What is an Extension Key?
While at the Disney Institute, the OSU Extension team learned that Walt Disney’s vision for a great guest experience involves safety, courtesy, the show, and efficiency, in that order. Since then, Disney has added inclusion. These are collectively called “the five keys”—meaning the keys to operating priorities that guarantee quality standards and behavioral guidelines (Disney Institute, 2019, p. 9). They are clearly defined; have a repeatable message; are observable, trainable, and coachable behaviors; and create accountability.
These keys provide the framework for decision making that can be exercised at all positions of the organization. Whatever situation a Disney employee faces that demands a decision, the first quality standard is safety. Will the customer or experience be safe? The other four keys are important, but safety comes first. In the Disney Cast Member Safety and Health Handbook: Safe Begins with Me, it is clarified that “Safety is the responsibility of everyone, from the chairman of the board to the newest cast member” (n.d., p. 2).
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The idea emerged early in 2019 when a small group of OSU Extension area leaders began to discuss the idea of offering leadership experiences different from those typically offered by Extension. Team members worked to determine specific needs, and researched training opportunities that would meet the needs. Through a strategic planning process, the team determined the needs to focus on included:
A) Leadership at all positions.
B) Service at all positions.
C) Personal and professional growth in critical-skill development training.
D) One-on-one and group experiences that help each other.
E) The joy inherent within our work of delighting customers, improving lives,
and being a public servant.
Ultimately, the team chose the Disney Institute’s training on employee engagement. In December 2019, the six-person team attended the Institute at Disney and spent three and one-half days learning about Disney’s approach to hiring the right talent for your organization, how to help employees be confident in their roles, how to communicate to empower and inspire employees, and how to create a supportive environment through genuine care and recognition programs.
At the conclusion of the Institute, participants were told that it was critical to act within 48 hours on this new knowledge and skills or the momentum would likely be lost. The team, therefore, met immediately after the Institute and reviewed the material. The decision was made that the most helpful first step for our organization would be to transform our current values into a keys format that would include expected behaviors that were observable, actionable, and measurable. The team built on the existing values and put them into five easy-to-remember key values with the associated behavior statements. This was the first step in our major culture change to engage OSU Extension employees.
Our 2018 version of the mission, vision, and values still exists and is current. The Extension Keys simply are another layer to help us understand the behaviors that are associated with our values and help us achieve our mission. When we live our values, we are behaving in ways that build trust, inclusion, care, adaptability, and efficiency.
Figure 1: Ohio State University Extension vision, mission, and values (as pictured in 2018) have moved into the five Keys of trust, inclusion, care, adaptability, and efficiency.
Employees may be suspicious that the Keys will be one of those organizational efforts that, “this too shall pass” because it is the fad of the moment or the shiny new object that has leadership’s attention. While the Keys language may be new, the values have existed in our organization for many years. For example, our work and reputation are built on being a source of research-based knowledge that integrates science and local knowledge. We have and continue to believe in respect, teamwork and partnerships, lifelong learning, and the other values we have had throughout the years. The new part is that we want to take a deeper dive into what it means to really live those values. The OSU Extension leadership team has made a public commitment to support the Keys and to hold ourselves accountable for living our values. Accountability will come through integration of practices into our official policies and procedures.
Another important point is that there has been overall acceptance of the Keys by the professionals in our organization. The Disney Institute teaches that, “Because your culture is defined by how people behave, the ideal employees are those who most closely align with your desired behaviors” (p. 9). Therefore, the important question was, “What level of agreement do the people in our organization have with these behaviors?” To answer that question, we had one-hour virtual sessions with as many faculty and staff members as possible. From February 11 until June 24, 2021, 34 sessions were conducted for the Extension organization; and 600 people participated. These sessions included an introduction and background to the project, a discussion of what values are the behaviors associated with the Keys, and a poll to measure the level of agreement for support of the Keys. The “Gradients of Agreement Scale” (Kaner and Berger, 1987) was used with a continuum from enthusiastic support all the way to strong objection. Of the 600 people who attended the workshops, 555 (75%) participated in the poll. Of the 555 poll participants, 416 (75%) expressed either whole-hearted endorsement or agreement with minor points of clarification. See Figure 2 with the summary of responses.
