Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson aren't the only people to describe Disney's strategies as "management magic." But in The Disney Way: Harnessing the Management Secrets of Disney in Your Company (1999, McGraw-Hill, N.Y.), the pair has captured the company's culture as few have before. They published the book in the hope that reading about Disney's strategies "will allow companies to soar beyond the limits of traditional management techniques."

Capodagli and Jackson are regular practicioners of "the Disney way," using Disney-inspired techniques such as "The Gong Show" and "Dream Retreats" in their management consulting practice, with clients such as Bristol-Myers Squibb and Whirlpool.

Corporate Meetings & Incentives recently caught up with them to learn first-hand how Disney uses meetings and training to instill its corporate culture and values, motivate "cast members," and spark creativity.

CMI: What inspired you to write The Disney Way? Jackson: When we first got into the management consulting business years ago, we naturally looked at companies that had earned a reputation for effective management techniques, and Disney just stood out from the rest in terms of innovation and effectiveness. It's important to state that in our practice we help other companies apply aspects of the Disney strategy to their own situations.

CMI: Briefly, what is the Disney way, particularly as it applies to managing employees?

Jackson: Disney employees are well-trained and well-compensated, and management makes sure that everyone from executives to summer workers has a proprietary feeling about the company. Employees, called cast members, know their roles in the show--know their scripts, so to speak.

Capodagli: Also, they have the feeling that it's their show, not somebody else's. The company provides an atmosphere of trust, gives them the tools to do their job, welcomes their ideas and input, and isn't looking over everyone's shoulders all the time.

CMI: How does Disney motivate its cast members to be creative?

Capodagli: Take the regular meeting they hold called The Gong Show, which is based on the old TV amateur-hour show. It's a concept where, two or three times a year, any Disney employee can present an idea for a full-length feature animation before Michael Eisner,CEO and chairman of the board, and Roy Disney, vice chairman of the board, and other executives. Hercules, the animated film, for example, came about from an animator's idea that was presented at a Gong Show. The company benefits because they get thousands of good ideas from their employees, some of which are developed into feature films. And the employees benefit because they know they have the freedom to submit ideas that will be listened to. Even if their idea is "gonged," they celebrate it and learn from it.

Jackson: In our consulting practice, we've also come up with a concept we call Dream Retreats, which was inspired by Imagineering, Disney's creative division. The whole idea of Imagineering is based on Walt Disney's "Dream, Believe, Dare, Do" philosophy--if you can dream it, you can do it. We encourage our clients to have their executive teams gather off site for a few days to more clearly define goals and values, and also barriers to reaching those goals and how best to overcome them. We also encourage companies to do this with all levels of the organization, including line workers.

CMI: What is the biggest mistake companies make in managing their employees?

Jackson: Many companies make the mistake of thinking that everybody in the company knows what they're supposed to be doing, and all too often that's not the case.

CMI: How does Disney keep this kind of thing from happening?

Jackson: One way is their training and orientation program, called Traditions. They immerse new people in the culture of the company over several days, so that all members know exactly what their job is, how to do it, and what's expected of them. Even 12-week summer employees go through this program. And the training is not done by consultants or professional trainers, it's done by other cast members. This gives new hires a view of the company through the eyes of its employees, and reinforces the Disney culture in the trainers.

Capodagli: Everyone spends their first days on the job in Traditions. Other companies we've spoken to say they don't do an orientation until after six months because the turnover is too high, and they don't want to waste the time and money. They're missing the point. The turnover may be high because people weren't immediately acquainted with the corporate vision, mission, and philosophy.

CMI: Giving employees a sense of ownership in the company, making sure they understand their jobs and have a thorough knowledge of the corporate values and vision, inspiring them to be creative and share ideas--the Disney way sounds sensible.

Capodagli: Yes, I agree with you. It almost makes too much sense. Like the old saying goes, "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."