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This business coaching session is about building your team of employees and learning to hire like Disney.

Results-Focused Training, Tools, and Workshops from Expert Business Coaches.

Featured Coaching Excerpt - Notes & Transcript, Part 1
  • Lesson Nugget: When looking to hire a new employee, be sure to know not only what skill set they need, but also what kind of personality fits that position best.
  • Lesson Nugget: Explain to your employees that personal problems should never be brought to work. While at work, their main focus has to be on the customer.
  • Lesson Nugget: Just like with customers, you must create a good first impression with new employees. That way, they already have some buy-in before any unpleasantries of work arise.
  • Lesson Nugget: Build checklists for each job so that new hires are trained in every area of their job.

how to hire like disney, small business ideas

CLAY CLARK: 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 we're going to learn how to hire like Disney. No matter what kind of business you have or you want to have, you're going to have to hire people who are going to work with you to help you offer value to your customers.

A lot of businesses struggle to find the right people. And we're going to learn how Disney World finds the right people, trains the right people, and ultimately wows their customers with great people. Today's episode could be worth millions and millions of dollars to you. I work with businesses all over the country that really, really struggle to find good people and to train good people. And if we just take these principles we're learning today and we apply it into our business, it's going to absolutely change our workforce, which is going to change the results that we get and the value we can offer to customers.

Remember, at Thrive15.com we believe that knowledge without application is meaningless. So as you're watching today's episode, take a moment to ask yourself, what do you need to do to uniquely apply today's success principles in your own life and business? Otherwise, you're going to find that today's episode is more meaningless than the credit score of the city of Detroit.

At Disney, one of the things that I've noticed when I took my kids there, and I don't know if it's true or not or if it was just my perception. But it seemed like everybody was really on stage at Disney. You call them cast members, the employees. It seemed like every person we encountered, seemed like they were full of joy and wanted to be there. Can you describe to me what kind of people you're looking to hire at Disney? What kind of people you looked to hire at Disney?

-Yeah. We really looked for nice people, people with big personalities, people that actually enjoy dealing with people, people who are not too introverted. They can stand out there eight hours when it's hot and kids are screaming and take care of the guests. And they like to serve. You know, there's something called the spirit of service. You've got to have it if you don't mind serving people. And some people don't like to serve people. And we just do a better job, I think, of hiring those people.

CLAY CLARK: You just said something that I don't want to skip over. You said people that aren't too introverted. Now, there's nothing wrong with introverted people. There's a place for them on the planet. There's things they do well. But you wouldn't hire them to work at Disney out there.

-Well, we wouldn't hire them to be guest facing. We might hire them to be in the back in purchasing and store room receiving. Introverted people are fine, but there's a place where you need. You know, it's like when you pick somebody for the Broadway show. They got to have certain talents.

-You didn't feel bad about that, though? Not hiring an introverted person to work with your guests?

-No, no, no. And there's somebody's got to pull the curtain at Broadway. Well, maybe they ought to be pulling the curtain and not be one of the actors. It's like, everybody can't be a professional baseball player. Some people got to clean the--

-Well you kind of answered this, but what kind of people was Disney not looking to hire?

-Well, first we're skeptical about people who change jobs every few months. We are skeptical about people who can't explain to us why they changed jobs. But we're looking for people who really enjoy being with guests, who enjoy being with people, who, again, they just have the right attitude. And they can explain that. They can explain how they do it in their personal life. How they enjoy being around people. How they enjoy taking care of difficult situations. Because you get a lot of those at Disney.

-There's a mentor of mine who told me, he said, Clay, your business is not a church. It is a business. And he was trying to explain to me that I shouldn't hire the people among our population with the most personal problems possible. I should really find people that have it together and try to hire those people. Because my customers won't come back if I irritate them all the time.

Can you explain the fine line? Because I know you're a kind-hearted person. You do care about people. I know you've demonstrated that. How do you--

LEE COCKERELL: I think people can have personal problems, as long as they don't bring them to work. That's what we very clearly explain to them. We all got personal problems.

-Everyone does.

LEE COCKERELL: But we want you to understand that, if you're going to work here, you can't bring those. And if you've got an attitude problem, and you got to go out there, and you want to argue with fellow cast members in front of our guests and say inappropriate things, and not have your name tag on, and not shine your shoes, and not comb your hair, you're not going to be here. We are putting on a show. And we're putting on a hit show. Not an off Broadway. We're putting on an on-Broadway show. And it takes talent to do that.

CLAY CLARK: Now a lot of small businesses I work with all across the country, they'll find a top talent, and they'll say, this person is the chosen one. This is the person we want to hire. We want to bring them on our team. And again, they only have 10 employees or less. They don't have hundreds of employees. They have 10 employees or less.

How important is it in your mind to wow that new recruit on that first day of work? When that new recruit comes there, how important is it for you to really make a great first impression?

