What Disney Can Teach Medical Practices About Keeping Employees Motivated

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 9.58.02 AMWhile touring Magic Kingdom as part of the Disney Institute customer service program, I learned that Disney doesn’t pay better salaries than other companies. I also learned that promotions are hard to come by.

With 60,000 employees working at the parks alone, it is difficult to be chosen for a promotion when thousands of people are also applying for the job.

Disney Park employees work long hours, mostly standing, in 100% humidity for a good portion of the year, work weekends and holidays, all while maintaining exceptional, customer centric, above and beyond, unsurpassed customer service, always.

As it turns out, our pediatric medical practices have a lot in common with Disney. We hardly can afford to pay support staff above average salaries, they are required to work long hours, mostly standing, and chances a medical assistant or receptionist will get promoted to a high management position is very, very slim; especially if they work at a smaller office.

And if you think about it, Disney employees have it easier than many of our employees. Parents and children want to be at Disney, whereas nobody wants to visit the pediatrician. Instead of dealing with happy mom, dads and children, our staff has to deal with grumpy, moody, sleep deprived, overworked, anxious parents and their sick, uncomfortable children.

So I asked the tour guide how or what do they do to keep their staff otherwise known as cast members, up-beat, motivated and willingly to always go the extra mile for every guest. Not everybody gets to be Cinderella on top of a parade float waving to excited children.

He said it was difficult to encapsulate in a sentence or two, but the easiest and fastest way to explain it, is that each person has to find their own applause.

You see, Disney embraces the notion that they are an entertainment business. So, they view everything through a stage or movie production prism. That is why they call their employee cast members. When on the job, they refer to it as “on-stage.”

But the remarkable thing about their company culture is that the notion of being in the entertainment business is not limited to the stage. It permeates all the way throughout every single person in the organization, including the custodial staff that clean and sweep the park.

Thus the “everybody needs to find their own applause” is a profound metaphor to explain how they keep staff motivated despite the not so always great working conditions.

It means that the Disney employee has to find an intrinsic motivation to deliver on Disney’s promise. Going the extra mile to make a family or a child’s experience at Disney that much better is the actual motivation. Not the money, or the potential for career advancement.

I found this nugget of information worth the entire trip. Because it crystalizes for me the importance of hiring staff members that find joy in delivering on our core values rather than finding people that can simply do the job. It was clear to me that as a leader of our little practice, it isn’t always my job to keep staff engaged and motivated with incentives, raises and perks, but rather work with each of them find their own reward, applause, or motivation.

For me it was also a reminder to lead employees rather than to instruct them to find that intrinsic sense of purpose. Because at the end of the day, you can always train someone a process, but you can’t teach someone to be nice.

Are you helping staff members, employees, or your cast members find their own applause? Do you hire based on an employee’s ability to deliver on your promise to patients and parents? What motivates your employees? Money? Promotions? Time off? Smiles from parents and their children?