Disney offers HR lessons, best practicesNews added by Benefits Pro on June 24, 2014

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Joined: September 07, 2011

My Company

By Kathryn Mayer

ORLANDO—After so much success, it’s hard to believe that years ago, the Walt Disney Co. was just another startup.

It began with two employees — brothers Walt and Roy Disney — who worked out of a garage because they were both unemployed.

Disney has morphed into the largest single-site employer in the United States — and one, executives say, that’s different than any other. And that means Disney offers plenty of lessons to benefits professionals.

“Disney thinks differently about things than any other organization,” Mike Reardon, senior business program facilitator at the Disney Institute, told an audience of HR professionals Monday at the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation annual conference. “Walt thought differently about things.”

“Disney’s consistent business results are driven by overmanaging certain things that most companies undermanage or ignore — and that’s a key source of what differentiates us,” he said. “We have learned to be intentional where others are unintentional.”

Overmanaging doesn’t mean micromanaging. But it does mean intentional, specific decisions and attention to detail that aims to create an engaged and productive workforce as well as happy guests and customers, Reardon said. It means an engaged culture, which he said is defined by similar, desired behaviors.

Simply put, the workforce is the driving force behind the company’s massive success, Reardon said.

Disney’s culture revolves around shared values that are ingrained in all of its workers — from top executives to bus drivers on Disney property, Reardon said.

“Skills-based recruitment alone is fatally flawed,” he said, adding that companies should “significantly overemphasize” desired behavior.
For example, he said, Disney wants “bus drivers who will treat little girls as princesses. We don’t want someone who is only concerned about meeting a schedule,” “We want them to get off the bus to bow at the princess. That’s important to us.”

Though Reardon said Disney looks for certain qualities in job candidates — people who are dedicated, friendly and helpful among them, the company also constantly works with employees to enhance those qualities. Training should never stop, he said.

“The behavior is expected up front, but we also have to work to sustain it,” Reardon said.

It goes further than training, he said. It’s about being there for the employee, and simply showing them you care.

Even interns attending the Disney College Program have fresh chocolate chip cookies baked daily and an abundance of Duffy bears — Disney’s own licensed Teddy bears — on site to help them overcome homesickness.

Praise and appreciation of employees is important, Reardon said. The training room for new employees has lots of Disney’s signature magic to it, adorned with its characters, colorful walls and artwork. Training rooms, Reardon said, should look like they are reinforcing the culture.

Communication between employees and employers also is key.

For example, Reardon said, “we would never send a short, low-quality email to our clients or customers. Why would we do that to our employees?”

What does the engaged workforce result in? Well, that part is easy. Disney is known for its attention to detail, Reardon said. Clean parks. Always-smiling employees. And of course, an overall magical experience for guests.

“It’s work that makes the magic, not magic that makes the work,” Reardon said. “We believe in the golden rule: Employees will treat your customers the way you treat them. If you don’t care about your employees, it will show.”

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