Learn the Disney approach to finding, training and retaining good employees. Learn the basics of how to inspire your people from Lee Cockerell, the man who once managed over 40,000 people at Walt Disney World® Resort.Sign Up to Watch
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-My name is Clay Clark and I'm the CEO of Thrive15.com. Today we are joined with Lee Cockerell, the guy who used to run Walt Disney World Resort. And he's going to teach us how we can inspire our employees. If you own a business, you probably have people working for you. And if you want to own a business, you're going to have people working for you. And we all have to learn to inspire our team to achieve greatness and to wow customers.
And Lee Cockerell's going to teach us how to do it. I'm just telling you, I see business owners all across the world who I meet with who struggle to inspire their team. But if you'll apply the principles you're learning today, it could be worth millions of dollars for you. Remember at Thrive15.com, we believe that knowledge without application is always meaningless.
So as you're watching today's episode, take a moment to ask yourself, what can you do to uniquely apply these success principles in your own life and business. Otherwise, today's episode may just turn out to be more meaningless than a congressional budget proposal.
-Now, Lee, at one point I read that you oversaw I believe 40,000 people. Basically like an army of employees. Again, I mean, basically a baseball stadium worth of size of group of people. What was the actual total before you retired? What was the number of people you managed?
-I think we were-- it was in the 40s. 40,000 that were under operations, which I was responsible for plus 5,000 managers.
-How many direct reports came to you?
-Yeah. I had different times over the years, the 10 years I was there we reorganized a few times. At one point, I had six. One time, I had 14. Actually, I had the 14 first and then eventually got see I needed to really reorganize because that was too many to try to keep up with. But it worked good. I mean, I'm not a manager that has a need to know everything.
I hire great people and then I let them do their job. I don't lay awake at night worrying about what I don't know. And I kind of focus on where I should be spending my time, not bothering them all day long. If I've hired a great person, I let them do their job and they communicate with me.
-If I own a small business, how many people, ideally, should be reporting directly to me?
-Yeah, I mean, if you've got a business of 10, you probably want them all.
-OK. What if I have 20?
-Why have somebody between you and them? Every time you put somebody between you and everybody else, it gets diluted. The communication, the expectations, everything gets diluted. And so if you have 20, you may want to have one person that takes care operations while you take care of running HR area, the payroll, financing the business, and inventory, and purchasing. I think as you get bigger, you need one person that's looking after the customer and somebody that's looking after the administration as you get bigger. For sure.
-As I've been around you a little bit and I try to watch as much as I can on YouTube or Vimeo about you and read your books, one of things that I've discovered about you and every successful entrepreneur I've ever been around or business person, you have the ability or the least you have decided you're going to inspire your team.
And when I see entrepreneurs that are struggling, it seems like they don't inspire their team or seem like they have a lot of patience or a lot of desire to inspire their team. Talk to me about how important it is to keep your entire team, all 40,000 cast members, inspired.
-Well, I think it's everything at Disney because the work's hard. It's not magical to work in there every day. It's like hard work. After you've served 8,000 people for lunch and cooked a million pounds of French fries and cleaned up the tables and parked 1,200 strollers and wheelchairs, it's hard work. And so we have a purpose statement at Disney, which we remind our employees, cast members, all the time. And it goes like this, so that they can keep some inspiration.
We said, we all have a different role at Disney. Everybody's got a different job, but we only have one purpose. And that's to make sure that every guest who comes to Disney World has the most fabulous time of their life. Every guest, this is the most fabulous time of their life. Whether you're an engineer, whether you're cook, whether you're-- you may never see a customer but you still have the ability to make sure they have the most wonderful time by cooking that burger perfectly, salting those fries, because it'll end up out there. We all impact the customer experience. All.
-If we're on a motorboat through life, and we're on this water and we're kind of-- over time, people kind of drift or they take their eye off the-- if we know we need to go from this shore to that shore, we kind of take our eye off the horizon line or off the shore. We kind of drift. How do you keep the Disney ship from drifting? How do you keep the team inspired ongoing? What kind of systems do you have to keep the team inspired?
