Are you a Mickey Mouse agent? Perhaps you ought to be…

Are you a Mickey Mouse agent? Perhaps you ought to be…

I spent Christmas with my family in Florida. After a tough year with my wife’s cancer returning, it was our treat for all our kids and grandkids to say thanks for all their love and support. Although there were many, many times during the second half of last year when the trip was in doubt due to my wife’s state of health, we made it. The sunshine and fun did us all good. The ten of us had the experience of a lifetime. All of us described it as the best holiday ever.

There were a number of reasons for us all having such an unforgettable experience – the weather, the lack of stressful last minute Christmas shopping and no worries about overcooking the sprouts. But the single biggest factor was the magic we experienced thanks to a man and a mouse…

It is hard to imagine a place more magical than Walt Disney World. The very fact that the millions of visitors each year are referred to as “guests” gives an insight into the culture. The company thrives on the fact that so many of those “guests” return time and again – we were a case in point as it was our fifth visit.

 So what is the secret to the magic? There is no short answer, but here are few key ingredients and they are outlined below. As you digest them, be mindful of how they could be applied to your business.

Recruiting the best people and letting them do their best. 
When it comes to recruiting great staff, many companies fall foul of one or two issues. Either the manager recruits a great person for the job but then fails to let them flourish, resulting in poor performance; or the manager feels threatened by a potential employee’s skills and hires someone else who is less qualified for the job. In both these cases, the company suffers.

Walt Disney was not a very good artist, so he hired the brilliant Ub Iwerks to do the animations for him. Rather than feel threatened by another artist, Walt understood and recognised his own weaknesses and sought out the finest talent to help him achieve success. Conversely, Walt knew he was strong at sales, so he handled the sales end of the business. He firmly believed that the only way to become successful was to have a great team on your side. Given his subsequent results, it is a principle that is difficult to argue against.

Some estate agency managers are fearful that a younger valuer will outperform them and expose their own shortcomings, making them feel vulnerable. In reality, it should be a joy for a manager to have a team member to whom he/she can delegate, allowing the manager to get on with managing the operation. Rather than feel threatened by someone who may have a better education or more skills than you, welcome that person onto your team. Set your ego to one side, accept your weaknesses and let a member of your team plug the gap.

Maximise the talent within your business.
An approach that stood Walt Disney in good stead was to make a habit of “walking the studio”, chatting to his staff and discovering their passions and interests.

He noticed what personal items they had on their desk, as he believed those things could tell him a lot about their strengths and what they could contribute to the company.

Famously, Walt noticed that one of his team of artists, Blaine Gibson, had small stunning sculptures on his desk, which he had made himself. Blaine was a talented artist and doing well at his job, but Walt identified the passion and talent for sculpting that Blaine had. Walt quickly redeployed Blaine to a department now known as Imagineering. Today, Blaine is best known as the person who sculpted the faces in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride amongst other attractions.

So, do you know the passions hidden within your employees? Do you have a valuer who would make a great trainer? An accompanied viewer who would excel at marketing? An administrator who could be a brilliant manager? Keep your eyes open on what people can do besides their immediate job. Hidden talents and skills can be invaluable on the road to success.

Empower your people.
Although many companies like to talk about “empowering their employees”, the fact is that many workers feel very unempowered nowadays. Many estate agency firms I encounter have a central “Parent/Child” management culture – in other words, owners and managers telling staff to do things in a particular way within very narrow prescribed guidelines.

Staff therefore may want to help a client or customer resolve an issue, but they have to go through so many layers of red tape that doing so is overly difficult – the “I’ll have to get in touch with Head Office and get back to you” culture…

With the corporate focus on bottom line results, maximising income and cutting costs, employees feel restricted on and fearful of what they can and cannot do.

Empowering employees doesn’t mean they have carte blanche to do whatever they like! Rather it means they can do certain things within wider established limits to make the customer happy. Therefore, take some time to outline what your staff can do in specific situations to exceed a customer’s expectations. Then, let your employees do it. Everyone is a winner in this environment. When you allow your employees to take care of the customers in the right way, the business will take care of itself.