-Well, we obviously at Disney think that's important because we have a very uplifting first day for everybody, whether they're watching cartoons and Snow White and all the fluff. How magical Disney is. Then you get to the workplace. And your boss wants you to cook French fries for eight hours and mop the floor. And we try to make sure that we try to get that experience still positive. It's kind of like, when's the best time to bond with the baby? Right away. Hold them, hug them, love them.

Same with a new employee. Stay close to them. Take them to lunch. Make sure they get their check on time. Make sure you're talking to them about the long-term advantages of staying at Disney. Because they're not committed when they come to work the first day. They don't know what a great career they can have. So right away we're trying to get all over that so they don't quit. At Disney, just like first 90 days are touchy, because we lose most of our people in the first 90 days.

CLAY CLARK: Do you have, did you guys have an outlined, documented system for the first 90 days?

-Depends. Every job has a different list. If you're working on a front desk, the training is about 30 days.

CLAY CLARK: So day one you do this, day two you're going to--

LEE COCKERELL: Cleaning the bathroom might be seven days. Cooking might be 12 days. Every job has a period.

-But there was a definite time line of--

LEE COCKERELL: Oh, and what you learn, and it's a sign-off that you've learned this and this and this and this. Including--

-You sign off on it?

-Yeah, your manager does. It's a little check list they sign off on. Make sure you've had that


Have small business ideas?

Featured Coaching Excerpt - Notes & Transcript, Part 2
  • Lesson Nugget: A company with a small vision will not be able to attract people that want to do big things in their lifetime.
  • Ask Yourself: What value or vision can my company offer to new hires?
  • Lesson Nugget: Be sure that new employees catch the vision of your company on their first day of work.
  • Lesson Nugget: Publicly acknowledging and praising employees for their good work is a great way to keep them inspired and excited about the vision of the company.
  • Lesson Nugget: Sharing the vision does not need to be difficult. Take five minutes to meet with your team each morning to remind and reaffirm the big goal and vision of the company.

-Now what steps did Disney take to impress the top talent. I know you talked a little bit about you're watching some Disney movies, and you have kind of the fluff, I guess. But what-- is there just endless things you did to try to--

-Well, the first day is just like, you go away, we inject the pixie dust into you. You are like, hooked, when you leave the first day. You're going, oh, this is the best thing. I'm the luckiest person in the world to get hired here.


-And it's so magical. And they take you on a tour and you see the characters and you watch the parade and you're going to be a part of this. And by then, people are already pretty hooked on Disney. And then reality sets in. I mean, it's-- the work shows up in a day or two.

And it's hard and you're tired and you're on your feet for eight hours and you're exhausted and your manager's not as nice as the lady was the first day. So there's downfalls, too. That's why we really work so hard to have great leaders, so they can keep that going.

-I'll never forget this, but many years ago I was working with some guys who are in the landscaping business. This is many years ago and it's a husband and wife team. Working with these guys. And I remember asking them, well, if someone-- they were having a hard time recruiting somebody.

And I said, well, if I come to work for you, what do I do? And they're like, you just make calls. And I'm like, well, who do I check in with? Well, we're going to be out mowing, she's going to be out at the trade shows, and you'll be calling. Well, but then what? Well, you'll just be calling. Well, is there any interaction? Is there any-- and if I do well at calling, do I get promoted? And they're like, no. No. We want to keep our business small and manageable.

And I was trying to explain to the guys. I'd say, guys, just being real. There's no vision here. And I wouldn't work here. There's no way I would stay with your company with a vision that includes your wife being at trade shows, you mowing, and me answering phones. I wouldn't care.

-And that's my life.

-Well, I just want to know, for you, is how important is the vision of Disney to keeping and attracting top talent?

-Well, there's a huge vision that there's opportunity there.


-So if you don't speak English, we have 1,200 people in English classes all the time. And after you take English and we give you two hours a week off to go to English class, five years later, you might be the manager. And so everybody knows this. Everybody knows that we promote 85% inside. We promote from down in the ranks.

You can start-- we got many, many stories about people who start at this level and end up-- I mean, when you talk about Lee Cockerell, you know, he was a waiter back when he started his career, and now he's the executive vice president. Or Al Weiss was working cash registers. Now he's the president. And we tell those stories, and they're widely known. And it gives people hope. That hey, this is pretty cool. I could have a career here, not just a job.

-So then how was the vision shared on a weekly basis? Did you have newsletters going out? Did you have constant announcements? How did you make sure that all 40,000 cast members knew about the vision on an ongoing basis?

-There was a newsletter went out every Friday at 5 o'clock. I wrote it. Fifteen to twenty pages. And it had a lot of letters in there from guests about how great John Jones was, how great Mary was. And a story about them. It had safety tips. It had tips on how to get ahead in your career, what courses you could take at the Disney Institute. And it was every week. And so people got-- their managers used it in pre-meal meetings before we start our shifts. They'd read one of those stories. I mean, we just--

-Our country, you know, and it's in "Inc., Magazine," it was 13% of all Americans are self-employed now. Most of them have 10 employees or less. And a lot of people say, oh I don't have time to share the vision, because I'm so busy mowing lawns. I don't have time to share the vision because I'm just too busy seeing patients. I don't have enough time the share the vision because-- I would argue that you can't become a big business unless you cast the vision.