-Certainly, leadership matters. I mean, we all want to work for somebody who is a good role model and who has high energy and a positive person, a person who helps us. Every time a cast member would tell me they have a great leader, I'd say, tell me why.
They said, they'll help us. They're always available. They come out. When I need to talk to them, they'll talk to us. They helped me get through it. I had a rough situation. They worked me through it. They gave me time off when I needed. They cared about me. And I think that in the workplace today, a lot of people worked at other places where they're just like a person. Nobody knows them.
They don't know their aspirations, what they're trying to achieve. We don't help them achieve it. We don't help them get into the right classes. We don't give them the right feedback. And we basically, don't care. We don't tell how much we care about them. And we want to help them be successful.
-On a very practical level, assuming that I'm just like a person who just needs to be told exactly what to do. If I own a small business, what would you recommend I do on a weekly basis to inspire my team. Is a weekly meeting with my staff? Or is it daily? Should a daily five minutes? Or is it--
-Well, if you got a small staff, you should find time throughout the week to at least touch them during the week. I always tell people, it's important that you touch the people before you touch the computer or get to work. Go around and see your people in the morning. Tell them how much-- how's it going? How was the soccer game last night? How's your mom doing? Anything I can do to help with her?
-Do you recommend the first part of the day do that?
-I do when you get in. Before you get wrapped up in all the problems. You're going to have a me-- You might even be there the rest of their time. Something happens at home. You gotta go. I always tell people, touch your people, but touch the paper later. Touch the-- go around. Tell your people. How's it going? Check everybody. When you have a small team, you can do that.
-Touch the people. Touch the paper later. Paperwork later.
-Don't go in and close your door and get on the computer before you go around and see how everybody's doing. How was your mother last time? I heard your father fell and broke his hip. Is he doing OK? Anything we could do to help you? Do you need some time off? People go, wow, what a great boss I have.
-So you like to inspire your team, to take time every day to touch the people first, then the paper. Do you like to have an inspirational meeting with your team once a week? Or is there a newsletter I need to be sending out?
-You meet with people when you think it's appropriate. I used to meet with mine once a week. And they started to complaint, we don't really have a enough stuff to talk about once a week. It's wasting our time. We have to drive over here. We've got to take care of our customers. You're taking us out of our operation. And so, I listened to them. I switched it to once a month. That way we had a lot on the agenda in a month. And during the rest of the month, I communicated with them either email or text or face to face or on the phone. We have so many ways. And wanted to meet when they thought it was appropriate. Not when Lee-- just so I could get in front of them and be the boss, sit up at the head of the table.
-In your mind, then-- you make it sound so simple. I mean, I think that's the thing that you're diligent about doing it consistently. It sounds so simple. For the business owners that are really struggling and the managers who are really struggling to inspire their team, what would you say to them? How would you encourage them? What should they be doing?
-Well, you can't inspire your team unless you get to know them. You can't inspire them unless they know you care about them. I would say, be careful how you handle them. Be open minded about helping them and with their schedules and with all the difficulties. I would say most people have about half their team is living on the edge these days. Foreclosure, divorce, all kinds of problems. In fact, you may be the light. When they come into work in the morning may be the best part of their day. Don't make it worse. They already got enough problems. Make it better. And when you've got people who've become committed-- I love the word commitment because you're not looking for loyalty. You're not looking for just people to show up. You're looking for commitment, people who go all the way for the company, will go all the way for the customer. Who do it because they feel like they're part-- they feel a responsibility to do it. The way you treat them is the way they treat the customer.
-That's the way it is.
-How important was it for your team to buy into you, Lee Cockerell-- the person, the man, the father, the friend-- before they bought into the company? I mean, how important was that for them to buy into you?
-It was a big deal. And it took time, too. Because I was coming from the outside, Marriott. I'd been at Disney World, but I came back here. I never worked in a theme park.
