Monday, October 19, 2009

Disney's Employee Engagement

On Friday, October 16, 2009, in front of hundreds of Disney employees and spouses, I watched Disney CEO Bob Eiger receive a bronze status from Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse to commemorate his 35 years with the company. Bob Eiger has obvious reasons to be engaged, but what struck me was the seemingly high engagement of so many other employees, in spite of -- on some instances -- lack of criteria I typically associate with engagement, such as opportunities for advancement.

There was a woman who started as a receptionist in 1969 and was recognized for 40 years of service -- and she holds the title of receptionist. I gather she now has a very high profile receptionist position, she loves it and that's what she wants to do. Period. She is happier than most people -- those among us who are never seemingly content with their level advancement, always striving for something just beyond their current grasp.

I saw a lot of fairytale rises as well as a surprising number of extremely happy, engaged employees who were doing some version of what they started decades ago. Seems the ones whose titles stayed similar seemed more satisfied than most people on any day of the week.

My cynicism tells me it's not true -- it was the environment, the lovely Langham Hotel in Pasadena, the high-class, yet not over-the-top, event, that made them seem so committed.
The skeptic in me tells me that there is something underneath the veneer. Maybe they lacked an ability to rise beyond where they are. But I'm wrong...and I admit I'm jealous of how content they are. They are engaged regardless of the day-to-day specifics of their jobs and tasks -- and engagement for them has more to do with the environment in which they do it and the people who surround them than the work itself.

The Disney culture appears to be one that supports employee engagement -- even at organizations under their ownership, like Channel 7 or Good Morning America, which are not infused with the Disney and movie magic paraphernalia that dominate the Burbank headquarters. It's not about the Disney Silver Pass that gets them and 3 guests in for free to Disneyland most of the year. It can't even be exclusively about senior management, since all of these people worked -- and stayed -- through the Eisner years. So what is it?

We will look more closely at the phenomenon in future blog postings...

1 comment:

  1. You give great examples of frontline Disney employees who stay engaged without moving up, and ask, "So what is it?"
    To me, the answer is clear: a strong positive culture. It has been well-publicized that companies, including Disney, GE, Google, 3M and others each develop and foster their own unique culture. I believe organizations that do not make it a high priority each and every day to build and sustain these cultures end up with the 'default culture' of the communities in which they operate. For example, in the US, the default culture is heavy on personal entitlement and 'glass half empty' attitudes. In a default culture, employees care more about themselves than the organization they work for. Great organizations develop leaders with a strong commitment to building a highly engaging work environment for all employees, whether they are energized by taking on more responsibilities each year, or thrilled to be the best they can be in their current job. You might ask, 'why don't more companies have high employee engagement cultures?' Now that's a great question!

    Mark Phelps
    Development Dimensions International (DDI)