Disney's Focus on Its Employees Allows Its Employees to Best Focus on Customers

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By Caryn Freeman

May 8 -- At the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., hiring, training and employee engagement strategies are all aimed at making sure employees, referred to as cast members, deliver top-quality customer service.

Disney's business approach is to "consistently over-manage certain things that most companies under-manage or ignore," Jeff Williford, senior facilitator responsible for recruiting, hiring and training at the Disney Institute in Orlando, said May 5. "That is the key that differentiates us," he said at the American Society for Training & Development's International Conference& Exposition in Washington, D.C. "We have learned to be intentional where others are unintentional."


"It starts with extraordinary attention to detail in our hiring and training processes, which ensures we hire people who fit our culture and consistently do what their roles ask of them," Disney's Jeff Williford said.

The Walt Disney World Resort is the largest single-site employer in the U.S., employing 62,000 people in more than 3,000 different job classifications, with a total annual payroll of $1.3 billion.

Part of the philosophy at Disney is that "people remember people," Williford said. "Service quality is the total of the customers' perception of their experience."

Attention to Detail in Hiring.

"It starts with extraordinary attention to detail in our hiring and training processes, which ensures we hire people who fit our culture and consistently do what their roles ask of them. It's a big part of what makes our people so memorable," he said.

Williford said that the organization works to hire the right people but also shapes them into employees who are comfortable in their roles and know their purpose. "We look for those desirable traits in recruiting, but behaviors are coachable," he said.

Measuring service is finding the difference between what customers expect and what you are giving them, Williford said. "It's delivering that experience and connecting employees with how the work they do contributes to the end line. The more they know about what is going on in our operation, the more they can deliver on that tradition, history and heritage that is part of Disney," he said.

Continuous Training.

According to Williford, Disney's philosophy is to sync the mission of small teams with the culture of the whole organization. "So while there may be thousands of job classifications, there will always be one common goal: exceptional guest experiences," he said.

Training happens all year round, Williford explained, "with key repeatable messages to remind cast members to deliver consistent guest service that includes the entire experience."

The Disney training process is a comprehensive strategy designed to promote and reinforce company values, history and operating philosophies, Williford said. "Training is more critical to desired behaviors and outcomes than most companies ever imagine," he said.

Disney teaches core traits on the first day and communicates its culture through every avenue, Williford said. "We give a lot of information up front about what we expect," he said. This "gives people who may not be up to giving our guests the full Disney experience an opportunity to self-select out of out of our program," Williford told Bloomberg BNA in an interview after the conference session.

Disney's five-stage training process covers global orientation, line of business preparation, local orientation, on-the-job training and ongoing career management, he said.

"We spend a lot of time training and immersing trainees into the culture," Williford said. "There are six full weeks of training before a new cast member even sees a guest."

Engagement 'on an Emotional Level.'

"We are not selling rides, we are selling an experience," Williford said. "If we are going to create that intense experience, we have to move our employees beyond a task mentality to an experience mentality. As cast members are interacting with guests, we ask them to take the opportunity to build a positive experience."

Building a competitive advantage in the marketplace depends on culture and achieving desired behaviors, Williford said. "Organizations are concerned about engagement, so engage people on an emotional level. If employees have made that emotional connection to your organization, engagement will rise," he said.

"At Disney, we carefully craft our message so cast members hear and understand that their actions continually enhance the legacy of Disney's heritage and traditions," he said. "By understanding where we've been, they're always in tune with the organization's culture and strategy."

By Caryn Freeman

To contact the reporter on this story: Caryn Freeman in Washington at cfreeman@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bna.com