Bruce Kimbrell

The method behind the magic

Disney’s success lies in ‘being intentional where others are being unintentional.’

November 1, 2018

With 13 amusement parks in California, the executives at The Walt Disney Co. know they have to make a case for why visitors should choose to spend their money at Disneyland or Disney California Adventure.

Disney does that by focusing on business functions and opportunities other companies ignore, but which Disney recognizes are opportunities to differentiate itself, says Bruce Kimbrell, senior facilitator at the Disney Institute.

“We have learned to be intentional where others are unintentional,” says Kimbrell, who gave a keynote address Wednesday at the 2018 CUNA Lending Council Conference in Anaheim, Calif. “It’s the details that make Disney Disney.”

Those details are found in the people Disney employs and the experience they give visitors, Kimbrell says. The company focuses on the employees who staff the park and resorts, and give visitors that magical, memorable experience.

Six reasons for Disney's success:

1. Creating an excellent workforce. Disney believes it’s possible to create a workforce that demonstrates desired behaviors on a consistent basis, Kimbrell says. This is accomplished not only by the people Disney hires, but in how employees carry out their duties.

For example, instead of checking all 10,000 light bulbs on Main Street in Disneyland each night and replacing burnt out bulbs, Kimbrell says all of the bulbs in designated sections are replaced at once and then replaced after a predetermined amount of time. That ensures all light bulbs burn brightly each night.

“There isn’t any magic, but there is method here,” Kimbrell says. “And it’s that method that makes the magic.”

2. Selecting employees. With more than 33,000 employees—or cast members—at Disneyland, many people are needed—and want to—work at the park. But Kimbrell says it takes the right kind of person to work at Disney.

As a result, Disney places more of an emphasis on the individual’s enthusiasm for the company and a desire to provide a magical experience for guests—whether it’s dressed as a character, watering plants, or operating a ride—than their work history.

“We hire for attitude over aptitude,” he says. “Coming as a guest is great and wonderful. Working here can be just as fun, but it’s a different challenge.”

3. Being intentional. Test for cultural matches and mismatches to ensure a potential employee matches the company’s brand, Kimbrell says. Be upfront about the role, the company culture, and what it requires so people know what they are getting into, Kimbrell says. While this is difficult, it’s essential for creating an engaged workforce.

4. Recognizing the importance of training. Training is more critical to creating desired behaviors and outcomes than most companies have ever imagined, Kimbrell says. During the onboarding process, Kimbrell says Disney focuses on helping employees understand the uniqueness of the Disney brand and how to connect with it emotionally.

“Training is critical to get cast members to understand the importance of how they should behave,” he says.

5. Communicating. High-quality information enables and empowers people, while mediocre information can cause paralysis, improvisation, and disengagement, Kimbrell says. Get employees to understand how to communicate consistently and thoroughly.

6. Caring for employees. The extent to which you genuinely care for employees is the extent to which they will care for your customers and each other, Kimbrell says.

“If I feel cared for, I’m going to perform differently,” he says. “When people are treated well, they get it and they like it. And then they tell others about how well they were treated.”

Click here for more conference coverage from CUNA News, and get live updates on Twitter via @CUNAJennifer@CUMagazine@CUNACouncils, and by using the #LendingCouncil hashtag. Learn more about the CUNA Lending Council, a member-led professional society for credit union executives, at