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Creating Disney Magic: Lessons in Leadership, Management, and Customer Service

Lee Cockerell, former Executive Vice President of Operations for Walt Disney World, shares his wisdom and experience from his time with Disney, Marriott, and Hilton. Lee discusses how you can apply lessons in leadership, management, and customer service to create magic in your organization.
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Creating Disney Magic: Lessons in Leadership, Management, and Customer Service
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Dec 12, 2017

During a recent visit to an upscale hotel, I asked the Bellman if there were a second luggage rack available for our room. 

"I don't know", was all he said. 

Can you imagine? Yes, you probably can because underwhelming service like that has become overwhelmingly common. 

Most people will blame the bellman for having a bad attitude, or not caring. But it is not his fault. 

Sure, he did have a bad attitude. And he did not care about guests of the hotel. But the responsibility is with the general manager. Some of the problem can be found in training, but most of the problem is in hiring. When you hire for skill, or simply hire to fill an empty position, you end up with a staff that doesn't care. 

To deliver great service, you have to hire the right people. At Disney, I hired people to work in engineering, security, transportation, and other areas I have no skill in. But I was never hiring for skill. I was looking for motivation, attitude, and passion.  

If you want to take a new approach to hiring, Carol Quinn is the person I trust. Check out her book, Don't Hire Anyone Without Me, or her website to find out more. 

Dec 5, 2017

This episode of Creating Disney Magic was recorded in the lobby of the Coeur d'Alene Resort in Coeur d'Alene, ID. It was the perfect setting to discuss customer service. 

When you are at a resort or hotel, or anywhere for that matter, and get great service, it is likely the result of training. Sure, there are other factors, like good hiring practices and personal attitude, but for the most part, great service comes from great training. 

The same is true for bad service. Poor service comes from poor training. 

Poor training leads to poor service. And poor service can sour a customer's experience no matter how good your product is. And if you have outstanding service, you can get away with bad carpet. 

Nov 28, 2017

In this episode, we talk about Jeff Merhige, executive director of Camp Widjiwagan. Jeff applied what he learned in Creating Magic to find new ways to serve better. Jeff wanted to be great, and now the Camp he runs in great. Change like this starts at the top. 

Jeff made the decision to move from managing a facility to managing a culture. This is when he began to Create Magic. Now, the changes Jeff has made in himself have flowed down into employees of Camp Widjiwagan. Changes have flowed into the facilities. Changes have flowed into the experience of the campers. 

You, too, can decide to be a culture manager. It begins with making the decision to be excellent. 

Nov 21, 2017

When I spoke to the Tennessee Air National Guard, the Colonel surprised me with a challenge coin. 

A challenge coin is usually an award for excellence given out by officers in the military. 

Over the years, as I have spoken to military units, I have received probably 50 challenge coins. It is an honor to have each one of them, but this coin was different. 

 

When Colonel Smith handed me a challenge coin based on my book, The Customer Rules, I could hardly believe it. 

My book is about customer service. These challenge coins will be given out to airmen who show exceptional service to people. 

Colonel Smith gave me the honor of handing the coins to the first five recipients. 

The value of these coins is much greater than the cost to produce them. The military has figured this out. These challenge coins are a motivator. People are proud to receive these coins. Challenge coins are a unique way to show appreciation and recognition. 

What do you do to show appreciation to your employees?

Don't view tokens of appreciation as an expense. It is an investment in your employees. 

Don't underestimate the value of showing appreciation to your people. Little things become the big things. Most people have not been recognized. If you find a way to show appreciation, with a coin, a pin, or a note, they will take it home and show their family. 

Nov 14, 2017

This episode of Creating Disney Magic was recorded live at the Nashville airport.

After 3 presentations in Nashville, we were waiting at the Nashville airport and took the time to record. You will like the fun, conversational feel of this episode.

While we recorded, we sat on the shoe shine bench. Sitting up there talking into microphones attracted plenty of attention for people as they passed by.

While in Nashville, we stayed at the new TRU hotel by Hilton. Our hotel sparked the conversation for this episode. 

This hotel is not what you expect. Hilton is stepping out and creating a hotel with a unique environment by shifting the focus of the hotel from the rooms to the lobby.

Usually, you get a hotel with a big fancy room. This is what you have come to expect.

How can you take what people expect in your industry and rethink it?

Hilton reworked the lobby to be a gathering place. With this, they are keeping out in front of patterns and needs of customers. Consider what you can do to serve customers differently, uniquely, and in ways that serve customers better. The world is changing fast and you have to pay attention to how you can keep ahead rather than trying to catch up later.

If you want to exceed expectations through innovation you need to take what people expect and do it differently. Be curious. Look at what the competition is doing.

Nov 7, 2017

Have you ever been passed up for a promotion?

How did you handle it?

If you feel you have been overlooked, there are a couple of ways you can deal with it. 

