Disney Institute pays off for attendees

Posted: March 19, 2014

The Winchester Star

MIDDLETOWN — Software development firm employee Lynn McElhaney has made four trips to Disney without leaving the state.

Instead of going to Orlando, she has been coming to Lord Fairfax Community College, where Workforce Solutions hosted its fourth annual Disney Institute on Tuesday.

“I was one of the few that said, ‘Yes, I’ve been here all four years,’” said McElhaney, who works for a data integration firm in Reston. “I always come away with at least one really good idea that can change something in our company.”

Disney Institute senior facilitators Tom Madden and Mike McLean hope that of the six or seven values they present, attendees can take away three or four that will work at their own companies.

“Disney is a business just like anyone else when you strip away the magic and so on,” Madden said during a lunch break Tuesday. “We have strong business principles around leadership, around creativity and innovation and brand loyalty that really can be adapted by virtually any organization.”

Madden said the institute is put on all over the world.

About 160 people attended Tuesday’s event, said Christine Kriz, business and industry training coordinator for Workforce Solutions.

The cost of the session was $495 a person, although there were discounts for people who had attended past institutes and for companies sending more than one employee.

“They’re going over customer service, they’re going over onboarding (the process of integrating new hires in a company) and hiring, how they choose candidates, how they orient them to the Disney culture, their training process, their creativity, collaboration amongst the different units, and with each of those topics they’ve provided examples of how they’ve done that at Disney,” Kriz said. “When you think of customer service, when you think of great experience, when you think of people wanting to go back over and over again, very quickly you think of Disney, and we want to be known as a training facility in the area that gives people the tools and the training they need to try to emulate that and to be the best they can be.”

In the group presentation, Madden said the Disney empire “tries to create happiness for our guests.”

“We never know where our applause is going to come from,” he said. “You’re the ones who make the magic.”

Madden asked the audience how his presentation had made them feel, and responses included “special,” “motivated,” and “passion.”

It’s important that employees — or “cast” members — feel cared for, McLean told the audience. How you treat them is how they’ll treat others around them.

“We need to think about how we care for our cast on a regular basis,” McLean said. “We expect our cast members to treat each other the way we treat our guests. We believe our [employees] are our guests, and they shouldn’t be treated any differently. We hugely recognize our casts.”

Employees are recognized for years of service, and peer recognition is encouraged, McLean said.

Disney operational leaders must “be on stage” with their cast members 75 to 80 percent of the time, he said.

“They can’t be in their office, sitting behind a computer,” McLean said.

Andrew Stockli, who is manager of enterprise support at software development firm Parature Inc. in Herndon, attended last year’s seminar on quality service.

“It’s really good,” he said of this year’s institute. “They’re giving some good details about their hiring process and what they do... It’s got me thinking about things we could do.”

It was CIA employee Bridget Tice’s first time attending the event.

“Disney does customer service best, and as a manager at my agency, I was looking to get some tips and some pointers on how to up our game and take care of our customers,” she said.

— Contact Sally Voth at svoth@winchesterstar.com