Walt Disney learned early in his career that no one can be yelled at by a supervisor in the back room and then walk through the front door with a big smile and greet a guest. This simple insight serves as the foundation for much of Disney's success at making people feel special--both guests and employees (or "cast members," as they are commonly referred to at Disney).

In every aspect of its business--financial, customer service, quality and innovation, management and employee retention--Disney comes out on top. The reason is not magic, but a long-standing culture of recognition and motivation.

Accentuate the Positive The Walt Disney Company has more than 180 recognition programs. Among them:

* Spirit of FRED Award--FRED is an acronym created from the name of an employee who personified the Disney values: Friendly, Resourceful, Enthusiastic, and Dependable. This award was introduced by an employee to recognize the individuals who mentored and coached him as he began his management career after being an hourly employee, but employees liked it so much they kept giving it out. Now they have a Lifetime Spirit of FRED Award for multiple recipients: a miniature Mickey Mouse statue.

* Five-Minute Chats--To help managers and cast members connect at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort (though managed by Westin and Sheraton, respectively), every manager got a list of ten cast members who did not report to them and over the next month spent at least five minutes checking in with each one. Employees now have increased access to managers who in turn learn about their staff.

* WOW! Cards--Members of the Swan-Dolphin staff regularly use brightly colored, tri-fold thank-you notes made from construction paper to thank fellow staff members for their help or kindness.

Eliminate the Negative Disney seeks out employees who are service-minded and people-oriented. Those qualities are reinforced in the Traditions 101 training program. This training program is staffed by cast members who work with new people over several days to immerse them in the culture of the company. New hires get a view of the company through the eyes of its employees and they get to know exactly what their job is, how to do it, and what's expected of them. In turn, the program reinforces the Disney culture in the trainers.

Disney expects its leaders to be coaches and to give its people feedback to help them grow. Managers are evaluated on their financial or quantitative skills, and on their ability to lead people.

As a result, Disney has created a successful culture of recognition supported within the organization and used as a model by other companies.

What can you learn from Disney that can help you in your organization?

1. It all starts with a philosophy--Create a philosophy and start to live and apply it.

2. Recognition comes in many forms-- A single recognition program isn't enough to motivate employees. Combine informal, frequent methods of recognition with more formal long-term methods.

3. Your systems must support your values--If you say you value your employees, don't support systems, policies, or procedures that serve as obstacles to your employees' efforts and self-esteem.