like, give her little stickers and little like treats and stuff and just little things to make the experience a little bit more magical for an almost three year old at that point, which I truly loved because it’s such a small gesture on their part. But, you know, my daughter carried around a Mickey Mouse sticker, a cast member gave her in line at a ride for a week or two afterwards.

Yasmine (10:39):
Like she didn’t wanna put it on her clothes, she just carried the sticker on the paper backing because it was just like a little special thing she got. She liked it a lot more than the stuffed animals mommy bought her at you know, the magical emporium. But, you know, these little things are great. And Disney empowers employees at every level, or cast members at every level to create these magical experiences. If you’re ever walking about a magic kingdom or the parks, you’ll see the janitors or the custodians creating like little designs with like little pressure washers that they have to, to, you know, make things jazzy. They’ll do like, you know, little dances and play drums on bins as pastors buy, like, you know, watch the show. It’s, it’s really great the room that they give them for, you know, creating a entertaining experience regardless of their role.

Nicole (11:29):
Yeah, I’ve witnessed that at Hollywood Studios. There was someone who was, I, I forget if he was like singing or dancing while you’re like kind of walking in in the massive crowd because half the crowd is going to Toy Story and the other half is going to Star Wars. And so it just kind of lightens up the day a little bit. And you know, they’re allowed to be silly and playful where they need to be. Even the custodians you know, they often will like spray water into Mickey’s head, you know, like a hidden mickey while before they clean whatever they’re cleaning. And just little things like that that, you know, they, it does trickle down when you see everyone kind of being silly and happy and I don’t know, dosing themselves in the magic a little bit while they’re there. For sure.

Nicole (12:15):
So the other thing about costuming that was really interesting was after we got past the area where they talk about like basically their bulk production Disney also makes all of those beautiful princess gowns that you see in the parades and all of the animatronics in all of the parks, they also make the costumes for that. And so they have seamstress as on site. It was a ginormous room and we got to see all the different threads. We were not allowed to take any pictures here. I think we have one in front of the wall of thread that they took for us on the oldest digital camera. Like it was a real digital camera, not a phone . But we gotta see like Captain America blue and things like that. So what was really interesting about this was that the seamstresses were given a project.

Nicole (13:06):
So for example, they had to tailor something for an animatronic or for a show that, you know, happens and they need a new dress or whatever. But in a lot of places, especially in other countries, when you have seamstresses working on things, they often have their specialty, right? So like this person sews on the arms and that person does the bodice and that’s all they do all day long. They just make bodis and they just, you know, do sleeves. And Disney doesn’t do that because they know that repetitive motions can really hurt your employees from a safety standpoint. It’s also just not very satisfying at the end of the day to not feel like you ever accomplished a project. And this isn’t my inference, this is what they told us directly while they were going through the tour because they, safety is number one at Disney.

Nicole (13:58):
Like if you look at their four keys for all of their cast members, safety is always top. So this is where that comes from, right? So they know that the satisfaction you feel at the end of creating this garment is more fulfilling than just going and getting a paycheck for doing sleeves all day long. And at the end of the day they have these, you know, maybe not a day, it probably takes a few weeks to do some of these pieces, but they have something they can feel proud of and feel connected to and feel like they’re part of the business. So I just thought that that was so great of a message about keeping that autonomy. So you’re not telling them, go make whatever dress you want. They have, remember they digitize their patterns. They, they have Cinderella’s gown, you know, to the tea what has to be cut, how it needs to be seemed, you know, they have to use swarski crystals cuz they do better in the heat and they sparkle better.

Nicole (14:47):
And they have all of these guidelines, what color thread, but that seamstress is allowed to just, you know, maybe she’s just feeling, I, you know what, I wanna tackle the, the shoulders today, or I wanna do, you know, the, the bodis today. And she gets that authority to make that choice of how and what she wants to work on. But again, boundaries, parameters are in place. I I just thought it was such a great message. It wasn’t like, oh, I’m gonna do this part and then you pass it to the next person and they’re doing the zippers and the buttons and whatever else. They actually get to do it top to bottom. And sometimes we don’t get that opportunity in our businesses mm-hmm. or we don’t give our contractors that opportunity to have something that they own and they can feel proud of at the end of the day.

Nicole (15:32):
And, you know, when we’re talking about culture, it’s like Disney’s a culture, right? When you work there, you, you’re kind of buying into the magic to a certain level and culture is the glue that holds the business together. And so it’s really important to think about these things. Hopefully this is January. If you’re thinking about the team you have or the team you want to have, you’re thinking about, okay, how do I make sure that this is a partnership? How do I make sure that we’re all in this together and that, you know, they’re just as invested as I am. And I don’t think that your team members necessarily have to be as invested in your business as you are, but they need to have some, some sense of fulfillment in it. Otherwise, what kind of quality of work are you getting? Do they really understand the mission? Could they, you know, sell your business or explain what your business does if they’re talking to someone on the street? That’s what you really want to see.

