Friday, December 17, 2010

It's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (Except at Disneyworld?)

Walt Disney World - Carousel of Progress - cir...
The title of this entry is the theme song from Disney's Carousel of Progress, one of the attractions that Disney created for the 1964 worlds fair. My wife and I just returned from a fairly enjoyable week plus stay at Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida.

As I've mentioned before, I'm a big Disney fan.  I'm not alone.  Disney stock has appreciated around 20% this year and they've been on a good run for awhile now.  In spite of this, and in spite of the title I'm going to make a couple of criticisms of the company.

The first is probably a short term thing.  Disney is apparently in the process of phasing in new business process software.  There were many glitches during our ten day stay including the need to issue us a new room key/charge card on average every other day at one point.  Ours wasn't an isolated experience and we heard about other people having similar problems.  As an experienced IT professional I know these kinds of things are difficult to avoid and generally of limited duration.  Based on some of the problems we saw though it appeared that whomever created the new system could have done a better job on gathering requirements.  Some corner cases were not handled well.  For example, we were vacationing with friends and we wanted adjoining rooms.  When we first booked our stay via the Disney Vacation Club we only had enough points (DVC is a points based time share) to book four days at a particular resort.  Later we were able to add two more days to our stay at that resort.  In the process of adding those two days Disney apparently failed to add the additional room even though they charged us the points.  For those familiar with how DVC works we basically ended up with a one bedroom rather than a two bedroom unit for the first two days.

Disney did a reasonable job of salvaging this situation but it took an hour plus to work out all the details and it did have a negative impact on our stay as we ended up with a unit that wasn't quite what we had originally requested.  .There were other problems as well, but they didn't have a substantial impact on the trip.

The second thing I noticed that bothered me was the continued erosion of the on/off stage concept at the.  Those who are familiar with Walt Disney will know that he wanted people to be immersed in the experience of going to the parks.  One of the things that bothered him about Disneyland was that they didn't have the space or the money to prevent cast members from different lands from having to be "out of place" while getting to where they worked.  He was passionate about the presentation of the experience and having somebody destined for Frontierland passing through Main Street USA in costume wasn't something he wanted customers to see.  Walt Disney wanted the customer experience to be as immersive as possible.  

When the Magic Kingdom (The Disneyland equivalent in Florida) was built they actually scooped out a bunch of the nearby dirt to create an artificial lake, and built a mound/hill upon which all the attractions were built.  This allowed them to create tunnels under the park so that costumed cast members could go from place to place without interfering with the magic of the story that Disney was telling in any particular area.  The visible parts of the park are essentially built on the "second floor".  Fast forward four decades and at the Walt Disneyworld parks other than the Magic Kingdom this ideal seems to be largely dead.  More on that in a bit.

Companies should have core values that encourage growth and shape how they develop.  Ideally these core values are simple to articulate and understand.  One of the more famous corporate core values is Google's "Don't be evil", IBM has "Innovation that matters"  and Southwest Airlines has "Great customer experience".   Like most companies Disney has several core values. 
In regards to the Disney context I really like this set of core values and based on comments Walt Disney made during his life they are very true to what he believed in.  The one that is most relevant to the point I'm trying to make right now is "Storytelling".  Imagine seeing a cast member dressed for the Haunted Mansion in TomorrowLand.  If you're familiar with Disney this is not a harmonious image.

At the non Magic Kingdom parks in Florida cast members park right in front on the entrance.  I don't recall this being the case when we were last there a couple of years back, but I might be misremembering.  Costumed cast members are regularly coming and going while customers are entering and leaving these parks.  This seems to be at odds with the story telling aspect of the Disney culture and I doubt Walt Disney would have been in favor of it if he were still alive.  Technically the parking lot is "off stage" in Disney parlance, but it just doesn't feel right to me for things to work this way.

To be clear, I have nothing against the cast members.  Disney should be providing them with parking spaces that are either near the parks (but out of sight) or regular shuttle service if parking is further away.

A lot of people would argue that this is a small thing, and maybe it is.   Companies lose their way all the time though by losing site of their core values.  Apple during Steve Jobs exile would be one example.

My wife and I took a back stage tour at the Animal Kingdom while we were in Florida and I noticed there were signs up anywhere cast transitioned from "back stage" to "on stage".  Those signs reminded cast members of many of the company core values and as a general rule all the Disney staff we interacted with did a great job of living up to them.  On the other hand cast members we saw leaving and coming to work (often in costume) just looked like ordinary people.  Understandably they were not engaged and pretty much looked like anyone else would in those situations and that certainly doesn't contribute to the story telling or magic that is supposed to be at the core of the Disney experience.
Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment