Sunday, March 18, 2007
The entire problem with Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) can be summed up in one word, “Accountability.”
At WDI, promotions are given out based on ones willingness to support management decisions, not ones ability to achieve results. Before any progress can be made, the WDI executives responsible for failures like Disney’s California Adventure, Disney Studios Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland need to be held accountable. So far, no one at WDI has taken any responsibility for these gargantuan errors in judgement. The fact is, nobody at WDI feels responsible. They all claim that they were just following orders, and on the surface this appears to be true. At WDI, the unofficial motto is, “to get along, you have to go along.” This means going along with bad ideas, inefficient production methods, poor casting choices, artificially inflated budgets…basically everything management dictates. To do otherwise is to risk your job.
However, there are those who did not simply keep quiet in order to protect their jobs, but actively supported many recent blunders. Some of them were rewarded with promotions, raises or choice assignments. These yes men and women should be called on the carpet by the new CEO. They are just as responsible as their bosses for the sorry state of the Disney Theme Parks and the tarnished reputation of Walt Disney Imagineering. Mortgaging the future of the company for a larger salary and impressive-sounding title can not be excused by the phrase: “I was just following orders.”
Accountability is the first step. The second is a shift in the corporate culture that rewards innovation and allows for a more open exchange of ideas. This is the foundation of any successful creative institution. After these elements are put in place, WDI will be on the road to becoming a healthy working environment again—with employees who are actually motivated to create value for the company.
Here are a few tips for the future management of Walt Disney Imagineering on how to foster a positive working environment:
1. Smaller, smarter management. Currently, WDI has a very top-heavy reporting structure. This needs to be reversed.
2. The integrity of the product should be more important than membership in the old boys’ network. WDI isn’t Hollywood. There is no need for WDI to imitate the worst business model in the country.
3. Reward those who achieve results.
4. Open communication with Walt Disney Feature Animation. WDI rarely takes advantage of its shared history and close proximity to Feature Animation. There was a time when the two creative groups worked together for mutual benefit. But today, WDI management has deliberately restricted communication with the Animation department (as well as many other divisions of the company).
5. Trust your people, and work to earn their trust.
6. Do not hire or promote slick Hollywood types or charcoal gray MBAs who think Disney is corny or sappy. People who are emotionally committed to Disney will stick around for the long-term and will make choices with the future of the company in mind (not just the next fiscal quarter). Emotional commitment and good business practices are not mutually exclusive. For a practical demonstration, see Pixar.
7. Do not rely on guest polls, surveys, and trend studies. They are never perfect and are easily slanted to produce a predetermined result.
8. Remember, not taking any risks is the biggest risk of all.