The Disney Approach to Layoffs

The Disney Approach to Layoffs

There has already been much said about the layoffs that occurred this past week at Disney. We were the first podcast to carry that news. We now want to take the time to give greater introspection and thought about what has happened. What is Disney’s approach to terminating and laying off people?

This post and podcast is tailored to two different audiences:

  1. Those who are facing the real struggle of being laid off
  2. Those who manage similar hard choices in their organizations

We’re going to cover not the specifics of who got laid off where, but what lessons and messages all of this is sending. You can find our podcast here on PodbeaniTunesSpotifyMyTuner, and ListenNotesAn outline is shown below, but you’ll find most of the detail as well as my commentary on the podcast.

Our topics will include:

  • Hiring, Disney Style
  • Terminating, Disney Style
  • The Role of Unions
  • The Role of Leaders
  • Handling Layoffs in Bad Economic Times

Souvenirs For You and Your Organization

We have two sets of souvenirs, or best practices to incorporate in your life.

If you are a manager, here are some ideas to take back to your organization.

  • Do you have a diverse hiring portfolio that allows you flexibility in tough times?
  • How do you balance important federal, state and local laws in a culture of concern and care?
  • How can you show on an ongoing basis that you care more about your employees than the union does?
  • Have you really brainstormed ways in which you can prevent people from being laid off?
  • How can you show that you really care about those employees you are losing? Are you showing that care long before the day you have to lay them off?
  • Where can you be more transparent during a layoff or job reduction?
  • How can you provide a better exit plan or exit options for senior employees?

If you are being laid off, or fear being laid off, here are some thoughts:

  • Don’t take this personally. It’s not about you.
  • Find support. Physically, economically, emotionally. This is one of the tough times of your life. Find others who will give a listening ear and hopefully some support.
  • Change is hard. And this change may affect other things like where you live and who you associate with. Be easy on yourself. But be flexible to realities that face you. Fate may close a window, but it’s willing to open a door if you let it.
  • If you worked for The Walt Disney Company, you worked for one of the great companies to work for. Use that as a calling card moving forward.
  • Serve others. You can only host your own pitty party for so long. Being there for others will give you greater context for moving forward.
  • Learn from the experience. Make sure you don’t get caught too badly physically, economically or emotionally by surprise the next time.

Fate is Kind, But the Mouse May Not Be

Here’s a truth: People rarely leave on great terms with Disney. They either get moved off to the side (Michael Eisner, Ron Miller, Paul Pressler, Dick Nunis, older Imagineers) or they die (Walt Disney, Roy Disney, Frank Wells). Many are given a role off to the side, as a hint that it’s time to move on. The joke was that executives would get the role of United Way coordinator.

It’s really hard to leave on a good note, and frankly, most are hurt when it’s time to leave. I have seen a lot of hurt. There are many, who would stay on until the day they die. But that’s not how Disney sees it. It’s not how most corporations see it. And in truth, it’s probably not good for the soul.

For me, I tell people two things:

  1. Working for Disney was the best thing that ever happened to me in my career.
  2. Leaving Disney was the second best thing that ever happened to me in my career.

If you want to work for Disney, go for it. But have an exit plan. Or at least realize that there will be a day where it ends. The lucky do it in a way that still leaves them as big fans of Disney. And I’m lucky to be one of those people.

Remember that’s what the song says, Fate is Kind. She Gives to Those Who Love, The Sweet Fulfillment of Their Secret Longing. The Mouse may not be kind, but Fate is.

J. Jeff Kober