If you can dream it, you can do it – Lessons from Disney

I recently returned from a fantastic holiday in Florida. I knew I was going to have a great time, everyone does, no one who has been to Disney comes back saying they had a bad time. but I have to confess I did go with an expectation of the sickly sweet ‘have a nice day’ patter rolling off the tongue of everyone I met with about as much believable sincerity as a politician hugging a baby on a campaign trail. However during my time there I experienced the opposite, finding great hospitality from people who wanted you to enjoy your stay and make the best of every moment. I was asked on several occasions not just how my day was going, but what I thought of Disney, how I was finding things or if I needed anything. Not because they were told to do that, but I felt it was genuinely because they cared and wanted to make your day special, and for you to have the most enjoyable experience.

I also met Eleyna, an ex-Disney employee. She had worked at Epcot for over 12 years as a dancer. Now aged 66 (you wouldn’t believe that to look at her) Eleyna has retired and works at a spa in Orlando. She spoke very highly of her time at Epcot and her love of Disney, how highly she regards Disney, and had she have been able she would happily have taken us on a personal tour of Epcot, making us honorary family members for the day (as an ex employee she still gets free access to the Disney parks for her and her family).

Not just inside Disney but outside in restaurants, bars and shopping malls, the culture spreads and everyone has the same attitude towards customer experience and customer excellence.

So how do they achieve this?

Cast Members

Disney does this by recruiting the right people and for these people to understand and ‘get’ the culture and ethos of the company is imperative. Anyone working at Disney is not just an employee, they are members of the cast, they are all part of the ‘show’ that is Disney. It does not matter whether you work in refreshments, security, on the turnstiles, or are part of a Disney parade, ‘showtime’ applies to everyone for each minute of the working day. That’s why they call them Cast Members. Everything the Cast Members do, every day is in the name of family, joy and of course, magic.

Communication and Feedback

Everyone at Disney knows what is expected of them and understands why. Right from the interview through to the job the company’s culture and expectations are explained. So like the lettering in Blackpool Rock, the message and expectation runs through everyone.

Disney’s focus is on effective communication to all, and this communication is not just 2 way but all ways, from management, leaders, teams, colleagues, customers and so on. Everyone’s opinion is important so customer feedback and employee satisfaction and highly regarded and taken seriously. Disney carries out a Cast Excellence survey every 1-2 years to understand what is working and what is not working, because to them if the employees are upset it comes across to the customers.

Customer feedback is vital too because everything a customer sees, hears or touches has an impact on their experience. For Disney it’s all about ‘wowing’ the customer, and you don’t get to understand how to ‘wow’ them without listening them. Customer service is all part of the marketing mix, if you ‘wow’ the customer, they become your best ambassadors. Think about it, how many people do you know come back from Disney without raving about it?

Based on customer feedback Disney introduced Passes and Swaps.

  • Imagine the disappointment of having queued with a small child only to find they can’t go on the ride, to overcome this Cast Members can give out special passes in these circumstances to allow the child to skip to the front of the queue on their next ride
  • Special assistance passes are also provided for disabled guests. Through training cast members are able to identify and fulfil these needs without the asking invasive questions
  • There are also child swap areas, where parents are able to wait with a child unable to go on a ride, whilst the other parent goes on, the parents then swap over and the other rides without having to queue again.


Attention to detail

A lot of what Disney do isn’t the big things, it’s the small stuff…the cleanliness of the parks, the polite and friendly staff, the ‘side shows’ keeping you entertained whilst queuing, the quality of the merchandise, the fans and cool jets of air on a hot humid day (believe me I appreciated those), the sound systems, the images, posters, signs, litter bins, water fountains, the gardens, the park guides in different languages and the maps. I could go on and on but you get the idea, all of these small details add up.

There is also an air of constant change, so even if you go back again there is something new to experience.


So what can we learn from Disney?

