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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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May 22, 2018

When you are searching for people to add to your staff, you have to have a wide approach. 

Don't just post a job opening and hope the right person applies. 

Finding the right person starts long before you have a job opening. Having the right contacts and relationships with a wide variety of people can lead you to the right person, so it is a good idea to meet people across different industries and professions. 

At Disney World, we would carry a card to give to people we think would be a good fit at Disney. 

Focus on getting well known in your community. Have a good relationship with high schools and colleges. 

One of the best sources of new employees is right in front of you. Good people bring good people into the organization. If you have good employees already, turn to them to get referrals. 

When it comes to hiring the right people, create obstacles in your interview process. Never judge the size of the obstacle. Consider their thinking process and the motivation behind their actions. Carol Quinn is the authority when it comes to hiring. Check out her book Don't Hire Anyone Without Me

You may also consider including a scenario or a task in the interview process. For example, you may want to have a chef make a hamburger as part of the interview process. 

May 15, 2018

Emergencies are the extreme example of finding out how well you have done in delegating authority. 

When you have an emergency you have no time for anyone to wonder what they should do and what responsibility they have. You have to sort it out before you have a problem. 

You don't plan what to do in a tornado when you hear the tornado siren. 

Think about what could go wrong. Work through the scenarios and determine who will do what task. Part of the planning for handling an emergency is to talk to people so they know what they will be doing. Everyone needs to know their role ahead of time. And don't delegate a responsibility to someone who won't be able to handle it. 

Gather your team in a room and discuss different emergencies you could face. If you need inspiration, pull out a recent newspaper and pull headline to talk through it. What would you do if that situation happened to your organization?

Anticipate what can happen and then have your team work through the scenario. Reflect what other organizations have done to minimize the emergency.  

Do you have the Morning Magic Planner yet? You can get it for free HERE

The morning Magic planner will help spend 15 powerful minutes each morning setting the right course. 

If you don't plan where you are going, how are you going to get there? 

Just like putting coordinates in your GPS. Know where you are going so you can get there. 

May 8, 2018

No matter how big or small your organization is, your customers all have the same expectations; 

Make me feel special

Treat me as an individual

Respect me

Have knowledgeable employees

Now, go through these four expectations with your team and figure out how you can master them. You will have to be deliberate to master these four areas. Discuss each expectation individually and figure out what it means for you and your organization. 

If you master these four expectations you will stand out from the competition. Customers will become so loyal they won't even think about going to the competition. 

May 1, 2018

Have you ever been in a situation at work where it seemed like it was Us versus Them?

When you find this situation it often comes in the form of field staff vs. office staff. 

The problem comes from the top. This happens because the CEO lets it happen. Or, in a public agency, the Director or CEO equivalent. 

Al Weiss used to say there would not be any silos at Disney World. And if there were, someone would not be in their silo anymore because he would remove them. 

It is the responsibility of the leader to create a culture where everyone works together, appreciates each other, and realizes everyone has a hard job. 

If an organization has let Us vs. Them creep into a culture, one way to address the situation is to have the office staff work in operations. Give people the exposure and experience to understand what happens in other jobs. Once you understand the work other people are doing you will begin to appreciate them more. 

When your people begin not working together the focus shifts away from the customer. Everyone needs to work towards the same purpose. 

Every day this situation continues it chips away at the culture of your organization. There is a lot at stake. Great people will leave the organization to work at a place with a better culture. Over time you are left with average  

Apr 24, 2018

When you lose a customer, is it possible to win them back?

Yes, it is possible, but don't even try to win a customer back unless you are ready to have them back. 

They left you for a reason. Fix the issue that caused them to leave in the first place. Only then, should you try to win a customer back. 

And when you know you are ready to have them back, treat them like a VIP (very individual person). If you are in a position to do so, go see him or her in person. Don't settle for sending an email or text message. Definitely, don't wait for them to come to see you. It won't happen. And it is your responsibility to fix it. Own your mistake, face to face.  