Figure 2: Ohio State University Extension employees’ level of agreement with the Keys (a total of 555 participating in the poll).
Almost every day, we are all faced with decisions – some are small, and some are large with significant consequences. We make decisions about how we react to situations and how we behave with each other. As David Horsager (2021) says, “The beauty of having a concrete, pre-determined set of decision-making values is that it makes your decisions more congruent and consistent, while also faster and easier to decide” (p. 183). Decisions will not necessarily have to be pushed up to the next level of administration. Employees will feel empowered to act and to make decisions—that align with OSU Extension’s pre- determined set of values. For example, by living the value of efficiency, I will not unwisely use the time of my colleagues or clientele (or myself). If I am living the value of care, I am going to be respectful and kind when I speak with colleagues and clientele.Your accordion content goes here
The Keys give us benchmarks on what behaviors we should expect from our coworkers, not only toward each other, but also toward our clientele. Often, when we think of holding others accountable, we think about bringing attention to negative behaviors. However, we also want to hold people accountable by recognizing their positive behaviors. For example, I might express to one of my co-workers how much I appreciate the care they show to people who walk into the office. Specifically, I might want to say, “I am always impressed by how you make people feel comfortable as soon as they walk into the office by looking up right away, saying hello, and asking how you can help.” On the other hand, if a person does not engage in caring behaviors toward visitors, you can have a conversation about what behaviors you have observed, what could be done differently, and agreement about what changes need to be made.
If there is a situation that is a minor issue and you feel comfortable, ask your co-worker to have a private conversation. State what your concern is and invite the other person’s perspective. For example, you may have observed that a coworker always leaves a dirty coffee cup in the shared kitchen, leaving it for others to clean. After asking to talk, you can express your concern, such as, “Hey, I am concerned that when you leave your dirty coffee cup for others to clean that you will be perceived as not caring or being respectful of others’ time. I would like to hear your thoughts about that.” Together, you can agree that each person is responsible for washing their dirty cups by the end of the day.
A “crucial conversation” (Patteron, Grenny, McMillan, & Switzler, 2012) is one that is described as 1) the stakes being high, 2) there are strong emotions, and 3) there are opposing opinions. If you are in a situation where this is the case, let your area leader know first. After a conversation with your area leader, it may be decided to bring parties together and perhaps include a facilitator trained in crucial conversations.
The easiest and most productive way to check on your own behavior at each decision point is to ask yourself: “Does the decision I’m about to make or the action I’m about to take demonstrate trust, inclusion, caring, adaptability, and efficiency?” There may be trade-offs that have to be made at times, such as keeping the trust of colleagues or clientele will take precedence over adaptability. Or inclusion may take precedence over efficiency. Another way to monitor your own behavior and actions is to ask for feedback from others. Ask your coworkers to tell you about times when they saw you living the Keys. Take advantage of training sessions that will be available throughout the year.
In 2022, the Keys will be used for discussion purposes as we prepare for an official incorporation into the performance review process in 2023. Guidelines and procedures will be developed and provided to all faculty and staff in the last quarter of 2022. The important dates for 2022, 2023, and 2024 are:
January-April 2022: Introduction to the Keys as a primer discussion for annual performance reviews for all staff to be aware of the Keys and to begin thinking about how they will implement the Keys in their daily work.
May-August 2022: All staff begin to plan for how the Keys will become part of their individual and office culture, with specific action steps identified for inclusion in 2023 individual and office plans of work (POW).
September-December 2022: All staff will share with their supervisors their POWs for implementation of Keys effective January 2023.
Review year 2023: All staff will implement their personal and office POWs.
February-April 2024: Performance reviews will include a level of evaluation of the Keys
Disney Institute. (2019). Disney’s approach to employee engagement: Disney Institute.
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. (n.d.). Cast member safety and health handbook. Available at
Horsager, D. (2021). Trusted leader: 8 pillars that drive results. Oakland, CA: Barrett-Koehler Publishing. Kaner, S. (2014). Facilitator’s guide to participatory decision-making (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2012). Crucial conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. New York: McGraw-Hill.