Answering Tough Questions #14

This is number 14 of the series Answering Tough Questions. Including this post the last 14 posts are included in this series.


This question turns out to be four questions, so I will go about giving you my point of view on what I think the answer is to each one of them.


Question No. 1:  How do you respond when direct reports ask how they can get to “the next level” when you have seen evidence that the technical problem-solving and leadership instincts necessary for success at the next level are beyond their capacity?  How can you keep from demotivating them?


I would say that your main responsibility as a leader is to tell the truth.  So if someone does not have the technical problem-solving and leadership ability, then you need to take the time to document why you feel that way with examples and give that feedback to the individual who is challenging you on why he or she is not getting ahead to the next level. 


Maybe there is something they can do about it if they are told the absolute truth . . . and maybe not.  If you have such evidence, then share it with them.  Don’t worry at this point about demotivating them. You are not doing them any favors by not telling them the truth.  Once they know the truth and know where they stand, then they can make up their own mind on what to do next.  Your job is not to shelter adults from the truth or life’s realities.  Make sure they understand that if they stay, they must perform their current role well . . . and that staying motivated is mostly their responsibility.


Question No. 2:  How do you respond when Cast Members complain that they are constantly forced to do more with less, while the Michael Ovitz trial showed that at the highest levels of the Disney Company, money was spent recklessly, as an example?


Once again we are all being asked to do more with less.  This is called productivity, and it is an important part of what companies have to do to stay profitable and competitive.  Every company in the world was going through this exact same thing and still are all these years later.  No doubt that the Michael Ovitz issue happened, and that is unfortunate; but that occurred long ago in the past and has nothing to do with continuing to find ways to become more productive and to find new ways to cost-manage our business.  This is one of those things that will never go away.  I have been working for 44 years, and everywhere I have been I have had this same question.  My suggestion is to just get over it, and just do the very best job that you can.


Question No. 3:  Everyone is always motivated by new project work and the opportunities that come from expansion.  The focus since September 11 had been on cost avoidance.  How do we motivate the cast around that goal when everyone is concerned on how to get ahead in their careers?


I think I mainly answered this question above in No. 2, but let me expand a bit more.  People need to get motivated on what the issue is at hand and not what they wish it were.  If they don’t have the discipline and professionalism to deal with what is thrown at them when it is thrown at them, they are the ones that have the most to lose.  It is every leader’s responsibility to talk till his or her face is blue about the realities of life.  I too wish that 9/11 had not happened, to be sure, and I wished back then that we were still having profit numbers like we did in the mid ‘90s to the year 2000.  I wish that health care were not skyrocketing, and I wish that costs were not rising faster than revenues . . . but all I can deal with is what is happening now, as my wishes are not working.


Our responsibility is to do the best we can in balancing Guest Service, Cast Excellence, and Business Results.  Each leader needs to work hard at learning how to discuss these issues so that his or her cast is motivated to do what has to be done to keep the company healthy for the long haul.


Another point I need to make is that there still is a lot of opportunity.  Many of our people have gone to Hong Kong, Tokyo, Disneyland® Park, and Paris with roles that are bigger than they had here and that opened up new opportunities here.  We promoted 500 to 600 Leaders a year at the Walt Disney World® Resort . . . so there is lots of opportunity even though the number of promotions are down during this recession but there are still lots of them to be had.


We were always opening all kinds of new attractions, shows, restaurant concepts, and renovating the merchandise stores, so there were always lots of projects going on, and always more  planned for the future.


One way to motivate the Cast around the importance of cost management is to ensure they understand the downside of not doing this well.  If the company is not financially healthy, then they will be affected even more so.  Everybody has the responsibility to look for ways to become more productive and to control costs while maintaining or improving Guest Satisfaction and Cast Excellence.  Is this hard?  Sure it is.  Is it possible?  I sure think it is because I have seen it done over and over throughout my career.


Question No. 4:  What is the right balance of focusing on flawless performance and allowing people room to make mistakes and grow?  How do you as a leader control that balance?


This is a tough question.  In some areas of the  company, we really needed flawless performance, especially in the area of safety.


While all areas of safety are very important—and really our No. 1 concern for Guests and  Cast Members—there are some areas that are even more critical than others.


Leadership has to understand which areas need even more training and enforcement than others.  Strict enforcement of some things like attraction ride safety must be clearly understood by the Cast Member responsible for the process or repair and maintenance related to that ride.  They must also clearly understand the consequences to their own safety, Guests’ safety,  fellow Cast Members’ safety, and to their continued employment if they do not follow the correct procedures.


Other incidents and issues happen because of poor judgment or because of a person’s personal health, like a back injury from lifting even if they lift properly. 


While this is a very difficult issue, I believe that we need to make sure that we are very clear with Cast on what can get you terminated . . . and on what can get you a warning and strong coaching and counseling and a second chance.  In some instances, bad judgment gets you terminated . . . and in other instances, you get another chance to learn and to grow.


Outside of safety issues, we knew from the Company policy manual what can result in termination.  These things are clearly outlined in the Standards of Business Conduct manual.


The best way to make sure that there is as much clarity as possible around this issue is to be very clear with your Cast Members around the consequences of their actions . . . and to get them into as much training as possible . . . so that they will have the knowledge to make the right decisions.


I wish that the answer to this question could be much clearer.  I am personally not a fan of zero-tolerance policies, as they leave no room for the facts related to an individual case.  We did, by the way, have zero-tolerance policies  at the Walt Disney World® Resort—but we also investigate thoroughly the facts around each case to make sure that it warranted the discipline outlined in the policy.   . . . Lee

1 Comment
  1. Lee, if you keep answering questions like this they are going to have to put you back on the payroll. Jim

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