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Fast Company recently published an article from former Disney Executive Lee Cockerell, Former Executive Shares The Secrets To How Disney Runs Its Empire.  In it, Cockerell shares concepts from hiring to leadership to organizational transparency at the Walt Disney World Resort.  Having been leaders at Disney and several years facilitating Disney training and professional development programs for the Disney Institute, we thought we’d share our take on four of the insights highlighted in the article:

Disney Customer Experience Making Magic“You don’t have to be happy to work at Disney, but you do have to act happy for eight hours. Because we’re putting on a show.”

Yes, cast members (as Disney employees are called) have to “act” happy.  While Disney pulls out all the stops to support their cast members and ensure they ARE happy in their role- from on-site day care, hair salons and work-out facilities to free park tickets, well stocked cafeterias and a robust reward and recognition program; cast members need their downtime too.  So while cast members are expected to BE happy “on stage” during the “show”, Disney understands- and has proactively planned for- break time.  This is the time when cast members are “backstage”.  Disney service is evident backstage where cast members can be themselves, decompress, and relax. This makes back stage break rooms and facilities that the guest (or customer) never sees, very important.  Nice backstage areas support cast members to perform their best onstage. 

"At Disney attention to detail is practically a religion."

Yes, at Disney everything is clean, the small details like "Hidden Mickeys" are amazing, and the clockwork precision of the operation seems magically flawless.  However, Disney pays the most attention to the people details.  From hiring the right people to training them to be successful to making sure they have the necessary information to letting them know how important they are, Disney pays attention to the smallest details.

Hiring: Hiring the right people means hiring people that are a fit with your company culture.  Values mismatches between the individual and the organization can spell disaster.

Training: Training is often the most overlooked and eliminated aspect of an employee's work experience.  We frequently underestimate the amount of training it takes to have someone be successful in a new role.  But, "What if I spend all that time training a new employee and they leave?" is a great question; training takes significant time, energy and money.  However, the real question should be, "What if I don't train them well and they stay?!?"  We must pay attention to this vital detail!

Setting Expectations: My grandfather used to say, "Unstated expectations are premeditated disappointments." In other words, if you don't tell me what you expect, then you will be disappointed in my performance and I'll be disappointed in your reaction to my performance.  We as leaders must be clear in setting expectations.  Hand in hand with that clarity, is the necessity of consequences.  Disney's success requires them to deliver good consequences for the good things their cast members may do (recognition and rewards) and corrective consequences for the undesirable things they may do (coaching and counseling).

"(Disney must) present guests with a memorable experience that makes the visit worth it."

Without question, this should be the customer service mission of every business!  With nearly every product or service increasingly commodotizing, successful businesses recognize that customer service is the most powerful differentiator. Disney recognizes that the moment of guest to cast member contact is where the magic happens.  They spend tremendous amounts of energy, time, and money making sure that this moment is right.  The success of that moment is what makes a memorable experience.  It's what causes your customer to want to return and want to tell others about your business. They call this: intent to return and intent to recommend. See [VIDEO]

One other thought on this insight is around the idea that Disney guests must feel their visit was "worth it." The customer of every business wants to feel they have gotten value.  The greater value they feel they have received, the more likely the intent to return and intent to recommend.  Here is the issue; value is not a financial calculation, it is an emotional state.  People must feel they have received value.

"Disney is just like every business, including yours, whatever it may be."

We recommend a really important modification of this statement to be: "Every business, including yours, whatever it may be, is just like Disney."

Why?  Because if you don't or won't believe this, then you can say Disney is big, rich, in a different business, has an impossibly strong brand, and so on… The truth is; Disney has the same business demands as any business, just on a larger scale.  Any organization with great leadership can have the same success as Disney, even if it's on a different scale.

Success in the smallest details,and the right people with the right leadership and support leads to success on the, as Disney would say, "grand stage"!!

For more on this topic, check out these resources:

Designing your customer experience [free template]

Post Contributors:

Mike-Photo-8x10-Mike2-DSCF3443Mike Donnelly leverages over 20 years of leadership experience at The Walt Disney Company and Papa John’s International as a recognized expert, keynote speaker, facilitator and consultant in the principle of building successful corporate cultures; focusing on talent selection, new hire orientation, leadership effectiveness and customer experience.   Learn more about Mike


Hugh-Kincaid-Headshot-1Hugh Kincaid utilizes more than 40 years of Disney and organization development experience in helping leaders change the way they think about business. As a leader in the creation of the Walt Disney World Human Resources, Organization Development department, Hugh guided company business units through organizational design, leadership development and change management strategies.  Learn more about Hugh



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