Hiring a Strong Foundation
How Disney Gives Employees Something to Build On

May 20, 2013 No Comments

Every year, millions of guests visit theme parks across the country.  The competition for their trips is strong and often turns on just a few key factors.  While exciting rides, shows, and food go a long ways toward defining a great experience, there is one other factor that plays a major role in whether guests will want to come back for more:  their interaction with your employees.
As an industry that relies heavily on direct guest interaction with employees, amusement facilities cannot afford to fill their job openings with poorly-trained employees.  After all, even a great new thrill ride or stunning new show can be overshadowed by a rude, unhelpful or inattentive employee.
That’s why the industry’s largest employer, Disney Parks, spends millions of dollars each year training their employees in the art and science of creating a positive guest experience.  Known at Disney as “Cast Members,” the employees at Walt Disney World and Disneyland undergo extensive training both before and after they are hired.  Nearly every aspect—from employee appearance to temperament and preparedness—is intentionally instilled through a variety of strategies.
In this issue, The Large Park Report visited with several retired Disney executives who were closely involved in Cast Member training.  We gleaned several tips that, while Disney may have developed them, every amusement facility can incorporate these tips on some level to increase their positive guest experience.

The Power in Consistency

One of the hallmarks of Disney’s success in providing a positive guest experience is a well-trained team of employees.  When you consider the fact that, worldwide, Disney Parks employee tens of thousands of people, it’s easy to see that an organized strategy is needed to ensure consistency in hiring and training.  While your facility is unlikely to hire as many employees, you can still hire well-trained ones if you understand the reasons behind Disney’s success.
For starters, Disney operates several dedicated employment websites such as wdw.disneycareers.com.  These allow Disney to provide employment details—and set employment expectations—before an individual even applies.
A good example is easily found in the Overview section of the Disney Careers site where the company explains:
At the Walt Disney World® Resort, if you’re part of the cast, you’re part of something special. Whether you’re a dancer parading down Main Street, U.S.A.®, an engineer helping to refurbish an attraction or a chef whipping up an amazing dessert, you can create memories that our guests will cherish always.
From the very outset, Disney sets the expectation that a great guest experience is what all of their employees will work toward.  This is a much more effective approach that simply posting a job description to a general employment website because this extra level of effort makes clear that Disney is not just looking to fill empty job slots.
The Disney Careers website also shares real world testimonials from existing employees that further emphasize the expectations of a Disney Cast Member in a positive yet clear manner.  While Disney’s career websites are formatted with expensive bells and whistles (such as highly stylized graphics), you can still clearly establish job expectations through a simpler website.  The key is to emphasize in clear and well-organized language what you are seeking in an applicant in terms of job focus and performance.  This will likely help cull out people who are not good fits before they even apply.
Even so, some “bad fits” might still seek employment so that is why Disney has developed a careful screening process that identifies unique traits to different positions rather than simply lumping them all together.
For instance, some behind the scenes positions may require significantly less guest interaction.  These applicants, while they still need to be able to interact well, don’t have to prioritize their ability to interact with guests on a daily if not hourly basis.  On the other hand, an employee who will be working a queue line or show entrance has to be able to smile and create a guest experience—even when that employee is having the worst of days.
Which leads to a final “takeway” from the Disney training strategy (though “final” is somewhat of a misnomer because Disney literally has hundreds of strategies and these are just a short synopsis of several key ones):

Training Never Stops

The key here is understanding that, even though a new employee may have been trained to be technically proficient in operating a ride or playing a show role, technical proficiency should be the floor rather than the ceiling.  Indeed, at Disney, training is an ongoing process that includes regular, constructive feedback on a Cast Member’s job performance.
The “regular” part is important because it doesn’t leave employees guessing on how they are doing while the “constructive” part is key because it gives employees a pathway to improvement rather than just pointing out mistakes or problems.
This isn’t to say that Disney glosses over mistakes.  Accountability remains an important principle for a good Cast Member.  The distinction, though, is that accountability should be complemented with instruction on how to remedy or avoid future problems along with further instruction on how to increase future performance instead of just avoiding future mistakes.
Employees who are good fits for their job, know the expectations from the beginning, and are constructively trained to succeed (rather than just avoid failure) are the ones most likely to achieve long-term success.
Again, while these Disney training tips are just a short summary of the company’s extensive efforts to hire and train the industry’s most-guest friendly group of employees, the good thing is that all of these can be replicated by amusement facilities of all different sizes.  Ultimately, an investment in front-end hiring and long-term training will likely yield positive dividends in the continued competition for bringing guests through your turnstiles. -

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