I recently had the opportunity to participate in a program called The Disney Experience. This is a partnership between the Disney Institute and the company I work for now.
The objective of the 3-day seminar is for participants to get a crash course on how Disney creates their magic.
Here are some of the thoughts I have about the experience.
1 – Validation
For the past 2 years, I have spent 1-3 hours a day studying leadership. I am glad I was able to see a living example of the principles.
The opportunity allowed me to see vivid examples of what it takes to design, create, and maintain a values-based culture.
From intentionally picking the words they use, to painting the light poles every night, everyone at Disney lives and breathes their values and principles.
I am not sure why they call “leadership” a soft skill because the way Disney applies leadership is not for the faint of heart.
Have you ever heard of a company requiring each person in their executive team to work at least 1 holiday weekend as a front gate greeter? The key word here is “requiring.”
Nevertheless, allow me to share some of the things I noticed.
2 – Intentional Overmanaging
Not to be confused with micromanaging, “overmanaging” is a word that I think Disney invented to represent their caring and intentional attention to detail.
Disney spends countless hours thinking about everything they do and how they can make it easier for cast members and guests to have an amazing experience.
Here are few examples I heard at the event:
- The buildings along the road that leads to Cinderella’s castle in Magic Kingdom get closer to the road as you get near the castle. This was done to create the visual effect of it being far when you are entering the park; but it creates the effects of the exit being closer when you are leaving the park.
- Certain buildings, light fixtures, windows, etc. are painted every night in order to create a sense of “new” every day.
- They use the magic bands to track waiting times and decide whether they need to send cast members to entertain the guests while they wait.
Everything has a purpose at Disney.
3 – It’s More Than a Theme or Amusement Park
Disney parks are not about themes or amusement; they are about delivering happiness through personalized experiences. Here are a few examples of customization:
- Cast members are keenly aware of their surroundings in order to tailor their responses to guest inquiries based on who is around them.
- There are hidden identification items that allow cast members to know things about you before you talk to them.
- Cast members are strongly encouraged to come up with solutions to guest problems without requiring approval from management.
4 – Everyone Is Part of The Cleaning Crew
I think this one was my favorite. They use the word “custodian” to refer to those that maintain the parks and hotels clean.
It is part of Disney’s culture to believe each cast member to be a custodian. Every cast member is responsible for keeping the premises clean without exceptions.
We even heard of several stories of cast members regularly seeing company executives picking up trash as they walked the premises.
5 – Disney is not for everyone
What I enjoyed the most about the experience is the fact that Disney does not have to describe their culture.
They live it. I had an awesome exchange with one of our facilitators regarding their recruiting process. I asked him about sample questions they use. In a manner of minutes, he started role-playing with me. The question he asked me was something similar to “How would you handle a difficult person?”
My response was “It depends on my mood that day…” To which the entire room laughed at because it sounded like the wrong answer. After a few more exchanges, I quickly said “By the way, I already know I’m not a fit to work at Disney.”
I intuitively self-selected myself out of Disney; all driven by how I saw them behave and communicate.
That my friends, is the power of purposefully living a values-based culture.