  1. Know what you stand for and hold true to those beliefs
  2. Recruit the right people and make sure they understand and buy into your beliefs
  3. Listen and pay attention to both colleagues and customers
  4. The small stuff matters as much as the big stuff
  5. Wow the customer


“You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality” Walt Disney


Why does Fireman Sam never change out of his uniform?


Watching Fireman Sam with my youngest I noticed that even when it’s his day off, Fireman Sam didn’t change, he still wore his uniform – even when gardening.  I know in the world of children’s TV it is to help with character recognition for the youngsters, but does it go deeper than that? As Fireman Sam is fond of quoting “A good fireman is never off duty”.  That doesn’t apply in the real world though…..or does it?

Nine to Five is fast becoming part of our history as a typical working day, even logging on from home is somewhat old hat.  With increased technology giving wider accessibility through smart devices and WiFi hot spots everywhere, it’s now a culture of being continually switched on and working from a virtual office.  Being paid by the hour may not fit todays working environment, as it’s more about job completion, whatever it takes to get the task done, which also means whenever and wherever.  It’s also about who you work with rather than who you work for.

With smartphones, tablets and other portable items, it isn’t just about answering a call on the go anymore, it is just as easy to go online, handle emails, upload documents, write reports, video conference to name but a few.

A word of warning though, when in the office, be careful not to run the risk of becoming ill mannered in the workplace.  Although technology can bring people together, recent surveys have shown an increase in ‘breaches of workplace etiquette’.  So be careful when and where you use technology to ensure that you are not offending those around you when you are reading that text and checking your twitter feed or emails.  Office working is more about collaborative working these days so ensure you are getting the most out of those around you whilst you are there.

There are 3 ways that people could work in todays society, from the office, from home, or in a third space, the ‘virtual office’ that has been nicknamed the ‘ Coffice’. To this end, coffee shops, airports, hotels and stations are catering for office workers by providing drop-in office environments with fast WiFi connectivity, desk space, power sources, printing and photocopying facilities, establishing networking centres for the modern working world.

This all continues to blur the boundaries of work life balance, it can also work both ways, now it is just as easy now to maintain access to your personal life and social networking via devices from the office on breaks during the ‘traditional’ working day, enabling you to make that appointment or pay that bill. As long as this is allowed by your organisation and you don’t spend too much of your time doing this of course. I am lucky that I work for a forward thinking organisation like Bromford that is comfortable with this, not all are.

There is always the risk burnout if the lines are blurred too far, so having me time is vitally important to maintaining a healthy work life balance.  Then again as Confucius said “Find a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”.

So in this modern technological world, if you love your work like Fireman Sam does, then a great colleague is never off duty.

The organisational body……

Imagine your organisation was more like a living being, a human body, what would it look like?  How would the parts of this body be made up?  Well this is the question I asked myself, and this is what I came up with about Bromford…..

I started thinking about my own team – Finance, and if it represented any part of the body, what would that be?  My conclusion: The Skeletal Structure, the bones, helping the body stand upright and strong, represented by the finances, the assets, the cashflow and the surplus of the organisation. But this is no good on its own, there is no life in a skeleton, it needs more than that to make a living, breathing organism.  So what other main body parts are needed? 


The Heart – the vital organ, every cell depends on its beat and its flow, for Bromford this would be the Living teams.   This involves neighbourhood management, home ownership, community safety, home income, lettings and customer contact teams.  These colleagues provide the vital interactions with communities and customers each and every day.

The Soul is a living thing that needs nurture, care and attention.  This sums up Bromford Support, our housing care, support, insight and innovation teams.  Giving the body and our customers a chance to transform and realise true potential.

For the body to grow it needs fuel, its digestive system, processing the food and nutrients into energy, as our sales and development teams do in helping Bromford to grow.  Building new homes for rent, part rent part buy, or outright sale, benefitting both new and existing customers.