Once I was an hour late for a speech. Immediately I told my customer I would deduct $5,000 from the speaking fee. They didn't ask for the fee reduction. They didn't expect it. But it was the right thing to do. I didn't serve the customer to the level I should have. It needed to be handled professionally. 

Professionals want to take a bad situation and make it right. 

So if you want to win a customer back, you need to fix the problem first. Then be professional and personal. You might win the customer back. 

Apr 17, 2018

Often, people ask me how to stand out in their job. 

Perhaps they want to know a secret. Something no one has told them before. But it is no secret. Most people know what to do, but they don't.

If you want to stand out, focus on the basics. If you focus on these five things, you will stand out about anyone else you work with;

First impressions are important.

Be an expert in something

Find a way to get better every day.

Add value above what is expected of you.

Have a great attitude.

Be better than everyone else. Get to work early, raise your hand to take on the hard tasks, work when your boss needs you to work, be willing to do long stretches of hard work when it is necessary.

To give a simple answer...raise your expectations for your performance. Now try to meet those expectations. Keep expecting more of yourself. 

If you want to hear more on this topic, listen to this episode of the Jody Maberry Show. I also contribute some insight on that episode. 

In this episode, we mention Magical Vacation Planner. If you want to take a trip to Disney, you will want to talk to them. You can even fill out this form to get more information. 

Apr 10, 2018

Want to create a magic environment around you? Start with gratitude. 

When you are around someone who is grateful, you can feel it, can't you?

I used to think about what I didn't have and complain about it. At some point in my career, I became more grateful for what I do have. You know what, life became more enjoyable. 

When you are grateful for what you have, you begin to treat people better. People around you seem to be happier. It is like taking magic with you everywhere you go. 

Gratitude is not limited to individuals. Organizations can be grateful, too. At Disney and Marriott, leaders go out of their way to make sure people matter and know they matter. Disney is the cast members. We appreciate them and in turn, cast members appreciate Disney. 

Gratitude in your organization begins with you. Even if you are not at the top of the organizational chart, you can intervene and make the environment around you better. 

Apr 3, 2018

Too often, when we have a bad employee, we assume we made a great hire and something then went wrong with the employee. The truth is, you made a bad hire. 

It is hard to admit, but it is true. 

In this episode of Creating Disney Magic, we talk candidly about hiring and firing. 

If you want to build a great culture, you have to face the truth about bad hires and put an end to it. 

In this episode, we reference Carol Quinn and her book, Don't Hire Anyone Without Me

To go deeper in this topic, listen to this interview I did with Carol Quinn on the Jody Maberry Show. 

If you want to find out more about the upcoming event in Orlando, CLICK HERE

Mar 27, 2018

Getting fired can feel like a big deal. It can feel like a blow to your confidence and your career. 

When I was younger, I took a job I shouldn't have and it led to me getting fired. 

It felt awful, of course. But it turned out to be the best thing that happened to me.

One thing you are concerned about after getting fired is if it has ruined your reputation. 

After I was fired, I was hired by Marriott. They did not care I had been fired. Next, I was recruited by Disney. By then, having been fired was a non-issue. 

If you have been fired, don't worry about taking the hit. Your career is long. Get up and get back at it. 

When you apply for your new job, be honest. Face what happened. More people have been fired than you expect. 

When I interview people, it doesn't bother me if someone has been fired or quit a job. 

Mar 20, 2018

Walt Disney was a dreamer. Some would say he was unrealistic. Some would say he was unreasonable. 

But without his dreams, there would be no Mickey Mouse. No Snow White. No Disneyland or Disney World. 

If you have big dreams, people are going to tell you that you can't do it or you are being unrealistic. 

Remember, when someone tells you something can't be done, they are talking about their limitations, not yours. Don't listen to them. Take your shot so you don't have regrets later in life. 

People who create change don't listen to the negative people. Block them out and find ways to make things happen. 

Mar 13, 2018

On this episode of Creating Disney Magic, a listener asks what I think is the biggest opportunity for the service industry. 

We've tried everything else, now let's take care of the customer. 

