Why government should be like Disney

Call me a sucker. I’m 42 and on my first visit to Disney World. Yes, it’s the happiest place on earth. Dreams do come true. Heck, it’s the land of milk and honey. And the Federal Government should run more like Disney.

Why would I make such a bold audacious statement? Have I been drinking the Kool-Aid? You damn right I have. Let me give you some examples.

First, we needed a special pass for our son. He has some medical issues and can’t stand for long periods of time. That can be show stopper at a place like Disney on Spring Break week. We headed over to Guest Services and told the young lady (she was a college intern) about our situation and produced a letter verifying his diagnosis from his pediatrician. She produced the special pass in seconds. When I asked if she needed the doctor’s letter she said “Nope, we trust you here at Disney,” and I was shocked.

Every encounter we had with a cast member (they’re all called cast members–but you knew that) was positive. No wasn’t in their vocabulary. Even when we wandered into the Lego Store computer room in Downtown Disney, the one that just opened that day, the Disney Cast Member that came to tell us the paint was still wet and we had to leave did so nicely. Negative vibes aren’t the Disney mojo.

I asked a cast member about their training. It wasn’t crazy or long. It was a few days of Disney history. Perhaps that is where they suck all the “no” out of your brain. Maybe that’s the trick. The history and culture. Think about it. Disney is the happiest place on earth, where dreams come true. You can’t have your dreams come true of you can’t “cross the yellow line” or “no shirt, no shoes, no service”. Instead it’s “You’d enjoy the ride more with your shirt on” or “We just painted that room and would hate to see you get your shirt dirty, could you please come enjoy our stuff over here?” which is perfect.

Disney gets it. Your glass never goes empty, the coffee is premium, there is a positive way of doing everything. There is a positive solution to even the most difficult situation. That’s how it should be with everything, even government. And what if you’re that 1% that has a negative experience at Disney? I feel sorry for you.

Now let’s go make our customers dreams come true.

Pardon the typos, drafted this from my iPad on vacation!

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Love it…not only because my family went to Disneyland one month ago to celebrate my son’s first birthday. I love how they think of park visitors as guests (not customers)…how do you treat guests in your home? It’s different from thinking of folks as customers.

Last year, I heard a great keynote by one of Walt’s original Imagineers – Marty Sklar – and scribbled down some of my take-aways:

“Mickey’s 10 Commandments: Tips from a Disney Imagineer”

Also, note another great post that I reference:

What Would Walt Do?

Russell P. Petcoff

All it takes is a frame of mind. As Viktor Frankl said, “The last of human freedoms — the ability to chose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.”


They also have a Disney leadership course that outsiders can take that I was signed-up for but never took that looked really cool. Goes a lot into these issues. Is pretty impressive how they do it (and such a large scale – across all their huge parks and stores)

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

Totally agree on the Disney experience. But I do wonder what causes the train wrecks of a career for women who were once Disney stars (Lohan, Cyrus, Spears, etc.).

Peter Sperry

@Bill — disney stars tend to suffer from over exposure at a young age leading to type casting in the public mind that is difficult to overcome. Also going through the teenage years in the public ey does not help. It is nothing new and not confined to Disney. Many of the child stars of the 30s, 40s and 50s edured similar problems. Shirley Temple gave up acting as an adult when her truely outstanding performance in “She wore a yellow ribbon” drew more press lamenting the loss of the adorable little tyke than comments on her acting.

Matthew DuFresne

I love the idea of looking at ways to improve how we do our work, the experience others have with us in our interactions, and having a happy/fun working environment; however, just a cautionary note. From an employee’s point of view I have heard that working for Disney is an all-together different experience and one that isn’t always so bright and sunshiny. The experience the customer or guest receives may be a very different one than the employee has working for the organization. There is a reason Disney is a “fantasy world” and not the real world. It’s important to look at a model both inside and out and from all angles prior to jumping into it. That being said, I’m all for better our system inside and out and for all involved.

Brian Goodhart

We went to Disney when my daughter had a severe food allergy. We’re very low maintenance folks and don’t make a big deal of this in restaurants, but of course when we do eat out we have to make sure that anything she eats from the menu won’t send her to the ER.

No matter where we ate at Disney, it was the first place where my daughter was treated as an honored guest rather than an intrusion. The chef would always come out, LISTEN to us describe our daughter’s allergies, suggest some alternatives, look up what was safe on the menu, and simply make our daughter feel important. Disney will always have a special place in my heart for that reason, and it was all about customer service.

Lucy Lester

Great topic.

I’d like to pass on one more book : Creating Magic 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney by Lee Cockerell

Matthew DuFresne

Not Disney related books, but still a couple of good books (in my humble opinion) on leadership are: First, Break all the Rules by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman and Leading at a Higher Level by Ken Blanchard. I think the important thing here is that we are willing to think outside of the box and challenge ourselves to work and be better. That’s saying a lot and is a great start to making our government what we want it to be.