The largest of the internal organs is the liver.  It gets rid of toxins and regulates blood sugar, acting like a big blood vessel. This would represent the asset management team, planning, delivery, repairs, empty homes.  Regulating the properties, the assets, replenishing and refreshing to maintain and ensure everything is in good condition. Alongside the liver would be the Spleen: cleaning the blood, fighting infection in the same way that the portfolio team are filtering the housing and land assets.

The skin covers the surface of the body, providing a protective layer.  In Bromford this is provided by health and safety, as well as community safety and governance teams, along with our policies and procedures, ensuring that the right level of protection is in place for all concerned.

The lungs – providing breath and life into the organisation, the same way that Human Resources and colleague development do for Bromford, bringing new colleagues into the business as well as developing and supporting existing colleagues to be the best that they can be.

The Brain – ICT for left brain logic, maintaining our systems in logical and structured ways, to process and report all that we do in a streamlined and efficient way.  The right brain, the more feeling and caring nature of colleague development and Bromford support.  This right brain thinking goes throughout Bromford with its family feel.

The voice box is the communications and the customer contact teams making sure that we can keep in touch with the customers, our peers and our stakeholders.   Communication is a two way street, therefore the ears are just as invaluable to us listening to our customers and we continue to provide the correct service.  Which is where the continuous improvement team come into play.

The eyes of the organisation, like the visionary Executive and the Board providing direction and strategy for the future. 

The hands are always practical, useful and functional. In that way they are like the repairs team, landscapers and the caretakers.  Not forgetting the landscapers also providing their valuable service – a haircut -ensuring things look their neat and tidy best for our customers. 

The legs enable the body and the organisation to set off on its journey into the future and realise its goals.

Every body needs a shelter, facilities team provide the shelter for this body in the form of the offices that the business operates from. 

This is just an indication based on a few functions of the body and some of the teams and services provided by Bromford, but it’s not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination.  The body is complex with many parts, the same as any organisation.  You couldn’t possibly fit all that we do into a reasonable sized blog.

What do you think, if you and your team are a part of the body, which one are you?

Try Something Different

I’ve been suffering with a shoulder problem recently which is causing me a lot of discomfort and limiting what I’m able to do.  Stubborn as I am I still want to achieve things and not give up.  It’s got me thinking back to one of my Leadership sessions with http://www.jeffgrout.com/ about leading change, about how we react to change. Jeff talked about changing the way we did things – try this exercise:

  • fold your arms
  • now unfold them
  • and fold them the other way
  • how do you feel? 

Comfortable or not?  Some people can do this with ease, others find it more difficult.

With this exercise in mind I’ve set myself a challenge to do some of the everyday things differently and see how I get on. If my right shoulder and therefore right side functionality is a problem, I can use my left.  Besides I’ve always figured myself a bit ambidextrous anyway, I used to play sports left handed (cricket, hockey and so on), I can write a bit left handed – Ok it looks like a doctors prescription but that’s not much worse than my right handed scribe!  How hard can it be?

Well I’m day 5 into my challenge.  Most things have been strange at first, some still are. Some things are easier to adjust to than others, some take a lot more time to complete:

-Brushing your teeth, stirring your tea, drinking, opening doors and texting I find are quite easy things to cope with

-Having been quite adept at typing with both hands scaling down to just the one is a bit cumbersome  but I’m doing it

-Ironing and vacuuming are very strange and take a lot of getting used to but I’m sure I’ll get there with practice.

At first things do feel strange, but as with everything practice makes perfect, the more you do stuff the better you get at it.

I also found there were things I shouldn’t try just yet – mainly as they were dangerous – like  chopping the vegetables for lunch or driving in a manual car – I think I need an automatic before I try that again! But that’s a lesson in knowing your limitations.  At times you just need to ask for help.

So try something different today, even if it is folding your arms the other way or drinking your coffee using your other hand.  You’ll find yourself expanding your comfort zone and maybe in time less resistant to change.

Playing your best hand…..