One of Walt’s main objectives (and one of his principless that is still central to the ethos of The Walt Disney Company) was to always “Exceed expectations.” Walt inspired and empowered people to give more than what was asked of them. Even today, Disney employees are empowered to do what is necessary to exceed a guest’s expectations.

For example, my grandson dropped and broke a Disney toy within seconds of me buying it. A Disney employee saw this and replaced it without us even asking. The result? Smiles all round. This could only happen because the employee is empowered to take that course of action and of course, trained on how to deal with those situations. Speaking of which…

Train! Train! Train!

Obviously as somebody who runs a training company, I lean towards the fact that training plays a huge part in the delivery of exceptional service and wow moments. Sure enough, once you look beneath the surface, you find that such is their expertise in training people to deliver exceptional service, the Disney Institute offer paid courses to businesses entitled “Disney Keys to Quality Service” with the promise that you can “Learn how Walt Disney Theme Parks and Resorts’ quality standards help exceed Guests’ expectations. You’ll see how attention to detail creates a consistent, world-class service environment…”

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to attend one of these courses in 2015.

 Of course, Disney’s internal staff training also focuses on these aforementioned principles. A lot of the theory is covered in each cast member’s initial traditions training at the Disney University. From there, it is then down to the on the job training officers to help the employees apply their training lessons within practical situations.

 Many of the ‘rules’ are common sense – eg smile and make eye contact with people when you are talking to them…but there are plenty more. I witnessed countless examples on our recent visit.

 Disney has assessed that each of their park “guests” will on a typical day average 60 “contact opportunities” - points at which they come into contact with a cast member.

 The company wants each of those opportunities to be a magic moment for every guest, so every member of cast member is encouraged to achieve that objective through their behaviour. They are constantly mystery shopped to ensure the standards are maintained. After all, if 59 of those moments are wow but one is bad, which will be remembered?

 A well-trained, enthusiastic and motivated work force is essential to any business. It’s a secret that Walt Disney himself realised years ago. “You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality.”

 One of the things I find interesting about the whole Disney experience, is that while many Americans in other sectors strive to deliver excellent service because their income is directly linked to that outcome (the expected 18-20% tip in a US restaurant obviously won’t get paid unless the service has justified it), Disney staff on the parks do not get tipped. Something else motivates them.

 As Walt himself said “You reach a point where you stop working for money” – in other words, you are motivated by other factors, such as the appreciation of a guest whom you provide with a wow moment, or the intense, indescribable feeling of extreme job satisfaction achieved by helping others make memories.

 This attitude was present in every Disney cast member that we encountered, including a member of Magic Kingdom’s cleaning team who proactively approached me while I was studying a map to ask me if there was anything particular I was trying to find, to the chefs who found the time in every single Disney food outlet (whether fast food or sit down restaurant) to come out front and personally discuss my wife’s specific dietary requirements, and who catered successfully for her every single time, to the concierge who reorganised some ride passes for us because we were seated 10 minutes later than booked at a character lunch.

 Sadly, in my experience, parallel situations to these in the UK have not been handled in anywhere near that manner. In contrast, in just two weeks, Disney provided us with enough wow moments of service for me to write several training courses! Since I have been back in the UK, I have a similar number of interactions in hotels and shops to write another course on how not to do it.

Sales and lettings agency business owners could learn so much from Walt Disney. Though he passed away almost 50 years ago, the vision, principles and techniques that he applied to build one of the most successful corporations in world history are still relevant today.

Therefore, when you sit in yet another meeting discussing strategies for taking your business to the next level, give Walt’s ideas some thought. They might just be the difference between a reasonable and a spectacular 2015 and beyond. 

On a final note, if you’ve never been to Walt Disney World, get yourself over there as soon as you can. And if you do, say hi and thanks to Mickey from me.

 Oh, and tell him we’ll be back.