Lisa Borkowski

@ Matthew — As a former Disney employee, I’d say you have a point there. Employees are worked long hours for meager pay. Well.. Disney is a huge-ass greedy (like them all) company. What do you expect? Here’s the difference, why the culture and management style is so important and why this post is an amazing idea: Disney employees (for the most part) complain only in private and not very much anyway, because they love what they do.. even if it’s long hours and meager pay. Plus, the managers are in the exact same situation as everyone else (as far as park staff go). Think about it. Why would someone choose to work for Disney? How could you choose to work for Disney if you didn’t believe in the dream and having fun and creating this fantasy world for people.. even a little bit. The lingo (cast members – guests) helps so much. Every day you’re reminded that you’re here.. helping to create magic for the guests. and that feeling of making people happy in that way creates magic in yourself and that’s one of the reasons why disney cast members are so cheery. When you’re able to help celebrate a birthday or make a child smile – It reminds you why you choose to work for Disney in the first place.. you believe in the magic.

So. How to translate to government work? Well.. I’d say we need more idealism. Why not try to make the world a better place? Facing the grim realities of political games and budget shortfalls can’t be easy, but if we keep our guests (the public) in mind and remember those moments we created magic (helping get someone a job, providing TANF, etc), we can keep the dream alive. Even if it doesn’t seem like magic to the every day joe (collecting taxes, regulating business), remind yourself why you got into government in the first place. Hopefully it’s a pretty magical reason – to make the world a better place.

Matthew DuFresne

Agreed Lisa! I would imagine that many, if not most of us who are part of Govloop would agree with you and probably do exactly (or try to at least) what you are suggesting. Now if we can get the others on board we’ll have a real great place to work and will be able to provide world class service to the public as they rightfully expect of their public servants.

Tim J. Clark

What would it take for the federal govt to be run more like Disney? What Disney does well:

1. Disney has a vision based on an ideal, e.g., to be the happiest place on earth where dreams come true.”

2. They have a business operating system in place to guide the actions taken in making progress towards meeting this ideal. Action includes maintaining a balance between sustaining what they do well, and making the needed evolutionary and revolutionary related improvements.

3. The output and outcomes from the system include success stories from stakeholders that continually reinforce and sustain the vision .

In comparison:

1. Is there a common and shared vision for America? Does you organization’s vision align with this vision?

2. Is there a common management operating system? Could there be … should there be?

3. Do laws like GPRA result in providing the evidence aligned with the vision for America that stakeholders need to determine if things are getting better or worse?

Rex Castle

There’s a simple formula really. Be a problem solver. The young woman who produced the special pass wasn’t in it to fill out a form, check a box, get a signature, or make sure everyone had stood in line for the required amount of time. She was there to solve a problem. That’s the difference I occasionally see when I access government. A few of the people I deal with aren’t always there to solve my problem; sometimes a couple of them seem to think they need to exacerbate my concern. I’m treated less as a customer and more as an inconvenience. But the form gets filled out, the checkbox is checked and someone has taken yet another version of my illegible signature, and I’ve been in line for most of my day–these aren’t goals anyone should be focused on, but there are moments when this is my perception when accessing our government (as well as many other companies). And we have similar issues with a few of our folks here at Tyler Technologies, so I’m not leveling criticism at “government employees” (who I generally believe work pretty hard and try pretty hard); I’m simply suggesting companies like Disney have this whole “be a problem solver” down to a bit of a science/culture (for the most part).


I totally agree (Disney is the happiest place & that Gov – like VA – should be next happiest)… Then let’s work on MSN Hotmail department where there is a catch 22 and NO service beyond the first level, just circles of nonsense and no authority to turn to??? What is that – and if Gov ran like that??? Thank God for supervisors and uplines; Walt had/has authority and he has upline structure to assure QUALITY. Gov has pleanty of authority and upline contacts, but could use more of that positive vibe interaction/responses. I believe we Govies ARE moving that direction. The people I work with here at NAVAHCS are wonderful, smiling souls who really DO care.

Benjamin Strong

Could we draw on experiences like the Civilian Conservation Corps? Is that too romantic? Back in the day we (govies) worked hard and were proud. We were in it for the common good.

I’m lucky. I have an amazing job. I help make sure peoples lives get saved. No, I don’t go out in ships or boats and rescue them myself, but I do help make sure the ships are there to get the job done. And when the job gets done? I send the ship a thank you note.

I try to make my office the happiest place in government. I let people I work with know that we give hope, we save lives.

How does that translate to every other part of government? We solve problems, we educate, we empower people, we make dreams come true (I know it sounds hokie, but people have needs and government helps fulfill those dreams).

Perhaps if we start at our level, as we say in the Coast Guard the Deckplate level, we can infect our coworkers and supervisors with the same idea- to make dreams come true?

Tim J. Clark

Ben — no question that we can all do our part to do our job the best we can and to make positive contributions within our respective work groups.

We also work within a bigger system and also have a responsibility to ensure our respective organizations provide the most effective and efficient services possible on behalf of our fellow taxpayers and citizens.

I would be interested in hearing about how the variety of government organizations (state, local, federal) involve their employees and customers/stakeholders in assessing the overall performance of their organization. Are we all living up to the vision?