Poker is a game of strategy, nerve, skill, experience and determination.  You have to be prepared to play the long game.  Ultimately the best hand played at the right time wins.

Imagine for a moment that your current role in your organisation represents a playing card, your life and work experience is another card, and your final card represents your true potential (that if you took every opportunity to be the best that you can be).  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your role or experience links to the numerical significance of the cards.  The CEO of an organisation is not necessarily the Ace – after all ask Bromford’s Chief Executive Mick Kent – he will insist that he is still a trainee, as are we all. 

Once you have decided, you now have 2 cards in your hand plus the card you aspire to be.

For the uninitiated the poker hands are ranked like this:

Now link your organisations strategy or goals to the poker hands (you can also use this for personal development plans/ targets or team targets).

You already know that on your own you are 2 cards (3 at most), so playing solo will only get you so far.  The key ingredients to poker in any organisation are: team work, communication, openness, honesty and transparency.  This flies in the face of ‘normal’ poker as this is about playing your cards close to your chest, but it is essential if you want it to work for you.  By combining your skills and experience with colleagues  in your  team, in other teams, the wider organisation, customers, contractors etc. you will achieve your goals and ambitions.

The more astute may note that in some organisations there are more than 52 employees but you only have 52 cards in any deck.  This is true, but any organisation may be playing more than one game at any moment, so many cards and games are necessary to achieve all of the aims and strategies to be successful.  Also you could be called upon at any time to show your hand.

It can also be said that everyone is an individual so no 2 cards would be the same, therefore how can you try and treat them the same.  This is also true and at Bromford we celebrate that fact.  On the one side we may have two colleagues both representing the 8 of diamonds, on the face of it they appear the same


but on the other hand they are both very different…..


Every line, pattern, colour, size and design depicting a personality and celebrating individuality, embracing equality and diversity.  Bromford would refer to this as doing a bit more and adding a bit more of you.

Play the game and may the best hand win. 

Shuffle up and deal!

The Internal Service Web

I’ve been deliberating this for a while – my first blog.  So many things I could have written about, I had a title all sorted (not the one I’ve chosen today), but the content has been a bit more challenging.  Inspiration came from my brother, much more experienced blogger, who pointed out the obvious, that my skillset included much more than just finance, so here goes….

In order for any team, organisation or service to be the best that it can be, it relies on great customer service.  This service applies to internal as well as external customers, a factor that many take for granted, or worst still overlook.  The Internal Service Web is a great way of demonstrating the effect and the significance of internal customers and the role each and every one of us plays in delivering that service. 

To visualise this internal service web work through the following exercise (I used this exercise a while back at one of our team meetings and it is still used today as an activity in training sessions led by Russ Fowler and John Wade):


All you need is a group of internal colleagues/a team a ball of string

  • One colleague takes the ball of string, keeps hold of the end and throws the ball to a colleague whom they work with and/or provide a service for
  • The second colleague keeps hold of the string that came to them and throws the remaining ball of string to another colleague whom they work with and/or provide a service for
  • The third colleague repeats the process and so on
  • Continue the process for 10 minutes or until the string runs out

The string could go to any colleague any number of times, this is ok, the trick is keeping hold of all the strings each time they come to you and not letting go.

Once this is complete you’ll have a great web of internal service interaction.  Look at the web – each line of string represents an important aspect of internal customers – a service provision, a relationship, a transaction, an interaction, a decision, a report, a meeting and so on.  When done in this way it’s quite astounding the influence we all have on each other on a day to day basis.

  • Now pull on the strings making the lines taught – this shows the strength you all have when you pull together
  • Lastly nominate 1 person to let go – see how much slack everyone has to take if 1 person is not there, or is underperforming

Give it a go, it has quite an impact and helps you realise the value of you and all your colleagues.  You may surprise yourself, and if you are not having the influence you think or would like – there’s only you that can change that.

Be the best you can be and make every interaction count.