-So I think they're trying too hard and not understanding. If you just met with your staff for five or six or seven minutes every morning before you unlock the door and tell them, guys, you're all doing a great job. Today I really want you to focus on the children that are coming in. Their mother's probably not feeling well. Get a good channel the TV. Let's make sure we got good children's storybooks over there for them. And by the way, I want you to, when they leave, when you see them, walk outside with them, help them to the car with the kids.

And every day, you'd have a conversation like, and today, I want you to focus on the older people coming in today. They're having have a hard time. Mr. Jones will be here at 10 o'clock, and he's in a wheelchair. I want you to really be all over him when he walks in. He's grumpy and we can make him happy. Every day. So five, six, seven minutes. That's like 40 hours a year of training.


-And people trying to think about it as a big clump of time. Don't think about life as a big clump. Little things.


-All day long. If I only tell you, if you work for me and I just occasionally, once or twice a week, tell you how great you are, you'll remember.

Featured Coaching Excerpt - Notes & Transcript, Part 3
  • Lesson Nugget: Constant training, communication, and recognition all work to ensure that each employee catches the vision and thrives in their position.
  • Lesson Nugget: Constantly reinforcing your goals and values ensures your team will remember them after time.
  • Lightbulb Moment: Without a strong culture, it is not possible for your company to be excellent because your people won't be excellent.
  • Lesson Nugget: Culture is not part of the game, it is the game.


-Now here's the the thing. There's some people that don't share the vision. They're cynical. So maybe they-- they somehow tricked you in the interview. And they're working there, and they kind of don't share the vision.

You talk about making the magic happen. They're like, yeah, yeah, yeah. Make the magic happen. You're talking about we're going to put on a show, and they're kind of cynical about it. How did you make sure that everyone shared the same vision and culture?

-Well, first we had-- I think it was the management training too. We had the Disney write out the strategies. Everybody understood what their behavior was expected to be a leader, be a manager. We do a lot of communication. Everybody has a lot of meetings with each other.

We have a lot of recognition events, and we have a lot of informal recognition. From the manager knowing that he can give one of his employees just a little pin saying, you're doing a great job, and he does it in front of everybody before you open the door this morning. And those people glow, and their performance skyrockets.

You know, probably the best thing you can do to keep people is make them feel like they matter. I mean, who doesn't want to know they matter? And when I tell you, you matter and I want you here and I'm going to help you get ahead and I'm going to make sure you get training and I'm going to make sure you get development and I'm going to be there for you-- if you have those kind of leaders, that outcome happens.

-How'd you share your values? Disney has certain values.


CLAY CLARK: How'd you share those?

-In fact, they were in the newsletter every week.

CLAY CLARK: Every week.

-Every week. Right on the first page.

CLAY CLARK: You going to quiz people on those things?

-Yeah, first page.

CLAY CLARK: What were the values?

-Honesty, integrity, telling the truth, cleanliness, being available for your team members.

-And you just kind of shared these to subconsciously--

LEE COCKERELL: Over and over and over.

-Never stopping.

-It's like children. You'll never get tired of telling your sick kids the same thing for 20 years, right?

-Right, right.

-And one day someone's going to say, you have such wonderful children, and you're going to say, you don't know what I went through. I mean, because you've got to tell over and over and over. You got to tell people until it locks in and it takes time.

-One of the things when I were making a list of people we'd like to have on the Thrive team as mentors, one of the things we looked for was people that embrace excellence and they want to help other people and serve other people.

And that's why your name came on the list, that's why David Robinson's name was on the list, that's why a lot of people were on that list. When I came to your house and met you and your wife, and you guys had that culture. And it's one of service, and you want to treat people the way you want to be treated, and it's apparent.

Some businesses, you walk in and there's that culture-- like a brooding culture. A culture of despair. A culture of [EXHALE]. We're here at work today. A culture of our company, if we can just eke out another week-- how did you cultivate the culture at Disney, and how important is the culture to getting top people to work there?

-I would say the most important thing is-- you've heard the old saying. Culture's not part of the game. It is the game.


-It is. In your family. It's the environment and culture. That's what your children are going to feel safe, appreciated, important, educated, and culture. And I think too many companies don't understand that they have to decide what they want their culture to look like and work toward it and not just let it become whatever it becomes on its own.

The culture at Disney, it involves everyone. It makes everybody feel like they matter. It educates everyone. Everyone's important, everybody has an equal chance at jobs, everybody can get tuition reimbursement, everybody can get an award, so culture's everything. I mean, really. If you have strong culture-- without a strong culture you can't be excellent, I don't think, because your people won't be excellent.



Without a strong culture you can't be excellent, I don't think, because your people won't be excellent.

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