When you don't get a promotion can do nothing. Or you can complain to your friends and family about how unfair it is. Or, and this is what I would do, is have a talk with your supervisor. Ask what you need to do to get a promotion the next time one is available.

If you want to understand the truth, you can ask for it. But you have to be open to hear the truth if you are fortunate enough to find someone willing to be candid with you. 

Next, set a date 90 days from now to make the decision to stay at the job or find a new job. If you don't feel like you are not being supported, it is time to go. Continue to do a great job before you leave, but don't discover yourself stuck in a job you don't want three years from now. 

In this episode, we also talk about time management. If you want to watch the first lesson of my Time Management Magic Course you can do so HERE.

You can find my Morning Magic Planner HERE.

Oct 31, 2017

When you start a new job, should you add your personal flavor right away? Or should you sit back and see how the new organization and staff operate? 

Personally, I would not do too much at first. Before I start to add my personality and ideas to the operation there are some things I am looking for. 

First, I want to understand what the issues are surrounding the new position and organization. Once I get the feel for the staff and the business, then it may be time to insert myself. 

"How long should I wait?" is a question I get asked. Well, I suggest taking 90 - 120 days to observe and understand the new business. 

I have seen so many people take a new job and run through the door making changes immediately. It never works. Even if you have support from the top, people do not like new people coming in and trying to make changes right away. They need to get to know you first. You need to get to know them.

You don't need to impress the boss the first day on the job. This is a long-term game. It takes patience and discipline. When you change things early, you often have to change them again because you made a mistake. Take your time and get the environment right. 

Oct 24, 2017

Often, people ask me about time management. It is a common question because I wrote Time Management Magic, and so many people struggle with getting work done. 

People are overwhelmed and are looking for an answer. This week on Creating Disney Magic, we answer a listener question better project and time management. 

If you are looking for a better time management system, technology is not always about the answer. 

Sure, technology can help, but rather than just keeping track of the things you need to do, wouldn't you be better off understanding how to keep your life under control?

Apps for your phone, or even a Day-Timer like I use, are just tools. They help you get to where you want to go, but you have to understand where you want to go in the first place. 

If you want to get started getting your life under control, my Time Management Magic seminar is a great place to begin. You can sign up for the course here

Oct 17, 2017

Donald Miller, author of Building a StoryBrand, returns as a guest on Creating Disney Magic to talk about why people are ignoring your brand. 

Every piece of marketing you do should communicate how you can help people survive and thrive and do so simply so customers will not have to burn calories to process the information. 

Unless your message is aimed at helping them survive and thrive, customers will ignore you. 

If your marketing makes people think too much, they will ignore you. 

In this episode, Don Miller breaks down how Disney applies these concepts to get loyal customers who return every year. 

If you are struggling to attract customers, you do not want to miss this episode. Don Miller will explain these concepts in a way to help you clarify your message. 

Get a copy of Building a StoryBrand.

Visit StoryBrand.com to find out more about Don Miller and get more StoryBrand resources. 

Oct 10, 2017

Nobody really cares about your story. Rather than hear your story, they want to be invited into a story where they can play the hero.

Disney has excelled by inviting people into a story. But do you have to be Disney to create a story people want to be a part of?

Of course not. And Donald Miller joins Creating Disney Magic to talk about how your business can build a story around your brand.

Don's new book, Building a StoryBrand teaches you how to invite people into a story and clarify your message so customers will listen.

In this episode, Don not only breaks down the StoryBrand Process, he examines how Disney has created used the story plot idea for not just Disney World, but for individual rides within the park.

Get a copy of Building a StoryBrand HERE. Learn how your organization can use this process to invite customers into a story your brand can deliver upon.

If you missed it when I was a guest on Donald Miller's podcast, you can hear it here.

Oct 3, 2017

This episode we celebrate the 150th episode of Creating Disney Magic. 

On this episode, we take on two listener questions. We talk about what to look for when you partner someone in business. At Disney, we were clear on what would be involved in a partnership. 

The second question is along the same lines. How do you get other businesses, who are your partners, who have different missions and values, to work in alignment? Again, it comes down to clarity. Everyone needs to understand what you expect and what it looks like to meet expectations.  

In both cases, the people you work with need to know how to satisfy customers. The experience should be seamless for customers.  

If you have a question you would like me to answer on the show, just reach out. Answering listener questions are my favorite part of the podcast. 

Sep 26, 2017

I recently returned from a tour through several countries including Russia, Czech Republic Austria, and Hong Kong. 

It reminded me how traveling and gaining a new experience can help you serve people better. 

You are never as good as you think you are. Traveling is one way to find out what other people and organizations are doing.  You will find out how good you really are and how you can get better. 

When you understand how good you can be, you will raise your standards. 

Experience and exposure are two things you will gain from traveling that will change your worldview and help you better serve your customers.

