Management And Accounting Web

Capodagli, B. and L. Jackson. 1999. The Disney Way: Harnessing the Management Secrets of Disney in Your Company. McGraw-Hill.

Summary by Colleen McGinn-Cardwell
Master of Business Administration Program
University of South Florida, Summer 2003

Leadership Main Page | Strategy Related Main Page

The authors outline the leadership and motivational strategies that have contributed to the success of the Disney Company and discuss practical ways to incorporate these strategies into other organizations.

Walt Disney’s 4 core concepts: to Dream, to Believe, to Dare and to Do.

The Disney Company’s 10 Management Principles:

1. Make Everyone’s Dreams Come True
2. You Better Believe It
3. Never a Customer, Always a Guest
4. All for One and One for All
5. Share the Spotlight
6. Dare to Dare
7. Practice, Practice, Practice
8. Make Your Elephant Fly
9. Capture the Magic with Storyboards
10. Give Details Top Billing

In their book titled “The Disney Way”, Capodagli and Jackson examine the leadership and motivational strategies at the Disney Company. Its founder, Walt Disney, is credited as the creative genius leading this one-time cartoon production studio to become a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry recognized worldwide. The authors, Fortune 100 consultants by trade, outline the methods they have successfully used to integrate the Disney management principles into other organizations.

Walt Disney was consistently guided in his work by 4 concepts as indicated above: to Dream, to Believe, to Dare and to Do. These concepts have become the foundation of the 10 management principles that remain to this day at the heart of every Disney strategy, despite almost 40 years since Walt Disney’s death. Although outlined as 10 separate principles, the authors stress the importance of the collective integration and interplay of all of the principles.

The first Disney management principle, “Make Everyone’s Dream Come True”, outlines the importance of allowing members of the organization to dream and develop their creative talents. The Disney Company employs hundreds of “Imagineers” whose sole purpose is to develop creative ideas. But this creative spirit is not limited to the Imagineers. The organization fosters a culture of creativity in all of its employees. This encourages participation and is credited with a decreased turnover rate as compared to the industry’s competitors.

The second principle, “You Better Believe It”, examines the importance of a clear understanding of the basic beliefs and core values of the company. Product and service excellence is dependent on each employee’s understanding of the expectations and methods of prioritization.

Thirdly, Disney is guided by the principle “Never a Customer, Always a Guest”. To this day, a visitor to a Disney theme park is always referred to as a guest. Walt Disney was insistent on being able to understand the wishes and needs of his guests. He believed that guests deserve respect and honesty. The authors indicate that to best examine how an organization values its clients, one only needs to evaluate how the organization deals with complains. Walt Disney felt that solving guests problems sparks innovation.

The forth principle, “All for One and One for All”, highlights the importance of teamwork and empowerment of the employees. Teamwork is described as a method of fostering intense loyalty, enthusiasm and commitment. Because the focus at the Disney Company is to make sure that each guest has a memorable and pleasant experience, it doesn’t matter whose “job” it is to pick up a piece of trash. It becomes everyone’s responsibility. The book notes that even the current CEO, Michael Eisner, is compelled to pick up trash. Michael Eisner is also continuing in Walt Disney’s legacy in fostering empowerment among his employees. It is not uncommon for him to be touring one of Disney’s theme parks, requesting and implementing the opinions of his frontline workers.

Disney management has adopted “Share the Spotlight” as its fifth principle, which outlines the importance of partnerships with other companies. Instead of utilizing a Disney group of musicians, the Philadelphia Philharmonic became a critical partner in the success of the Disney film “Fantasia”. Other large partners have included General Motors, Nestle, and Mattel. Every Disney supplier, big or small, is treated with respect. The Disney theme parks have specific reception areas for vendors to sign in, get directions, and receive coffee and use the telephone. Walt Disney felt that partnerships help expand the possibilities, although he did feel that the partnership with like-minded people was critical.

