Disney World: It's Not Magic, It's Work
"It's not the magic that makes it work. It's the way we work that makes it magic," says former Walt Disney World® EVP Lee Cockerell. His new book, Creating Magic, outlines the principles that make the Disney property a model for management.

Disney World, the size of Manhattan, is the largest tourist destination in the world, and its 59,000 cast members make it the largest single-site employer in the world. Cockerell, its manager for 15 years, reveals the management principles he's followed to make it a success.

#1 Remember, Everyone Is Important
Inclusion is important at Disney World, Cockerell says, and it's more than just hiring diversely and respecting differences. It's 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, Cockerell says—what moves you, what excites you, what you struggle with.

Greet people sincerely, reach out to everyone, and be available. Forget about chain of command, he says.

#2 Break the Mold
Cockerell says that Disney's structural changes have opened many opportunities for the company and its employees. For example, he says, in the beginning, the hotel operations were separate from the parks’ operations. After they combined the two organizationally, they realized great gains. Before that change, he explains, 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, Cockerell says, start out by defining the perfect candidate. What qualities and skills do you need? His tips:

  •  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 résumé.
  •  Keep in touch with people who leave.

#4 Create Magic Through Training
Training and development, says Cockerell, 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. Cockerell suggests that you:

  • 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, Cockerell says, is to identify problems in the way things are done and act quickly to fix them. His approach:

  • Always ask "what" rather than who (that is, before blaming someone, see if it's a process problem).
  • Listen to customers (their complaints often reveal process problems).
  • Learn firsthand what's working and what's 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, Cockerell says.
  • Keep up with technology—it can remove a lot of hassles.

#6 Learn the Truth
Great leaders are always in the learning mode, Cockerell says. Get out and about routinely. Try these methods, he suggests:

  • 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. (Cockerell takes a thorough daily tour.)
  • Meet with your direct reports regularly to go over the four P's—people, processes, projects, profits.

#7 Burn the Free Fuel
Cockerell says to 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, he says. Include families when appropriate, he adds.

#8 Stay Ahead of the Pack
Be a knowledge sponge, Cockerell says. When you hear a great idea, ask yourself, can I tweak this a little bit and use it in my life? (He 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, he says. (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 at his hotels.)

Study your customer base, Cockerell suggests. What do they really want? He advocates four "compass points" for understanding customers: needs, wants, stereotypes, and emotions.

Make sure your people stay ahead of the pack, he advises. 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, Cockerell says. 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
Cockerell suggests that you spend time anticipating ethical dilemmas and deciding how to deal
with them according to your values. He offers the following as Disney's seven core values:

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

These give you moral authority, and with that, Cockerell says, people will trust you and believe in you, and "you can accomplish anything you dream of."

Cockerell's principles come from his experience as manager of the "largest single-site employer in the world," but they apply equally well to even the smallest operation. True, managing HR is tough in a small department. From intermittent FMLA leave to accommodation requests to compensation hassles, it's challenge after challenge, with few places to turn to for help.

Reprinted with permission from HR Daily Advisor. Copyright 2009 Business and Legal Reports. http://www.hrdailyadvisor.com  P•A•S Associates has expertise in human resources and other areas involving employment issues. P•A•S Associates, in providing this tip, does not represent that it is acting as an attorney or that it is giving any form of legal advice or legal opinion. P•A•S Associates recommends that before making any decision pertaining to human resource issues or employment issues, including the utilization of information contained on this website, the advice of legal counsel to determine the legal ramifications of the use of any such information be obtained.

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