You don't have to travel internationally. Visit big cities. Visit new businesses. Go places where you don't know people where your eyes will be open to a new way of doing things. 

Travel changes who you are. Every new experience opens your eyes. 

Time Management Magic is now available as an audiobook. You can get the book here

If you don't have a copy of the Morning Magic Planner, you can get it here

Sep 19, 2017

When I was at Disney and someone would tell me they wanted more money, my answer was almost always "yes." But probably not in the way you think. 

Here is how I would tell people they could get more money;

"There is always a position that pays more than the one you are in. If you want more money, become qualified for the other position. 

When you can show us you are capable of performing a job that pays more, you will make more." 

When I would explain it so straightforward, people would understand. Just tell people the truth. 

If you want more money you have to be qualified to earn it. It is that simple. 

When I worked as a Greaseman at a hotel in Lake Tahoe, I wanted more money than the $90 per week I earned. When I promoted to housekeeping a $10 per week raise came with the position. I became more qualified, moved into a different position and earned more money. 

This is the formula to get more money. 

Identify the job you want and focus on what it will take to get in that position. Talk to people who have the job. Find out more about the position and keep learning. Most people don't try hard enough. If you apply yourself and show you can do the work, you will get your chance. Be persistent. 

Sep 12, 2017

There was a time when I was running Walt Disney World when I was frustrated we were not improving customer service quick enough. At the same time, we were not moving quickly enough to build trust with cast members. 

That was when I developed the Disney Great Leader Strategies. You can find the 10 Great Leader Strategies in my book, Creating Magic

Our Great Leader Strategies moved Disney World from being good to great. Or great to greater. 

Developing the strategies was one thing. Getting everyone on board was another thing. 

In this episode of Creating Disney Magic, I share the story behind the implementation of the Great Leader Strategies to over 40,000 cast members. 

I began by spending 4 hours with my direct reports, explaining each strategy and explaining what my expectations were. From there, each of them had 3 weeks to pass the Great Leadership Strategies on to their direct reports. And so it went until every cast member had been trained. 

Too often, when an organization wants to implement a new policy or procedure, or even make a drastic change like we did at Disney World, a leader will just issue a memo. Without proper communication, hope is all you have to rely on. 

For change to take hold, you have to roll it out slowly with great detail. Communication is the key. 

The best definition of communication is clarity. Without clarity, people will not understand what you expect and what they need to do. 

You can find the Teacher's Guide for Creating Magic here

Sep 5, 2017

In every organization and every business, we have to deal with angry customers. 

Some of them are so angry the situation can be hard to diffuse. 

When a family saves money for years to visit Disney and something goes wrong, they can get very angry. When a situation got to me, I did what ever I could to solve their problem. 

Remember, they are not mad at your personally. They have 10 other problems you don't even know about. Don't take it personally. 

The customer is not always right, they are often wrong. But they are always the customer. And you if you want them to be a repeat customer you do what you can to turn the situation around.

Don't get defensive. Use empathy and try to solve the problem. 

Do your best and then forgive yourself. That is all you can do. 

Aug 29, 2017

This week a listener asked a question about whether a company should hire employees or contractors. 

Sometimes organizations let contractors get away with behavior they would not let performers get away with. 

If you are going to use contractors, you need to include clarity in the contract. Outline behavior, appearance, client interaction. Lay out expectations for professionalism and hold them to it. 

At Disney, we are so clear with contractors a guest would never know if they had an interaction with a cast member or a contractor. 

If contractors are not living up to expectations, you need to deal with it promptly and directly. If they are doing business in your name, they need to perform as well as you do. 

Also in this episode, I answer a second listener question about how to find a job when you move to a new area. 

Aug 22, 2017

When I was in charge of East Coast Food & Beverage Operations for Marriott, I would stop by a hotel and meet with the waitresses and waiters. I would ask one question, "What problem can I solve for you today?"

It was a small question with a big impact. 

Often, the problems they needed to be solved were simple. They were not big issues, but the problems were a big deal to the people who could not do their job properly. 

When you have an employee who serves the guest, getting them what they need to properly do their job will have a big impact. The employee will be happy and have more respect for the leadership of the organization, and the customer will be happy, too.

In order to build trust, you have to take care of the problems they tell you about.  The more you take care of employees, the more they will trust you with the problems in the way of serving customers.

If you want your copy of the Morning Magic Planner, you can find it here

Aug 15, 2017

When you leave a position, you are often asked to do an exit interview. How should you handle it?

If you are taking a position in the same company, only tell them good things. Resist the temptation to explain how you could have been handled better, or items that have frustrated you. Tell them you learned a lot and you appreciate the time people gave you. Explain how what you learned in the position helped you get a promotion. 

If you are leaving the company, feel free to tell them the truth about why you are leaving. If you have a good relationship with your supervisor, you can offer some feedback on how to improve. But there really is no upside for you to offer feedback as you leave. 

