Disney Leadership

An article in the HR Daily Advisor titled, “Disney World: It’s Not Magic, It’s Work” caught my attention. Lee Cockerell, former Executive Vice President of Operations at Disney World, outlines in his book, “Creating Magic”, the principles that make Disney World a model for management.

1. Remember, Everyone Is Important

Inclusion is important at Disney World, and it is more than just hiring diversely and respecting differences. It is about engaging and involving your employees and showing them that each one is important.

Disney uses the acronym RAVE for Respect, Appreciate, and Value Everyone. Know your team and let your team get to know you: what moves you, what excites you, what you struggle with.

Greet people sincerely, reach out to everyone, and be available.

2. Break the Mold

Disney’s structural changes have opened many opportunities for the company and its employees. In the beginning, hotel operations were separate from the parks’ operations. After they combined the two organizationally, they realized great gains.

Before that change, the hotels were always busy for breakfast, and the parks were busy for lunch. Once the two combined, workers could float from one area to the other as needed. If it rained and people flocked back to the hotels for lunch, park food service workers could flock along with them.

3. Make Your People Your Brand

When hiring, start out by defining the perfect candidate. What qualities and skills do you need?

  • Don’t settle for a clone of the incumbent.
  • Don’t settle for “best available.”
  • Look for people in unlikely places.
  • Involve the team in the selection process.
  • Select by talent, not resume.
  • Keep in touch with people who leave.

4. Create Magic Through Training

Training and development permeate every level of the company and they are the primary reason that the Disney brand is synonymous with service excellence. All new cast members begin with a course called “Traditions.” Only after they “begin to feel the pixie dust” do they start learning how to do their particular jobs.

  • Give people a purpose, not just a job.
  • Take your role as a teacher seriously, and teach by example.
  • Become a COACH (Care, Observe, Act, Communicate, Help).
  • Teach people where to be (when ballroom doors open, be in the ballroom, not in your office; when the restaurant opens, be in the dining room, not the wine cellar).
  • Train for Take 5 (how to do something special for a customer that just takes a few seconds or minutes, but that makes a lasting impression).

5. Eliminate Hassles

One responsibility of leaders is to identify problems in the way things are done and act quickly to fix them.

  • Ask “what”, not “who” (before blaming someone, see if it is a process problem).
  • Listen to customers (their complaints often reveal process problems).
  • Learn firsthand what is working and what is not.
  • Ask employees for solutions.
  • Try an audit exchange plan (have your managers audit each other’s operations). They provide fresh ideas and they learn something they can take back.
  • Keep up with technology; it can remove a lot of hassles.

6. Learn the Truth

Great leaders are always in the learning mode. Get out and about routinely.

  • Ask your managers to take the customers’ role. Use the guest parking lot, wait in lines, etc., to see what your customers’ experience is like.
  • Do a thorough tour of your facilities. Make sure managers know that you expect problems to be fixed before you tour again.
  • Meet with your direct reports regularly to go over the four P’s-people, processes, projects, profits.

7. Burn the Free Fuel

Think of ARE: Appreciation, Recognition, and Encouragement. Together they are a cost-free, fully sustainable fuel. You can give out ARE all day, and the bonus is that the people you give it to are likely to pass it on to their subordinates.

Make ARE a natural part of your routine by recognizing employees by name in public. Include families when appropriate.

8. Stay Ahead of the Pack

Be a knowledge sponge. When you hear a great idea, ask yourself, can I tweak this a little bit and use it in my life? (Cockerell noticed wireless devices being used to check in car rentals at the airport and wondered, could hotel guests check in on the Disney bus bringing them from the airport?)

Learn from your competitors. (Cockerell went to a banquet at a competitor’s hotel, saw how the servers, instead of waiting in the kitchen until serving time, were stationed at the ballroom doors, asking guests what special meal requirements they had, and escorting them to their tables. He soon implemented the same approach at his hotels.)

Study your customer base. What do they really want? There are four “compass points” for understanding customers: needs, wants, stereotypes, and emotions. Make sure your people stay ahead of the pack. Give them the training and the tools to stay abreast of developments.

9. Be Careful What You Say and Do

Demonstrate a passionate commitment to your role. Be careful with word choice-it makes a difference (not “subordinate”, for example, but “associate”). Disney uses “cast member” to refer to its associates, and makes sure everyone knows they are “on stage.”

10. Develop Character

Spend time anticipating ethical dilemmas and deciding how to deal with them according to your values. Disney’s seven core values are:

  1. Honesty
  2. Integrity
  3. Respect
  4. Courage
  5. Openness
  6. Diversity
  7. Balance

These give you moral authority. People will trust you and believe in you, and “you can accomplish anything you dream of.”

To see the two-part article written by Steve Bruce at HR Daily Advisor, go to Part 1and Part 2.