The sixth principle, “Dare to Dare”, encourages risk-taking as a method of cultivating innovative ideas. Although the company’s success is a result of the risks that Walt has taken, he does stress that risks need to be calculated risks, based on solid fundamentals. For Walt, the fundamental trademark was whether the risk passed his “family entertainment” test.

Many of the aforementioned principles are dependent on the seventh principle, “Practice, Practice, Practice”, that emphasizes the importance of formal and continuous training. Employees are trained at the Disney University. There is one entire day of the training that is dedicated to the Disney traditions, which helps instill the company’s beliefs and core values It is felt that newly learned skills, once reinforced with coaching, practice and recognition, will become habit. When an employee is not performing a responsibility to the expected level, the original training of the employee is reexamined.

The eighth principle, “Make Your Elephant Fly”, stresses planning. The long term vision must be aligned with short term execution. Walt Disney recognized that although creativity does require space to grow, the generation of ideas is considered part of the corporate process and requires careful management. This Project Management Process facilitates communication and the holistic thinking that everyone is working for the common good.

Capture the Magic with Storyboards” is Disney’s ninth management principle. It outlines the usefulness of the storyboard technique as a method to generate solutions and to enhance communication. Walt Disney is credited to have conceived “Storyboarding” which, for the cartoon industry, is an effective method to keep track of thousands of drawings necessary to achieve full animation of cartoon features. Today, the technique has spread to many areas of the organizational process. It is helpful in conceptualizing a mission statement, in the analysis of barriers and in the creation of team solutions. It breaks situations into smaller, more manageable parts and focuses group attention on specific aspects of the problem.

The tenth and final principle, “Give Details Top Billing”, indicates the importance of paying attention to detail. Walt Disney was relentlessly searching for perfection and always asking how something could be improved. Nonetheless, he recognized the need to have a careful balance between the financial bottom line and the quest for perfection, otherwise details can become expensive. Paying attention to detail also means measuring results to ensure that the effort matches the outcome.

Walt Disney was truly a remarkable man, and this is supported by the continued success of the organization he started in 1922. The Disney management principles have over time proven themselves to be the primary basis for the success of the organization. The authors of this book have outlined practical methods to make these principles equally applicable to organizations of all sectors. This book is not only interesting but useful and methodical. It is a recommended book for any manager.


Related summaries:

Amabile, T. M. 1998. How to kill creativity: Keep doing what you're doing. Or, if you want to spark innovation, rethink how you motivate, reward, and assign work to people. Harvard Business Review (September-October): 77- 87. (Summary).

Blake, R. R. and J. S. Moulton. 1962. The managerial grid. Advanced Management Office Executive 1(9). (The Grid).

De Geus, A. 1999. The living company. Harvard Business Review (March-April): 51-59. (Summary).

Deming, W. E. 1993. The New Economics For Industry, Government & Education. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Advanced Engineering Study. (Summary).

Handy, C. 2002. What's a business for? Harvard Business Review (December): 49-55. (Summary).

Hayes, R. H. and W. J. Abernathy. 2007. Managing our way to economic decline. Harvard Business Review (July-August): 138-149. (This is a reprint of their 1980 article with a retrospect by Hayes on page 141). (Summary).

Herzberg, F. 2003. One more time: How do you motivate employees? Harvard Business Review (January): 87-96. (Summary).

Katzenbach, J. R. and J. A. Santamaria. 1999. Firing up the front line. Harvard Business Review (May-June): 107-117. (Summary). The authors discuss five unique practices used by the Marine Corps).

Kohn, A. 1993. Why incentive plans cannot work. Harvard Business Review (September-October): 54-63. (Summary).

McGregor, D. M. 1957. The human side of enterprise. Management Review (November): 22-28. Reprinted from the Proceedings of the Fifth Anniversary Convocation of the School of Industrial Management, MIT, April 9, 1957. (Summary).

Spear, S. J. 2004. Learning to lead at Toyota. Harvard Business Review (May): 78-86. (Summary).

Wademan, D. 2005. The best advice I ever got. Harvard Business Review (January): 35-44. (Summary).