No gimmicks. No marketing campaign. No technology. Just people taking care of people. 

To make this happen, you have to stop relying on your business strategy and develop a leadership strategy. 

In order to take care of the customer, you need the right people. To hire and retain the right people, you need the right leadership. 

Leadership is the difference between being average and being great. 

Mar 6, 2018

This week I answer two listener questions. Although the details are different, both questions are in the same line of "my boss doesn't listen".

Yes, it happens. There are some lousy bosses out there. People are insecure. Insecurity in leadership leads to some bad behavior.

If you find yourself in this position it can make your life miserable. And my advice is simple, don't stay where you are not happy. 

Of course, it is simple to say and hard to act on. I understand many people are not in a position to do something about it. You have financial obligations. You have a family. You are scared. The job you hate is more secure than not knowing what will happen. 

But what are you giving up by staying? If you are not respected and appreciated in the workplace and you stay, you will regret it someday. 

Don't tolerate it. Can you imagine retiring after 40 years and realizing what you gave up? It happens every day. Don't let it happen to you, too.

Feb 27, 2018

If your organization has not experienced a major disruption in the past couple of years it is coming. 

Technology changes so fast, you may not even see the disruption before it hits. Look at what Amazon and Uber did to other businesses in their industry. 

The key to being ready for these disruptions is to plan for them. Even if you don't know what the disruption is, you can plan on being disrupted. 

Get a group of people from your organization together. Pick a possible disruption. Work through the problem from start to finish. How will it impact your business? Let everyone share as you uncover unintended consequences. Talk about what could cause people to no longer do business with you. 

If you anticipate disruption you can prepare for it. 

You can download my Morning Magic Planner for Free HERE.

Feb 20, 2018

In my younger days, I had trouble talking about myself. They even called me "Low Key Lee" because I kept to myself. So you might not be surprised to hear I did not interview well. 

But as I became an expert and became more confident, I became better at job interviews. 

Looking back on my career, I realize there are three things to help you create magic in a job interview;

  1. Talk about what you are passionate about. There needs to be something you are so good at and so passionate about you can talk about it all day long. For example, I am passionate about Time Management. In a job interview, I would work it in as much as possible. 
  2. Know the company before the interview. Study all aspects of the company before you sit across from the hiring manager. 
  3. Talk about the human side of business. When you discuss the importance of a strong culture and the value of proper training it will show what you value most, which is the people in the organization. 

Here is a bonus tip...you get the job before you have the interview. 

At Disney, we often knew who we were going to promote when the job came open. Reputation and results are what gets you from one job to the next. 

Build connections and a strong body of work long before you go for the next big job. 

Feb 13, 2018

Many businesses are missing a big opportunity by not finding the right time to make incremental sales. 

Or you could call it situational selling. In the right situation, you offer an additional service or product to the customer. 

It is what we do in the hotel and restaurant business. We encouraged it and sometimes would create a friendly competition. 

Some people call it upselling, but it is more like upserving because you are finding a small way to serve the customer even better. 

At Disney World, guests will listen when a cast member makes a suggestion. If you use the situation to sell additional services or products that will help a customer, you are not serving them well. 

If I visit your store to buy a shirt and also come out with three ties, you served me well because now I have the exact ties to look good in my shirt. It saves me the trouble of looking for the proper tie later. 

Incremental sales through situational selling will add a boost to your bottom line. All those little additional sales add up. If only 10% of the people say yes to your offer it adds up to big sales over time. 

Feb 6, 2018

Many people set resolutions to start a new year. Most of those people don't follow through. 

Usually, by February, people have already given up on losing weight, reading more books, or whatever resolution they set. 

They key is to do things on purpose. Or, said another way, routines. 

Routines are systems to help you get done what you need to get done. Can you imagine FedEx or IBM or Disney doing what they do without systems? 

Your life is no different. You need the routines to keep your life under control and moving in the right direction. 

Routine may feel boring. But you don't want it to be exciting. You don't want fires breaking out all around you and each day to be unpredictable. 

