86th Annual International Purchasing Conference & Educational Exhibit
Roberta J. Duffy
Monday, April 30
Keynote Luncheon address
Lee A. Cockerell
Executive Vice President of Operations
Walt Disney World Co.
It's no surprise that there was a mention of children…and grandchildren…and families. Afterall, when you work for a company that brings out the kid in everyone, it's natural to keep that spin, even in a formal speech about leadership. Lee A. Cockerell, executive vice president of operations at Disney spoke to conference attendees Monday afternoon and detailed some key strategies for effective leadership. He described leadership as "the silver bullet for running a business."
Cockerell, who requested a donation be made to the Central Florida United Way in lieu of a traditional speaker fee, developed these strategies in 1995 and uses them to illustrate to his staff what leadership looks like. He says that without making these strategies clear to employees, you can't expect them to be followed, and it's also important to constantly reiterate them. "Remember when you were a kid? If you ran out into the street, when did your parents deal with that and give you feedback? They didn't wait until your annual review," Cockerell says.
- Design Organizational Structure for Success.
It's important to take people through an organization's structure so that they understand how various units relate to each other, which people have which responsibilities, and which people have authority over which activities. Always try to view your structure from the point of view of your customers and those closest to the customers. In Disney's case - the cast members who interact with the public.
- Put the Right People in the Right Jobs.
Do extensive research when hiring people, including references and background checks. Placing the best person in a position from the onset is invaluable.
- Ensure Cast Members are Knowledgeable About Their Jobs.
People should always be learning while on the job, gaining new skills or learning more and more about the organization. Cockerell says that there have been cast members who will praise a supervisor (and stay in a position longer) because he or she is constantly teaching the cast member something. In Cockerell's view, this shows that the supervisor is a good leader.
- Make Dramatic Leaps in Service.
Cockerell tells his people, "You're here to improve our operations, not to maintain the status quo." Their commitment to customer service is always a priority.
- Implement Effective Processes.
In order "to get stuff done," Disney is always looking for suggestions on how processes can be improved. Cockerell will often ask employees about what they think or what they hear from customers that "is a hassle." Those activities are the ones to target for process improvements.
- Explore, Probe, and Know What's Going On.
Effective leaders need to be visible to their employees. If they are, employees will feel more comfortable coming to them with problems, issues, and ideas. Equally important on this point is to follow up with those people on the points discussed.
- Actively Observe and React to Performance of Direct Reports.
Just as adults do with children, leaders should constantly be responding to the actions of their staffs. "If you have kids, you know how it is-everything they do gets a response of 'Wow,' 'Good job,' or 'How did you do that?' Or, if a child makes a mistake, we encourage them to keep trying," Cockerell says. He advises keeping this same philosophy when working with adults.
- Expand and Act Upon Knowledge to Improve Service.
This includes keeping up with technology, exploring organizations that do similar activities very well. Learn from those people. He recalls a story of how a valet driver was instructed to go to the nicest hotel in town and use its valet service to learn "how it ought to be done."
- Partner Effectively.
This applies inside and outside an organization. The key is to be available for your partner and make a commitment to work together to make things happen. Cockerell also points out that the closer partners work together, above and beyond what might be expected, the easier it will be to work through problems together when there comes a time for difficult discussions. Because of the trust established, both sides will know that the difficult discussions are not personal, but effective.
- Demonstrate a Passionate and Professional Commitment to the Job.
People should be excited to go to work, not excited for the end of the day. Cockerell says he believes that if you're not truly happy in what you're doing, you should find something else, because a person's value to the organization is severely diminished when he or she isn't happy.
- Understand and Master Business Fundamentals.
So that the entire organization can work together for common goals, it's important that everyone have an understanding of the bigger picture. Cockerell says that even their line managers are schooled in concepts like working capital.
By Roberta J. Duffy, editor of Purchasing Today®.
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