Lessons from the Mouse
By Brian Anderson
When the Mouse speaks, people tend to listen. Especially when you are in the town the Mouse built, otherwise known as Orlando, Fla.
Such was the case for me last week, when I attended the LIMRA Distribution Conference within the confines of Disney World. Jeff Noel of the Disney Institute was a main platform speaker on Thursday with a presentation titled, “Leading Through Turbulent Times.” The premise was that while a tough economy can be a time for caution, it can also be an opportunity to outpace your competition.
Disney knows something about dealing with turbulent times, as the company has prospered through a wide variety of them, ranging from a pair of high-profile takeover attempts to the severe effect 9/11 had on tourism to three consecutive hurricanes hitting central Florida during 2004’s devastating hurricane season. When that happened, 4,000 “cast members” couldn’t live in their homes due to hurricane damage. Disney World’s Orlando operation is the largest single-site employer in the nation (currently at about 62,000), but how do you plan for 4,000 displaced employees?
It’s obviously highly unlikely your business is going to run into anything like that, but there are a number of smaller turbulent scenarios brought about by leadership changes or external events/economic events that could have disastrous effects on unprepared businesses. Noel talked about how companies need to revise their processes for turbulent scenarios by considering the following process strategies:
- Gather input regarding processes that impact the customer experience.
- Tailor processes to serve the exception as well as the masses.
- Plan for every contingency.
- Encourage and support employee flexibility.
- Use a continuous improvement process to focus on changes that matter most.
- Analyze the situation.
- Identify challenges both outside the company and within.
- Start the change effort quietly and early.
- Follow tactical steps for proactive change: seek out new ideas, measure and communicate results, recognize and celebrate, and share new knowledge.
One nugget I found particularly interesting is that Disney views competition not merely as other destination resorts, media conglomerates or theme park operators, but as any company that is competing for a consumer’s discretionary income.