All is not well in the Magic Kingdom

Is the rot setting in with Disney's Magic Kingdom's Cast Members?

As many of you know I am a keen user of twitter the social network, A while ago I asked a cross section of Disney fans and former Cast Members on twitter to tell me what they thought was important at Disney. To my surprise this answer represents a large percentage of the replies.

We may argue the point, the quality may or may not be slipping, but that is not the issue, don't get me wrong it is important to the continued success of the company but what is more important is the perception of quality. If Guests do not believe in the Disney dream, like Tinkerbelle Tinker Bell it will simply fade away. Sadly I think a lot of the public's perception is down to the attitude of Cast Members.

Undoubtably there are many thousands of good and devoted Cast Members making Magic every day in Disney locations around the world. But there are many who just don't seem to get it. Take for example the Guest who corrected the Cast Member about Universal studios.

A few years ago now Jim Hill published an excellent article on the different species of Disney Cast Members, the put forward the groups as;

When times are tough, you invest in yourself...

  • The Die-Hards: These are also known as the Pixie Dust People. They are Disney-maniacs to the Nth degree, and always will be!
  • The Died-Hards: These people desperately wanted to be Die-Hards, and have many of the same pixie dust qualities!
  • The McJobbers: These people are almost always from nearby the Parks, and go to work for Disney because their friends do, or because they need a job, or because a parent/brother/uncle said they should.

The impression I now get is that there are more and more young people coming to work for Disney who do not share the corporate ethos that I have extolled in many thousands of words here. There have never been enough Die-Hards but there has always been an ample supply of McJobbers to fill the gaps.

The Walt Disney Company's budgets are tight, staffing is down to the bones, show maintenance issues are becoming more visible and the number of Guests is falling - there is a tightening in everyone's wallets and you have to work with the people you have. I am not sure I think it is all down to the Casting though. To quote one successful businessman Jason Calacanis. When being interviewd recently he said When times are tough, you invest in yourself..., a lesson perhaps Disney could profit from.

Taking the time to re-enthuse Cast Members with the Pixie Dust might pay dividends for the ailing giant of the entertainment industry. Reading the tweets of newly hired Cast Members the enthusiasm shines out. The the magic enfused into new recruits during their deep dipping in the Disney lore at Traditions oozes out of every pore and they rejoice in the glow. It is later, much later that the different strata of Cast Member level out. Those who are not blessed to have been Die Hards, born to be the ultimate Disney employee might be reborn with a little time invested.

Taken from the turnstile, attraction or dust pail and shown a week in the life of the Guest Relations host, or take the time to read some of the letters and email recieved at Guest Communications. Perhaps look over the shoulder of a chef in a fine dining establishment, to see another side of the business. Shown another side of the Kingdom, perhaps something to aspire to, or to appreciate the work done back stage.

It Works:
In the bleakest days of Disneyland Paris, in the mid nineteen nineties the then manager of Park Operations P.Y. Gerbeau and his team faced a similar problem. Specifically Attractions hosts motivation and moral was ebbing, attendance figures were low, the news media was talking about financial meltdown for the company and the Cast representatives within the French unions were demanding a pay rise at under the threat of strike action. The plan that emerged to set up what became known as the 'Parcour'.

Now the name Parcour is the name of a fast growing urban sport as seen in the opening scenes of the Bond film Casino Royale, in the Disneyland Paris of 1995 it was a motivational project on the completion of which you got a pay rise. You would spend a little over a year working a minimum of two months each on two roller coasters, two dark rides (e.g. Snow White), and two walk thrus. You could also then opt to work with the parking or ticketing teams.

The solution was simple, cheap and very effective. Disney got multi-skilled, cross-trained staff, who had had a year of rapid training and advancement. With the spirit of competition we tried to finish the Parcour as fast as we reasonable could, we felt we were more valued and as a bonus we became better Cast Members. After a year we knew more about the parks and about the business as a whole.

Cast Members are the living breathing personification of the Disney Magic. I cannot imagine a Cast Member at Walt Disney World who would still confused about Universal Studios after such a training period would be rare indeed.

Whilst financial belts are tight, I think investing in your best assets is possible the best investment you can make. Disney's best assets are by far and away it's people. Fellow Cast Members, Disney management please take notice. People are to talk, sorry - did I say people - I meant Guests!