My Time Management Magic course can help you develop proper routines and get more done every day. You can find out more here

Jan 30, 2018

Focusing on numbers and neglecting the customer has become too common.

When times get tough, companies cut costs, often at the expense of customer service. Is that the right move? Does customer service really hurt the bottom line?

Absolutely not. Without the customer, you will not have a bottom line to worry about. Take care of the customer.

It takes discipline to offer excellent customer service while still meeting financial goals.

A constant focus on meeting financial numbers, you will wear down employees. Employees won't like it when they feel the focus move away from the customer.

Great organizations don't suffer as much during recessions. Great organizations take care of their customers no matter what is happening. Ordinary companies cut back and offer less to the customer when times are tough.

Jan 23, 2018

Anytime you get a promotion, especially when you are young, you may face an experience gap. Whether the experience gap is real or perceived, you have to address it. 

When I was in the hospitality industry, I spent time as a cook, a banquet waiter, restaurant waiter, and I cleaned rooms. I worked most jobs in the guest side of operations. 

Experience and exposure are the keys to overcoming the experience gap. Working your way through the operations with give you the experience you need and the exposure to what people in other roles in your organization are facing. 

Plus, people will notice. If you spend all of your time in the office, people will continue to think you don't have experience and are out of touch. But if they see you putting in the time, they will know you have the experience. 

The only way to get experience is to get out there. Reading about it and talking to people does not have the same impact as experience. 

Jan 16, 2018

Building trust with your supervisor is an art. All of us, well, most of us, want to build enough trust so we get more autonomy and responsibility in our job. 

If you want to build trust with your boss, you begin with results. 

Bring a project forward, get approval from your supervisor, and then get good results. 

When you have a track record of producing results, you will move from getting approval to being able to do the project on your own and keep your boss informed. 

Sometimes you have to test it. Pick a small project and do it. Then inform your boss of the results.

Don't wait for your boss to tell you what to do. And don't maintain exactly what is expected of you. You want to perform better than simply meeting expectation.

If you ever need clarity on where the line is, ask. Have the conversation with your supervisor so you know what issues you should bring forward and what you should handle on your own. 

Jan 9, 2018

At Disney World, we are always on the lookout for good people to become cast members. When we realized some of our best new cast members were referred by current cast members, we made a program out of it. 

We had cards cast members could carry. If they ran into someone who gave great service, they could hand them a card with details about applying for a job at Disney.

This worked well because people who have a job, and are performing well at their job, are not actively looking for a job. And many people didn't think they could get a job at Disney. These referral cards took care of both of problems. Plus, cast members who brought in a certain number of referrals got to attend an awards dinner and receive recognition. 

People who work at Disney help bring in the right kind of people. Your good employees want to bring in great people to keep the work environment enjoyable.  

Every business ought to be ahead of the game. Get out in the community looking for the right people to fill your next opening.

Dec 26, 2017

We come to you live again from the North Idaho Leadership Summit, hosted by St. Vincent de Paul. 

The audience asked questions and I answered. Again, we had a series of wonderful questions that lead to a series of candid conversations. 

People asked me about picking your battles, creating a culture, diversity, and dealing with employees who aren't working out. 

Throughout the questions and my answers, one theme was woven throughout...you have to stand up for what you believe in.

If you believe in a political position speak up about it. If you believe in building a strong culture you have to speak up about it. If you believe in diversity and inclusion you have to speak up about it. 

Speak up so people know what you believe. Don't underestimate the impact you can have. 

If you have built a good reputation you can speak up more often.

Dec 19, 2017

For the first time, Creating Disney Magic was recorded live in front of an audience. 

St. Vincent de Paul of North Idaho hosted a leadership summit with me as the speaker. At the end of the first session, we took questions directly from the audience. When Jody asks me listener question on the podcast, I usually don't know what the question will be. But in this case, people were asking me questions directly on the spot. 

Three questions are featured on this live episode. Audience members asked about overcoming challenges, dealing with negative and disruptive employees, and what inspires me. 

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. 

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