Here is the last of the columns I wrote from the 2011 LMA National Conference:

A member of The Disney Institute delivered the Keynote speech about Disney’s Approach to Business Excellence in the opening session. Who knew that legal marketers could find so much inspiration from and draw so many parallels with an organization that started with a mouse first named Mortimer?

Disney’s philosophy begins with a four-part chain of excellence:

  • Leadership excellence
  • Cast excellence
  • Guest satisfaction
  • Financial results/repeat business

This chain is further defined as “a committed, responsible, inspiring leader” who “develops a creative culture of people who generate innovative products and services to provide the organization with a competitive edge.” Gaining an edge and leading with innovation is the goal of each of our law firms in the age-old marketing quest of differentiating yourself from your competitors.

Everyone is creative and our ideas are separate from our identities so we can’t be afraid to speak up about our brainstorms.  Yes, we will have those ideas shot down again and again but it’s not personal, it’s just the way of the business world. Everyone is born with an imagination that is just like a muscle – it grows flabby without use. We can all reconnect with our childhood imagination by taking notes at a meeting with a crayon.  Is there any other smell that can put us right back into the joy of creating without fear of criticism?

Many people speak about thinking outside the box but Disney believes in starting inside the box and expanding it. When you’re thinking inside the box, it’s important to provide guidance and direction, avoid wasting resources and keep everyone focused. The question is how do you define your box?

The four sides of Disney’s box are:

  • Vision – What do we aspire to be?
  • Mission – What do we do?
  • Customer – For whom do we exist?
  • Essence – What do we want our customers to feel?

It’s easy to see how we need to answer these questions as related to our business of serving our attorney clients and extend these answers to the firm’s clients. At the most basic level, we aspire to provide first-class, seamless service to exceed our customer’s satisfaction, be it our attorneys or clients of the firm.

How are you meeting your clients’ needs on their emotional level? At the beginning of the day, the whole family is ready to experience the magic – at the end of the day, not so much.  Think about where your clients are at emotionally and meet them there.

Disney utilizes a continuous improvement process that can be implemented in any business model for improvement. Listen and learn, measure where you’re at, act on the measurement, re-measure, recognize and celebrate the success, share the results and success, and begin again to perpetually better yourself, your department and your organization.

Leadership Excellence

“Every leader is telling a story about what he or she values.”

As a leader, listen for the word “hassle.” Listen to your cast (employees). Every “hassle” is an opportunity to improve.” We judge ourselves based on our intentions. Others judge us on our behaviors. Once we move from being a “doer” to being a “leader,” we lose touch with the processes involved in “doing.” As a leader, people constantly look at your behaviors.  Are you consistent? Are you listening to your team for their hassles?  Are you supporting your team where they express needs? Involve your team in the decision-making process and provide them with flexibility.

The third most asked question at Disney World is “What time is the 3:00 p.m. parade?” Train your team to look for the question behind the question.  Do they want to know what time the parade reaches a certain point? Perhaps they seek a shady vantage point or is their son or daughter performing in a guest marching band? Give your team the time to discern the real question.

Leaders effectively communicate their vision as a shared value to which their team aspires. The test of an effectively shared vision is if it creates a shared and meaningful purpose, inspires passion and interest, guides decision-making and strategy, and conveys values.

Leaders must be passionately committed.  To gain the benefits of passionate commitment, leaders must proactively lead change, make dramatic leaps in performance, develop yourself and those you lead, and build excitement about success.  No matter if your organization is a theme park, a cruise ship or a law firm, design your organizational structure for success by implementing effective processes for getting the work done. Explore, probe and know what is going on in your organization, and act quickly upon that information.

The characteristics of a leader are being someone who sets the example for others, creates relationships for life, and sparks excitement and enthusiasm in others.

People Management

You can dream, create, design and build the most exciting place in the world but it takes people to make it happen. ~ Walt Disney

A successful corporate culture is created by design, well-defined, clear to all and goal oriented.

Disney communicates values and non-negotiables up front, and treats its applicants as guests.  It prefers its applicants to have enough information to self-select out at any point in the hiring process.  During the selection and training process, Disney hires attitude vs. aptitude every time. They want the people who are nicer and smile more.  These are the people who are easier to get along with and who want to make others happy.

Disney instills employee pride and ownership by soliciting information from everyone and showing each individual how they contribute.  The organization demonstrates effective communication and care for its employees by treating employees like customers, and recognizing and celebrating employees’ successes in the way that each employee likes being recognized by having many different reward programs.  Law firms can take a page from this book by encouraging employee communication and creating many different reward programs for direct supervisors to reward their teams often.

Quality Service

Disney’s definition for quality service is spot-on for creating top-notch client service in all industries. That definition is to exceed guest expectations by paying attention to details

Guestology is an important component of quality service.  Guestology consists of knowing your guests (demographics), and understanding your guests (psychographics). How can legal marketers know and understand their attorney clients better and, in turn, help our attorneys to better know and understand their clients?

Disney puts it in their employee job descriptions for employees to create magical moments, and it gives each one time, space and support to do so.  Perhaps we can better create opportunities for our marketing teams to create “magical moments” by finding ways to measure the time, space and support each individual’s needs to create magical service in a timely manner?

Disney also provides employees with quality standards and puts those standards in order of importance so that each employee is equipped with a decision-making model. The first order of importance in quality standards is the safety of guests and cast members, followed by courtesy, which is evidenced by treating each guest as a VIP. Third on the list is the show itself where a seamless Guest experience is created. Last in the hierarchy is efficiency, in which smooth operation of all elements in the show is provided.  Guests will forgive inefficiency for the sake of safety but they won’t care how efficient the operations are if one or more people are in danger or hurt.

Create quality standards in your department by making sure your attorneys are safely making marketing and business development decisions by remaining ethical and maintaining advertising committee review regulations. Treat your attorney clients as the most important person in the world every time you come in contact with them, give them seamless and efficient support.

Disney creates brand loyalty by upholding the Disney brand promise: “Disney is special entertainment with heart.” Disney entertains by telling stories, innovation and providing quality with the underlying values of community, optimism and decency while reinforcing positive stereotypes and dispelling negative stereotypes.

If you’re at all like me, you’re going to be inspired by the Disney model and want to go out to spread some business development dust and create many magical marketing moments. Have a Disney kind of day and pass it on!

Author: lisawhitleycoleman