The Disney approach

‘We wake up with one purpose every day.’

June 19, 2019

Having a great product is no longer enough. Today’s consumers want to have an emotional connection with the companies they patronize, says Jeff James, vice president/general manager of Disney Institute.

“Disney has been doing that for decades,” says James, who addressed the America’s Credit Union Conference Wednesday at the Walt Disney World® Resort in Florida. “It’s where you can differentiate. Customers are placing a higher value on the experience of using a product than the product itself.

“In your world, the auto loan is just a widget,” he continues. “Your members will focus more on how you make the loan than the loan itself.”

The challenge is that companies are competing with the best experience a consumer has had with any company, regardless of product or service, James says.

Key takeaways about Disney’s approach to business excellence include:

Put employees first. “The extent to which you genuinely care for your people is the extent to which they will care for your customers and each other,” he says. “Trust your people, genuinely care about them—and let them go.”

Don’t allow yourself to become separated from what happens on the front line. All Disney managers work in a different job for an afternoon, so they know what their employees experience.

“This puts you in the shoes of your cast, so you know what it’s like to serve,” says James, who most recently spent an afternoon making ice cream sandwiches.

Focus on your culture fit when hiring employees. "Our new employee orientation starts with the history and culture of our organization, not ‘here’s your locker.’”

Seek out, recognize, and reward moments of excellent service.

Realize that purpose trumps task. Good leaders allow staff to go off task if they’re living the organization’s purpose.

Have a common purpose.

“We all wake up with one purpose every day: make people happy,” James says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re at the top, middle, or bottom, we create happiness every day. You need to focus on that before you get sustained business results.”

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