Executives Who Don’t Exude These Qualities Lose Employees’ Hearts and Minds

Capture Hearts and Minds

It’s More Than Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck

“A maxim of the movie industry is that ‘it takes a happy crew

to produce a happy show.’”

 Van France, Founder, Disney University

 Disney University, 1982.

Dick Nunis, hoping to catch a quick cat-nap, slumps into a chair at the back of the darkened room and closes his eyes. Exhausted and suffering from a lack of sleep, he knows he has no option other than to press on. The five-minute run time of the video he just introduced to his audience will provide a much needed break. The grand opening of EPCOT, the $800 million expansion at Walt Disney World in Florida is just around the corner and he has much to do.

 As president of the Outdoor Recreation Division for the Walt Disney Company, Dick is responsible for both Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California. With the 1982 EPCOT expansion project, eleven years after the opening of the Magic Kingdom, Dick’s responsibilities are vast, complicated and expanding by the day.

 And Dick is the sole presenter of the employee orientation program for all EPCOT cast members. His audience isn’t a select group of senior managers, nor is he merely the figurehead-executive-guest-speaker brought in for a few minutes to kick off the session. Dick is giving this same 90-minute presentation to every cast member assigned to EPCOT … all 2,000 of them. 

 Today’s session is similar to the dozens he has already conducted during the last week, and he must lead dozens more. While in front of his audience Dick, in his own inimitable style, exudes energy and enthusiasm. He reaffirms with cast members the importance of maintaining the Disney legacy of world class guest service.   

 Twenty seven years earlier, in preparation for the grand opening of Disneyland, Dick and his boss, Van France, kept up a similar, frenetic pace. In fact, the content of these current sessions, and Dick’s effusive style, isn’t much different from a quarter century earlier. At that time, he was fresh out of college and full of energy. Now, despite the never-ending demands upon his time as a senior executive of The Walt Disney Company, Dick still sets the standard for enthusiasm and endurance. And he is right in the middle of something he considers crucial to the success of EPCOT—guest service and cast member training.

 As the video draws to a close, a staff member flicks on the room lights. Dick runs to the front of the room and continues the orientation. Grand opening is just around the corner.

 To prepare for the EPCOT grand opening, a brand new orientation program was designed for those who would be working at the park.  In order to ensure the success of EPCOT, existing cast members were transferred from the Magic Kingdom. Although all were experienced, Dick wanted them to fully understand their roles, and their importance to this newest theme park, so he conducted each and every session, multiple times per day for two weeks.

Through his words and actions, Dick perpetuated the corporate culture he learned so many decades ago from Walt Disney and Van France. The Walt Disney Company cares about its employees and this project.  So, by rolling up his sleeves and demonstrating his willingness to wear one of many hats, he reinforced Walt’s and Van’s belief in the qualities every leader should regularly demonstrate …  be connected and be involved:

  • Management must be diligent or the show will deteriorate.
  • Management must be diligent or the cast will deteriorate.

Connected and Involved!

The image of Dick Nunis personally conducting dozens of orientation programs, enough to reach thousands of cast members, sends a powerful message and reflects qualities embodied by Walt and Van; stay connected and stay involved.  Indeed, the president of any company presiding over employee orientation or training is unusual, and this is most likely a stretch for the majority of leaders. Yet, the exact opposite is too often the case; disconnected and distant executives sending messages of indifference through their lack of involvement and support.