-Now I'm in charge.
-And they're like, "What do you know about running a theme park?"
-And it took awhile before-- but I remember one lady who got promoted. She told me, one day she said, Lee, I want to tell you something. I appreciate you because you let me be me. You didn't try to take over and tell me everything. You let me be me.
-And you lead and manage people as individuals, not as a set concept. I knew what she had a situation with her mother, I worked with her on that, making sure she could get off. This other guy had a different issue.
One lady said, if I could just leave on Wednesday at 3 o'clock one time a week, I'd be happy, to go pick my daughter up early and spend the day with her. Fine. We work that out. And this one needed something else, and this needs-- And all of the sudden you get people where they say, wow. He's looking after me. And I did that, because, why not? I mean--
-You know, Steve Jobs had said that 90% of the agenda at Apple was basically the same stuff every week. You know, the same kinds of things of did we get this done, did we get that done, are we getting this done. And then there was that extra 10% that was the proactive, the really big stuff.
Did you keep a printed out agenda for these monthly meetings with your team, or how did you make sure there was some sense of order to those meetings?
-In fact, I quit running them and let them run them. Because every month, we had-- I had like six direct reports, and each month one of them would take the meeting, put the agenda together, and run the thing. And I'd sit on the side, not at the head of the table.
So, you know, when the boss talks first, you get don't get much involvement in the meeting. When the boss sits on the side and lets the meeting run, you know. I always told people, if you're the boss, give your opinion last, not first. Because you'll shut everybody down. Just keep your mouth shut. Your time will come later in the meeting. And--
-Don't call them in there, OK, folks. We're going to have a meeting today about having improved service. Now here's what I think we should do. What's everybody else going to say? Yeah, we agree, boss. You know, first you let them, and then you chime in. And actually you seem smarter at the end, because now you can take everything they said and make the final comment.
-Now, do you believe in mission statements? Because a lot of companies have mission statements. No one knows what they are. You know, a lot of employees don't know what the mission statement is. Do you believe in mission statements? And let's just talk a little bit about, you know, as it relates to inspiring people. Do you believe in a mission statement, and how do people get to know--
-I didn't for a long time. Because I usually hung in the corporate office and talked about shareholder value, and employees could care less. They're just trying to feed their family.
And then I was at Marriott running a hotel. And I had a new hotel going up across the street, and I was worried about it. All brand new. Mine was-- hadn't been renovated. And I said, how do I-- how do I beat that hotel? And I knew it'd be through service.
I went around and met with every employee, and I created the mission statement. I didn't hire a consultant. And it was this simple. I said, your mission is, be so nice to the guests they can't believe it. I told the housekeepers, little ladies cleaning the rooms, you be so nice to the guests they can't believe it. And that means do your job. And when the guest asks you for something, stop doing your job, and go do what they want you to do.
And then I went and told the waiters, be so nice to the guests they can't believe it. If they tell you to pour ketchup on their head, pour it on their head. Do whatever they want. Make them happy.
-So that I saw it happen. Even when I left, they wrote on my little going away thing, Lee, remember, make the guest so happy they won't believe it.
-And the housekeepers wrote, remember, Lee, no hair in the sinks.
-Right. Because I pounded that. So then I got to Disney and we didn't have that statement. And I made it up. I said, you know, if you're cooking french fries, that's not a purpose in life.
But a purpose is making sure every guest has the most wonderful time when they come to Disney. And so your french fries are going to be crisp and hot and salted and brown and beautiful, and you're going to take pride in them. Because you know, in a few minutes, you may never see the guest, but your french fries are going to see the guest one at a time.
And people get it. A lady in purchasing told me, she said, and maybe I'm the most important person. I order the french fries.
-Because if you serve burgers and you don't have fries, you got a problem.
-Putting that in that we are all connected. If you've got people in your business that don't take care of the customer, you don't need them. Accounts payable, how they treat the customers, the vendors. Receivables. When people pay late, still be nice to them.
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