Yasmine (16:27):
And I think one of the best ways to bring that about is to really trust the people that you hire. Now, I know hiring new people in your business, whether they’re employees or contractors, is always a little bit scary, right? No one knows your product like you do. No one is going to care about it as much as you do, like Nicole said. But when you are hiring an expert and you’re bringing them on, they care about the result too. Because on their end it means a couple of things. One, it’s a reputation, right? They don’t do good work, they’re not gonna get recommended out. Two, they want a hand in scene that they contributed to your success too because your success is their calling card. And three, they wanna create good work. I mean, I find that a lot of people who go into creating their own businesses, who are entrepreneurs to a strong degree do it because they wanna do good work, right?

Yasmine (17:22):
They, they wanna do meaningful work stuff that they’re passionate about. They’re not just like, you know, clocking in for a paycheck. That’s what they left, that’s corporate America that they walked away from, or my case corporate Canada. And they have a mission for themselves to do good work. So we would strongly encourage you to let them do that. And sometimes that means not micromanaging your employees as much, you know, giving them healthy boundaries, especially if they’re a contractor by like, you know, IRS standards, you only ha you don’t really have a say in like when they work or how they work. It’s just, you know, you give them a project and a deadline and you know, if they prefer to work from like 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM on that project, that’s their prerogative as a contractor. They have that flexibility. If you wanna hire them on as an employee, well you can, but that would mean retaining someone for, you know, a salary in a lot of cases or be having to pay a lot of like taxes and taking on additional like, you know financial responsibilities for having employees, which not every business owner is ready for.

Yasmine (18:25):
And that’s okay. The other thing that we want to talk about is just trusting the experts that you bring in. Now, you know, Nicole and I might get a little venti here, but one thing that we struggle with from time to time is as team members who have been on our clients’ teams for like years at certain points, while they trust us and, you know count on us to run their businesses to a degree, there are times where, you know, they go after that shiny object. And often that could be like another coach or a mentor and will, you know, not necess not not the discount, the advice that you give them, but they’ll wanna like gut check it with their latest coach or the newest like expert they brought in to like look at their business and help achieve their growth. And you know, I I don’t think that there’s anything necessarily wrong with like, you know, double checking with someone or getting another insight or another opinion. But when it consistently happens, it kind of devalues the work that we do. And the, like, Nicole, how many years have been working like 15 ish years of expertise that we’re bringing specifically to their business, knowing the ins and outs like the back of our hands. Like it’s our own business really.

Nicole (19:43):
And I think that’s part of it too, is we’ve consistently said throughout this podcast that we all have our uniquely you businesses mm-hmm. and your audience is unique to you. What your products and services are unique to you. And when you engage with an outside coach, it is absolutely okay to get second opinions. They can often flesh out ideas, make them bigger point out different areas where you can optimize. But too often, I don’t wanna say all the time, too often what we see are people who turn to their latest coach who says, oh, you need to do this. And gives them some sort of formula, which is happens to be whatever they did four years prior that made them , you know, the thing on social media and they just say, go replicate this and do this. And it takes out all of the nuance and the gut and the understanding of the business.

Nicole (20:41):
So our biggest piece of advice, if you are, you know, the business owner and you are, you know, let me go ask my coach. Or you often find yourself asking many different people for their opinions on an idea you wanna move forward or what you should do next. Just take a breath, take their information in, but then say, how do I adapt this for my audience, for my people, for what my products are? Also ask yourself, does this actually fall under what my services or business is? So many times we come across people who are like, oh, I’m gonna go teach people how to do email marketing now because their business is, has successful email marketing because of all the things they do in it. But that doesn’t mean they should go teach the thing that’s helping their business succeed. Their business is about something else entirely.

Nicole (21:36):
You know, selling crochet kids or something. So I think that’s, if you’re the leader, just stop and ask like, am I asking too many people for input? Am I adapting it for my business? Am I using this as a stall tactic for getting things done that, you know, I’m uncomfortable or I don’t understand the full gamut of what’s being proposed. And so I ask multiple people and then I just kind of like spin and flounder. Because I mean, we were talking about this before. Sometimes it feels like when you’re hired as a strategist that why are you paying me for my consulting and my strategy to then go ask three other people? You’re you’re actually like losing money. Like I find that a wasteful process.

Yasmine (22:27):
Absolutely. And you know, Nicole, you and I personally, like we thrive on accomplishing things and getting stuff done. So when things are stalled, it’s really frustrating. I mean, I can speak to an experience that I had with a client where I would constantly outline strategies for them because they weren’t quite sure where their business was going in, you know, an annual plan would want to sort of shift direction cuz they definitely had shiny object syndrome. We would look at it, take the things that made sense, adjust the plan, and things would never really move forward cuz we were constantly spinning because they kind of had a, a fear of starting th this probably goes into it too much, but I think they feared failing. So by not starting you couldn’t fail. And one really eye-opening experience for me was when they, you know, were talking to a very successful and well-known coach in our space who I have a lot of respect for.

