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Disney’s Chain of Excellence

Posted on October 26, 2010 , by Steve Bernstein

Closing out today at NACCM was an engaging and motivating presentation by Mike Reardon of the Disney Institute.  While I’ve captured the contents here, I doubt I can capture the inspiration.
Mike started out describing Disney’s Chain of Excellence:  Leadership Excellence leads to Cast (Employee) Excellence which leads to Guest Satisfaction which leads to Financial Results and Repeat Business.  But there’s more:  Beyond the business results that are directly tied to happy customers, the chain creates culture of people can create the right products and services that cannot be easily copied or imitated, i.e. sustainable competitive advantage.
Disney maintains 2 Fundamental beliefs:

  • Everyone is creative.  Ideas belong to the room.
  • Your ideas are separate from your identity

The point is to enable your people to not “think out of the box”, but expand the box by bringing new ideas into the existing capabilities.  Consider

  • Disney Cruises:  In the 1980’s cruises weren’t for families.  Now cruise lines are struggling to keep up with Disney in this area.
  • Wonderful World of Color:  There’s limited land (space) at Disneyland.  So at night the lake becomes the stage where great shows leverage what’s there.

Companies can be proactive or reactive.  Think Sony and the Walkman vs. Apple and the iPod.  Get in the lead and stay there.
Disney succeeds by getting their people to expand existing resources.  Their leaders are all about inspiring others through the power of “story.”  How?  We judge ourselves based on intentions, while others judge us based on behaviors.  Make sure the stories that people are telling about you are the ones that you want them to tell:  A leader’s vision has to be effectively communicated by what they do because that’s the story they tell.
What would the title of your leadership story be?  Walt Disney considered himself a little bee, going around the various parts of the business pollinating – inspiring and challenging people to bring ideas to life.
Corporate culture needs to be deliberate, by design, not by accident.  Measureable goals then align to that.  For example, crucial to Disney’s strategy was the atmosphere, and Walt wasn’t above picking up trash on Main Street since it was important to him.  For Disney, “wow” experiences aren’t the big things, but instead are all the little things.  These are low cost additions that are sustainable.  Paying attention to every detail of the delivery, and repeating it successfully, all add up to “wow!” 
And finally a few words about training, “What if you spend all that money on training and then they leave?”  The answer is to consider what if you didn’t spend all that money and they stay.  Even doing laundry in the hotels requires training around the experience:  They know that if after spending a magical day in Disney World and then going to the hotel and resting on a dirty pillow just won’t work.  So treat employees like customers, because it’s contagious.