Giving feedback is as art. You have to have the right relationship to be able to give candid feedback on your way out. 

If you are faced with an exit interview, just smile and tell them how much you enjoyed your job. You can never get yourself in trouble that way. 

Aug 8, 2017

How candid are you with the people you care about? 

Candor does not show up as often as it should. But you can't have a healthy workplace without candor.

If you want someone to do well, you have to tell them the truth with empathy. This is what candor is all about - truth with empathy.

You shouldn't tell truth if there is nothing in it for the other person.

You can get a reputation for being someone who tells the truth to help other people.

If you don't tell someone the truth and they fail, it is your fault.

Begin today. Be candid.

Aug 1, 2017

If you have been to Disney World, you may have enjoyed a great meal at the California Grill. You may not realize the story behind what it took to create such a great restaurant. 

California Grill may seem like a standard at Disney World now, but it was a risk to get the restaurant off the ground. 

When we wanted to add the new restaurant, Deiter Hanning -a world-class chef -  and I flew out to visit Michael Eisner and ask him for $6 Million dollars. 

It was a risk that paid off. For me and for Disney World. California Grill turned around food and beverage at Disney World. 

Are you willing to take a big risk?

You have to be willing to put yourself on the line and take a risk. 

If you feel comfortable, you are not taking enough risk. 

Risk can seem scary.  Throughout my career, I have managed risk by making sure I have a hand in the outcome.

Here are two ways you can manage risk;

Don't be afraid to get experts around you. When you have consulted experts you will be prepared for any resistance you may get. 

Don't do things too fast. Take time to understand what you are doing. And give the emotions time to pass. 

Jul 25, 2017

When you hire a new employee it can be difficult to introduce her to your company culture.

This week, I answer a listener question from someone who is concerned about properly training employees while building a culture of trust without making

Clarity is the key to bringing new employees on board. Let them know up front what to expect, how often they will see you, and what will happen once they have demonstrated a full grasp of their tasks and responsibilities. Next, you have to take the time to make sure they know what they are doing.

Clarity and communication are so vital to build trust and get other people on board to what you are doing.

At Disney, we inject so much pixie dust into new cast members they can't get it out. We begin with training and education so they understand we do things the way we do them.

CLICK HERE to get my Morning Magic Planner. 

Jul 18, 2017

Work Life balance is a myth. You only have one life and it includes work, family, and your personal life. You have to get all those elements in rhythm, not balance. 

Here are three you can maintain the right rhythm in your life;

  1. Say No to most things. 
  2. Understand and focus on the few things you need to work on. 
  3. Get experts around you. 

 

It is critical you spend time in a way that brings an investment back on your time. Stop wasting time. 

You are wasting time every day. I know you could find an extra hour each day. The question is, do you have the self-discipline to implement the changes you need to make?

 

If you need help finding the right rhythm in your life, check out my Time Management Magic online course

Jul 11, 2017

Do you have a great life? If not, what not? A great life is within your reach, but you have to decide you want a better life. 

"What if" are words Lou Mongello did want haunting him later in life. So he left his job as a lawyer in New Jersey and moved to Orlando to pursue a great life. Now, Lou is the host of the popular WDW Radio. Lou has a great life.  

If you are young, go do what you love. Make mistakes. Get experience. Make money later in your life. 

Fear today is not nearly as bad as regrets tomorrow. 

Getting fired showed me there is not too much to be afraid of. If I can get fired from my job and still find a way to provide for my family, how bad can it be? Knowing this armed me with what I needed to take bigger risks. 

In my entire career, I have only had a handful of days where I did not want to be there. Taking risks lead to a great career. 

If you become complacent, you will not be successful. Do not settle. Failure comes when you quit.

Are you going to settle for a good life? Or, are you ready to have a great life?

Don't underestimate what you can do with your life. 

Jul 4, 2017

Twenty-Five years ago Disneyland Paris opened. On this episode of Creating Disney Magic, I reflect on the experience of being involved in opening the park. 

Lou Mongello, host of WDW Radio joins us to discuss Disneyland Paris and ask some tough questions about what it took to introduce the Disney culture to Europe. 

In this episode, you will learn about my personal experience in Paris. And you will take away lessons you can apply in your life and business.

You may also enjoy this episode of WDW Radio where I join Lou Mongello to talk about DisneyWorld. 

You can find out more about Lou Mongello HERE and listen to WDW Radio HERE

Jun 27, 2017

How do you handle criticism?

Criticism can be hard to take. Personally, I used to feel stung when someone criticized me, even if they were trying to help.

When you make a mistake or receive criticism, the only way to handle it is to focus on being great. Get back in favor by letting people see you have a great attitude and you have learned a lesson.

You can get your copy of the Morning Magic Planner here.

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