Yasmine (23:25):
That’s a, they’re a great person. But they’re speaking to them and they told them, well why don’t you do this? I think this is what you need to do to get this part of your business going. And they were like, this is brilliant. This is absolutely what we need to do. And they gave me the rundown of their entire conversation and like while they’re go talking to me, me, I’m like, yep, yep. I pull up the deck that I presented to them six months ago, which outlined the exact same steps that we needed to do to get going. And at that point we had started moving forward on the project. But you know, it took six months and for someone else to basically echo back what I had recommended previously for us to get going. And I think when they realized that they felt a little apologetic. I mean they were a little apologetic. They’re like, oh, I’m sorry, like, you know, you had a great idea. I should have like, you know, moved forward on it. But to me that was frustrating because I could have gone started on the six months ago and have had six months of results, but you’re starting from ground zero and

Nicole (24:22):
Well, and on top of that you would’ve been able to start with I guess the luxury of doing it right and building the ecosystem that was needed for this to

Yasmine (24:34):
Happen. Yeah,

Nicole (24:34):
Absolutely. In a way that made sense and wasn’t leaving anyone hanging. And instead what happens is, at least when I’ve been in the situation, it’s like all cylinders on fire now because somehow this coach got through to like the on switch, which is great. Like we love that. We love when your on switch is on, we want to chase that and get all the things done, but as operations people, it can be difficult when it’s, you know, I’ve been saying let’s do this for four or five, six months and then it becomes a race track to get it

Yasmine (25:08):
Done getting a two month project done in a week. Yeah.

Nicole (25:10):
Yeah. And, and there’s so many opportunities for things to break or fail or need to be fixed, you know, especially when you’re using multiple systems for multiple things. You don’t wanna send emails that say the wrong information out. There’s little time for testing and even if you try to do testing, if you just built everything in four days and you are also the person testing it, because we’re small businesses, these teams are small, we don’t have another employee to do the testing. Right. You don’t, you don’t catch things mm-hmm. because you, you just did the work the day before and so it, it, it can be a lot when you know, you’re like, you know, I kind of, you know, may have mentioned this a few months ago but sure, I’ll give you my Saturday and my Sunday and all of my evenings for a week to get this done.

Nicole (26:00):
And, you know, we make it happen and that’s why we do what we do. And that’s why we can, you know, partner with businesses. But you know, we’re talking about leadership lessons, right? And so if you are a leader and you find yourself asking multiple people for feedback on the same thing, maybe pause for a second and say, Hey, why am I asking for feedback so much? Like, what is my gut telling me? Do I need to do this project? Is this something I have to do right now? Am I just looking for that validation to get started? And then if you’re on the flip side, if you’re like the service provider and this is happening to you, please remember to tell yourself like, this is not always a reflection of you. It’s not a reflection of your work or that you’re not respected or not valued.

Nicole (26:41):
And we know this intellectually, but sometimes you’re just like, why are you even paying me? I, I said all of these things and you did none of them or don’t wanna do any of them. And but just know, like, it, it’s not entirely a reflection of you. It’s not that you’re not doing good work or you don’t have good strategies. Sometimes we’re just so trusted in the teams that we’re on, they need to hear an outside voice. Mm-Hmm. . And so on both sides of the coin, if you’re the leader, think about what this message is sending to the team that you have because you’re not giving them autonomy to get their ideas actually implemented and out there because you’re stalling and you’re waiting and you’re getting feedback from people and maybe even undermining them a little bit because you’re giving them feedback that they’ve already given you. Mm-Hmm. . And then again, if you’re the service provider, keep in mind that sometimes small business owners don’t know everything. Mm-Hmm. , they’re, you know, they are gonna throw a spaghetti at the wall a little bit because there is no guidebook. Absolutely. Next. so especially with

Yasmine (27:42):

Nicole (27:43):

Yasmine (27:43):

Nicole (27:44):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Give everybody grace. Things are always changing. But just, just be more aware of the messages you’re inadvertently sending to your team, I think.

Yasmine (27:55):
So thank you again for joining us for another episode. Again, we’re gonna continue our theme of leadership lessons with the next episode, but until then, we would love to know how do you step back from your business and let your team members get what they need to get done. If you have anything to share, please let us know on Instagram. You can follow us @pixiedustandprofits. You can also email us your thoughts Hello@pixiedustandprofits.com And if you are finding yourself constantly chasing that shiny object and, you know, throwing maybe a little bit more spaghetti up the wall than you mean to like, you know, you probably boiled like enough spaghetti for 10 people when you meant to make one serving. Ha ha. Terrible joke. Yasmine, this may get cut out. It might not. I don’t know. We’ll see. But we really encourage you to download our squirrel notebook that’s at pixiedustandprofits.com/squirrel. It is a guidebook that will walk you through the decision-making process to really realize if you are chasing another shiny object and really zero in on what you need to do for your uniquely you business.

Nicole (29:03):
Thanks for joining us today and we’ll see you real soon.

Yasmine (29:07):



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