Disney Employee Survey: How Happy is Disney?
I passed by a t-shirt the other day in the parks. It read:
“6 out of 7 Dwarfs are NOT Happy”
So true. And yet, is it? So when I saw that Disney reported a major employee survey a few months ago, I was interested. With all of the Disney blogs out there we hear of both very happy and very grumpy employees. But in general, how satisfied are Disney employees? Is it really a great place to work? Well, a few months ago, employees across The Walt Disney Company received the results of a survey conducted in the late Spring. They gave their opinions on some 65 core items related to their work experience of being a part of Disney.
This is especially of interest because there seems to be something of a sentiment that Disney–and especially Walt Disney World–is largely going downhill. I addressed some of those points in a recent blog. There is a body of evidence from organizations like Gallup that suggests a direct correlation between high employee engagement and high customer satisfaction. One tends to follow the other. I subscribe largely to those ideas in my book, Lead With Your Customer: Transform Culture and Brand into World-Class Excellence, the premise being that it’s really two sides of the same coin, and that to be effective with one, you have to be effective with the other. Lee Cockerell, former Executive Vice President of Walt Disney World, wrote the forward of that book, and he and many others subscribe essentially to the same theory. So it’s worth noting how Disney did in its employee survey as a signal to how it’s doing with its customers.
You should know that this is the second year this survey has been administered world-wide throughout the company, the first given two years prior in 2010. But it isn’t the first time employees in parts of the company have had employee surveys. Back in the ’90s, under Judson Greene’s leadership, Cast surveys were instituted across the entire Florida property. The Cast was able to rate how things were going across all of Walt Disney World, across their area (like Wilderness Lodge or Blizzard Beach) and then across their own department (HR, operations, retail). It’s my impression that over the years, that focus on doing an employee survey did not remain. So it’s interesting that now it’s not only being done, it’s being done across the entire Walt Disney Company.
Why would Bob Iger want to do this? He shares his view in the Disney Newsreel (studio newsletter):
“…I want Disney to be one of the most admired companies in the world, and we cannot do it without our employees. I want us to be admired by consumers, investors and the general public, but I also want us to be admired by the people who know us best–our employees. I want people to be proud to work here, to feel good about what we do and how we do it…That’s why it’s so gratifying to hear that the vast majority of our employees are proud to work at Disney and that they feel respected here. Most have confidence in our strategic direction and our management, and more are engaged and empowered in their jobs. All of these things are critically important to our ability to achieve our goals as a company and to attract and retain the best talent.”
The first step in any survey like this is to get people to actually fill out the survey. In most organizations, employees go along with it. But there’s always a body of people who live in fear that their opinion will come back to haunt them, so they avoid taking such surveys. I seldom find any of that happening, especially in surveys that are administered at this large a scale, and usually by competent survey/measurement organizations like who know how to measure this. Furthermore, the survey doesn’t hold much validity–much less reliability–if you don’t hear from most of your employees. So to help make this happen, contests are often held to “get out the vote” as it were, to getting the best percentage possible of completed surveys.
How many took the survey? Well, according to the Disney Newsreel, 69 percent of employees participated in this year’s survey with participation in most business segments ranging from 82 percent to 87 percent. That probably means that there were a few segments that were fairly abysmal in their survey efforts, pulling down the average. In other words, they don’t get it, or they are in a chaotic point of organization/re-organization and they don’t have the ability to focus on making the survey a priority. Still, it was noted that there were 96,000 who took it this year as opposed to 82,000 in 2010. That’s a solid number moving in the right direction.
And how did Disney do? Not all the results were published. But of those positive, here’s what was said about the overall results:
- 87 percent of employees say they are proud to work for The Walt Disney Company.
- 80 percent of employees believe the business segment they work in develops creative products, services and content.
- 70 percent believe that their business is leading the industry and is evolving and making the changes required to compete effectively in the marketplace.
- 80 percent believe their business segment is committed to creating and supporting a diverse workplace.
- 80 percent of employees across the globe find their jobs both challenging and interesting.
- 77 percent understand how their jobs fit with the goals and strategies of their business segment.
- 90 percent understand the role they can play in helping Disney to be a responsible company.
Tom Staggs, speaking for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, noted that “we also saw a 10 percentage point increase in the number of Cast, Crew and Imagineers who feel both highly engaged and enabled in their roles.” Indeed, Iger noted in particular that ESPN and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts showed the greatest improvement, earning scores that were six points higher on average than in 2010. And finally, they also noted that this last year, employees dealing with the parks were asked questions specifically regarding Disney’s safety initiatives, and were pleased to see incredibly positive results.
What about making improvements? The newsletters for the major U.S. parks, the Disneyland Line and Walt Disney World Eyes & Ears, both noted the same key opportunities for doing better. That included:
- Opportunities for our Cast to set and pursue career objectives
- Improving our operational efficiency
- Providing more opportunities for collaboration and teamwork
- Better communicating the actions we’re taking in response to your survey feedback
The trick to the latter bullet item is that too often teams don’t really do anything with the results. I saw this often as a Cast Member even at the Disney Institute–a place where they should have been practicing what they were preaching. Once the data was given, there was no real follow-up. Worse, little action was taken–or if it was done–few seem to know that actions were taken. It’s simply necessary that surveys like these not be something you check off your list as having completed, but rather be the driver for what you do as a team to make improvements each and every day.
And when they are done correctly–expect to see employee survey results dramatically improve.
It’s easy to dismiss these kinds of activities as simply corporate hoops that keep HR people busy. And of course we can quote Benjamin Disraeli* that there are three types of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics. I suppose one could whittle away at the data here. But if you really want an engaged workforce–especially of the size that is Disney–you have to figure out in some way how engaged your employees are. Then you have to take action to make improvements.
What are the messages for Disney or any organization?
- To truly actively engage your workforce, you must survey your employees.
- Do what you can to increase the number who participate in those surveys.
- What you see quantitatively, does not completely reflect what you need to hear qualitatively.
- Remember that the survey is not an end to itself. It’s a gateway toward making improvements.
Finally, here is my take. The results seen here are typical of what I would expect from most Fortune 100 companies. What is astonishing, however, is that this is a movie studio. This is an amusement park. This is a TV company. This is not your typical insurance company or bank. This is a very volatile industry. It’s show business, for Pete’s sake! So the fact that an amusement park would get these kinds of scores is amazing. The fact that, given the in-and-out flow of people in the film and television industry, they would even attempt to look at this, is fairly noteworthy. Therefore, I’m impressed that Disney worldwide is focusing on this and trying to improve the experience for its employees. And the results are pretty good. Perfect? No. But they are moving in the right direction. Certainly I don’t think they are going into some downward tail spin as other critics might express.
What do you think? Do you think this is a true measure of employee satisfaction? Do you think that it improves employee engagement when done correctly? And do you think Disney is moving in the right direction?
*If you were a kid like me, always desperate to find anything on Walt Disney, you would know that in any encyclopedia, the entry for Disraeli always followed the entry for Disney.