One of the things we were exposed to at the Disney Institute was a presentation on People Management in the Magic Kingdom. We were told all kinds of general facts, including that:

At Disney, all employees are referred to as Cast Members
Disney has over 2200 job titles with specific position descriptions.
Disney promotes largely from within. Phil Holmes, VP of the Magic Kingdom started his Disney career as a part time 3rd shift cast member zeroing out cash registers.
They have meticulous training.
They listen to their employees, conducting an annual Cast survey every year that they use to drive many changes in working conditions for the Cast.
They provide excellent benefits.
They provide unique company related perks, including free admission at all their parks around the world.
Disney enjoys amicable relationships with the 19 labor unions representing cast members on site at the Disney World complex.
Of course, all these things are important, and I haven’t even really scratched the surface of all you can learn about people management at the Disney Institute. For today, here are the top 4 most powerful things I observed.

The cultural DNA of Disney “memory”
Employee as Performer aka “Cast Member”
You are always performing with customers
Self-motivation: “Make your own applause”
What is your best Disney memory?
This concept permeates the culture at Disney. It starts from the very moment you consider applying for a position as a Cast Member. Here is what you see when you go to the Disney career site.

Welcome to The Walt Disney Company!

Yes, there really are dream jobs.

Here, the bottom line is imagination, our culture is magic and wonder, and required previous work experience: childhood dreams.

Think of all the laughter, astonishment, joy and thrills that have come from this one place. Movies, Animation, News and Sports, Music, Television, Books, Theme Parks and Resorts.

After all, a company built on imagination and wonder means the work will be interesting. And always will be. There’s room for talented people. It’s a dream job.

In the simulated on-boarding session we observed as part of our Disney Institute experience, we were temporarily “hired” as a Cast Member, and a member of Disney staff came out to begin our “Transitions” day, which is the name of the on-boarding process for Cast Members.

How was this done?

She asked one question: “What is your best Disney memory?” Then she shared her best Disney memory with us, using a picture of her and sister taken in front of “floral Mickey” at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom when they were children and first visited Disney World with her family. She described her memories of child like wonder, and how it made her want to come back there again and again.

Each new “Cast Member” was then invited to do the same thing. It was astonishing to watch these seminar attendees nee Disney Cast break down in gentle tears as they recalled visiting Disney or watching a film or watching a tv show.

Imagine the sort of engagement that tapping into these “brand memories” creates for newly minted Cast Members, many of whom are truly joining the company of their dreams. Disney begins building and reinforcing their work culture even before you have worked with a customer for a single moment. It is pure genius, and is a critical key to reinforcing the concepts introduced later.

Cast Members are always on stage at Disney
When you begin work at Disney, you are referred to as a Cast Member. This refers to the idea that every Cast member employed by DIsney is always performing for the customer as part of the overall Disney experience. Everything you do, including the way you dress, the way your hair is cut, and the way you speak is part of the carefully crafted Disney image. Understanding this concept is crucial for Disney to consistently deliver the unparalleled guest experience they strive to offer.

Disney: a Culture of Passion and Service
My Disney Institute colleague Michael Long has written a great post that discusses the culture of enthusiasm and passion we saw at Disney. How else do they drive their performance culture? How do cast members understand that they are always on stage and maintain the expected level of performance? Part of the Disney training is to encourage Cast members to learn how to create their own magical members by encouraging them to satisfy customers by:

making immediate contact
Listening to what the customer wants
read their body language
anticipate their needs
being knowledgeable in their area
managing the expectations of the customer
As the folks at Disney told us, serving the customer experience is the key to their success, and it is what each Cast Member is expected to do at all times. They aren’t perfect, but they strive for excellence. They are taught to look for opportunities to delight the audience. By making such moments where they create their own applause by delighting a customer, each Cast Members knows they are doing their part to perpetuate the Disney experience.

Speaking practically, Disney knows they can’t line up group of people to applaud each Cast member as they enter and leave work, so they teach the Cast to get their own personal motivation and satisfaction from their interactions with their audience, Disney customers. It is simple and brilliant and effective. Disney reinforces behavior with recognition programs, coaching and other tactics, but this concept permeates the culture.

Not every company has the brand reach and customer resonance of the Disney brand. The challenge for anyone, including those attending the Disney Institute is how do you carry these powerful concepts back your own business and apply them? Thoughts on that later!

What is YOUR best Disney memory? The folks at the Disney Institute and I would love to know.

Views: 1272

Tags: Disney, Institute, onboarding, orlando

Comment by Michael VanDervort on August 25, 2009 at 9:51am
You would have loved going through our experience at the Disney Institute!
Comment by Recruiterdude on August 26, 2009 at 10:50am
Not only am I a Disney fan, I am a Disney addict. I believe there is a Disney character that every person associates with. Whether it's a new character (Lightning McQueen for my son), old character (Baloo for me), central character (any of the Princesses for my nieces) or a secondary character (Scrooge McDuck for my father) there is some attachment that is had between Disney and the individual. It is this attachment that starts the relationship.
My fondest memory happened when I took my son (then 3) to Disney in the middle of the summer. We were just about to exit from a long, hot day at the park and we were very tired. As we approached the exit, around the corner came Lightning McQueen with music blaring. It didn't seem that there were many people around us at first. In about 10 seconds, there were more than 50 3-7 year old boys all over the car. My son was as excited as I have ever seen him. All the other experiences of the day could not hold a candle to what he just experienced. The smile on his face was enormous and he talked about it for weeks that he met Lightning McQueen. Everytime since he says "Remember when we met Lightning McQueen here?".
A few years ago, I bought my father a statue of Scrooge McDuck diving into his gold coins and playing with them. My father proceeded to tell us all the memories he had as child reading the comic books and seeing the short movies and how he always wanted a safe big enough to be like Scrooge. What a wonderful expression of joy.
There is something for everyone at Disney and they make sure of that for all generations.
It truly is a magical place.
Comment by Saleem Qureshi on August 26, 2009 at 12:32pm
Speaking from a standpoint of I/O Psychology and human behavior I think that Disney has truly incorporated the element of Human Sigma their onboarding. This was truly insightful
Comment by Max Wallingford on August 26, 2009 at 3:29pm
What leapt out at me here is that the walk equals the talk. And even more, that Disney customers have come to expect just that.

I just got back from a few days at the magical kingdom, and had one particular experience where a cast member (ticket taker at one of the rides) took the opportunity to do the right thing for the customer. He did, and I immediately commented to my wife that his Disney training worked. It never entered my mind that it wouldn't.

We also met some cast members who were off duty guests when we met them. They were just as wonderful on their own time as the were when they were putting together shows or actually a part of a cast.
Comment by Charles Van Heerden on August 26, 2009 at 7:05pm
We took our kids to Disney some years ago traveling from New Zealand and it was a real highlight as we experienced the magic. Disney clearly demonstrates that building a culture is a long-term process and by reinforcing the core values right from onboarding to annual surveys creates a great place to work!

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