In his book, management consultant Bill Capodagli shares some of the secrets of Disney to help entrepreneurs and managers tackle some of today's most vexing business challenges.
The Walt Disney Co.'s management style is legendary, but a consultant who has studied the company says any organization can benefit from the techniques it has developed over the years.
Bill Capodagli is cofounder of Capodagli Jackson Consulting and author of “The Disney Way,” now in its third edition. Fortune magazine recognized it as one of the best business books, and the author recently spoke at a gathering of the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce.
The Business Observer spoke with Capodagli (pronounced kapo-die) about how Southwest Florida business owners and executives can use Disney management techniques to solve some of the most vexing challenges. The conversation was edited for style and brevity.
What do Disney executives do when they're faced with a tight labor market like the one we have in Southwest Florida?
They've been dealing with that problem ever since they came down here. One of the things that they do and what we help clients do is to define what the vision of the organization is. We urge them to put that in the form of a story. That's one of the things that Disney does a great job at. The whole purpose of this is to make people feel connected, they feel focused, they feel purpose.
Training is a huge part of it?
One of the things that Disney does and we recommend for all companies is to really concentrate on the [new employee] orientation. You're setting the mood for the employee so that people know the culture, the vision, the values of the organization. The orientation should be more on that and not the rules and procedures.
So many entrepreneurs are trying to manage rapid growth they don't have time for new employees to spend days in orientation.
I think that's a problem. They look to get someone in and get them to work right away. Fortune magazine wrote recently that it cost 30% to 50% of an entry level employee's yearly salary to replace them. If you spend a little time on the front end to get them oriented properly, it's going to pay off in the long run.
How do you get your employees to think as owners?
The fact that you are trusted to do your job is so powerful. People know what they're supposed to be doing, they're trusted to do it, they're trained well. When we were interviewing some of the customer service people [at Disney] some years back, they told us the people who handle the complaints have a half-million dollars in tickets and cash to solve a guest problem. I asked them: “What's your limit?” They said: “We don't have a limit.” Disney says we trust these people to make the decisions.
So trusting employees is key?
When they know they're being trusted to use their common sense, they'll rise to levels that will surprise even themselves. We have found that in all types of organizations, from hospitality to manufacturing to government.
What is Disney doing to recruit and retain millennial-generation employees?
They don't like to label them. Over the last year I've been with clients talking about this. My first impression was that they were the entitlement generation. But the more I get into what they really want, it's the things that we're telling companies they need to have and Disney's saying the same thing. They want to have a purpose, they want to have development planning, they want to know what their plan is for growth, they want to include training, they want to know the codes of conduct, they want to know the values and that the values are sound and that they're aligned with the behaviors of the organization.
How does Disney deal with complaints on social media?
The first line of defense it to make sure that your front-liners have the authority to solve these problems. They have the wherewithal. I was going into Walt Disney World with a friend who didn't have a parking pass. The attendant said to him go ahead and have a great day. They tend to error on the side of overcompensating. Everybody is carrying a high-definition camera now and what could've taken months to be told now can be done with thousands of people as it's happening. It's a new way of doing business.
Disney has successfully developed a team-based approach called storyboarding. Please explain.
It's a visual problem-solving technique. What you do is you present a problem to a group of people and you ask those people to write their ideas on cards. The facilitator shuffles these ideas up and starts posting them on a wall, grouping them by like topics. I like this to call a landscape idea. It shows the team what everybody is thinking without 15 people all having to make a speech about what they feel is the idea. With a series of different colored priority dotting, you can come to a consensus with a large group of people in a very short period of time.
Everyone is contributing. Studies we've done in typical brainstorming sessions where you have to verbalize your ideas is that with a group of 15 people, five people will present 80% of the ideas, five people will present 20% of the ideas and five people are observers to the meeting. Public speaking is the No. 1 fear and people overcome that [with storyboarding]. It can be used for a wide range of things, problem solving, customer feedback.
Real estate has been a big part of the success of Disney's resorts. What's the lesson for Florida developers?
Look to the future. Today, they're using less than half of the [Walt Disney World] property there. We're going to need to continue to expand. [Walt Disney's] goal was to startle and amaze everyone at least once during their visit. He realized that to do that you're going to have to have new attractions.
Walt Disney also developed the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a self-governing scheme unique to Walt Disney World in Orlando that was groundbreaking in its day.
Yes, it sure was in the 1960s when he was putting that together. One of the executives I interviewed years ago said Walt wanted to create his own kingdom. He wanted to create his own governing body because he didn't want to worry about regulations and wanted to control it. He went through three law firms that said you can't do it and finally found a law firm that figured out a way to do it.
Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson share management advice from the Disney organization in the third edition of their popular business book, “The Disney Way.”
The Disney fundamentals
1. Give every member of your organization a chance to dream and tap into the creativity those dreams embody.
2. Stand firm on your beliefs and principles.
3. Treat your customers like guests.
4. Support, enable and reward employees.
5. Build long-term relationships with key suppliers and partners.
6. Dare to take calculated risks to bring innovative ideas to fruition.
7. Train extensively and constantly reinforce your organization's culture.
8. Align long-term vision with short-term execution.
9. Use the storyboarding technique to solve problems, plan projects and improve communications.
10. Pay close attention to detail.
11. Love your employees, your customers, your product and yourself.
1. Grant employees the opportunity to develop and implement innovative ideas in all areas of their jobs: product, process and service.
2. Schedule off-site retreats and meetings to encourage breakthrough, risk-taking ideas that may fundamentally change the way you do business.
3. Allow employees to fail forward fast. Try, learn and try again.
4. Make work fun!
Four essential elements of a good partnership
1. Find a good partner with whom you share a common vision or dream. Spend the time to get to know one another and work together to gain a deep understanding of each other's priorities and perspectives.
2. Discover what each partner does best and allocate tasks and responsibilities accordingly. Divide and conquer.
3. Continually communicate information and personal perspectives on your joint venture. You can't over-communicate.
4. Think with a long-term horizon and be honest about the value of the partnership in terms of realizing your dreams.