Business Excellence and Disney Water

The Disney Institute speaker launched us into a fascinating 90-minute presentation that started with an invitation to take a drink from a high pressure water hose, took us “off stage”, and left us inspired.

The 2011 Legal Marketing Association conference was recently held in Florida’s Walt Disney World — a great venue to ignite a conference that centres on understanding and improving the client experience.

Our Disney Institute keynote speaker was as well-rehearsed as any Disney production, but with plenty of nuggets to take away and consider. Disney, as an organization, is a model to follow and learn from. Yes, even a law firm. Legal services may be the furthest thing from Disney, but there are plenty of strategies we can learn and adapt that improves the law firm client experience and drives revenue.

Consider their business model. It looks like this:
Leadership excellence -> Cast excellence -> Guest satisfaction -> Financial results. 

Each stage leads to financial results, and there is significant interdependence between the stages. On the surface it’s a basic chain of functions, yet behind each stage – you’ve got to know – is myriad of highly strategic and tactical initiatives that place Disney among the world’s smartest businesses.

Here are just a few of the many nuggets that lurked behind that business model:

  1. Disney’s goals are simple: (1) Create an intent to recommend (2) Create an intent to return. Everything they do can be mapped back to one or both of these goals.
  2. Centre all effort on the guest experience. It’s all about the guest– their experience and emotional state throughout their visit, right through to their return home to face the bills. Disney “meets guests at their emotional level” whether they are excited as they enter through the front gates or exhausted on existing.
  3. Implement high standards and clarity when hiring. Be upfront about what you need and the “uncompromisable” things that the organization requires. This is where self-selection begins. Attitude always trumps aptitude. If you’re not willing to smile, work as a team, toe the line, there’s the exit. But do come back and see us as a guest! Throughout the process everyone is treated as a Disney “guest” (see #1 above). New recruits – or “cast members” are schooled in Disney basics or “traditions” where everyone learns that picking up litter at the Disney park is expected, to always smile when “on stage”, to answer more than just the simple question (“When is the 3 O’clock parade?”). Disney management meet with new cast members regularly and frequently, and every manager meets with individual staff once per month. Rewards programs are in place and transparency is evident.
  4. Figure out how to lessen the negative stereotypes of Disney and emphasize the positive. As one example that hits close to home, the sticker price for a Disney experience is high. They do not apologize for this, and nor should we for our legal fees. To improve the impression of value for dollars, Disney sends a satisfaction questionnaire 45 days after they return home, to coincide when their bills arrive (see #1).
  5. When necessary, guests/clients will forgive you when there is loyalty. Even Disney isn’t perfect or when, say, safety is an issue and a cast member must step in to circumvent an accident, inconvenienced guests will understand and forgive.
  6. The next great idea can come from anywhere or anyone. Disney listens to guests, but also to everyone in their organization. 

What can your firm adopt from Disney? Just imagine. 

There’s something in that Disney water, even if it comes from a hose. 


  1. It has always been my opinion that the legal publishing industry as well could learn a great deal from those who excel in the hospitality industry. Or, even from a music conductor — nothing like different parts coming together to create a wonderful harmony.

  2. Verna, you should check out this video on TED. It looks at the leadership styles of various orchestra conductors. Very interesting.

  3. Really enjoyed the metaphors Talgam uses. Thanks, Bart.