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What's The Magic to Happy Employees?

Looking to Develop Your Leaders? If you do it right, it could also boost morale, creativity, and spark the transfer of good ideas.

What kind of magic does the Walt Disney Company use to keep its large and sprawling staff of smiley, friendly, and competent workers all on the same page ... and keep them all smiling? Contrary to popular belief, it's not the pixie dust. What's actually responsible is a robust and internationally recognized leadership program that aims to carry on the virtues first established by Walt and Roy Disney 80 years ago.

"Our guests are more likely to return based on our interactions with cast members who are more prepared, more willing, if they have great leadership that supports them," says Bruce Jones, the programming coordinator for the Disney Institute, which started as in-house training for Disney company staff and has expanded to offer training and development for outside organizations. In other words, Disney learned quickly that internal leadership development was crucial to success.

Assess your goals

Before you start a leadership development program, you have to make sure your business has a clear vision and stated goals. It seems like a no-brainer, but experts say many companies discount this critical first step, which makes it harder to inspire new leadership. The goals and vision you create should also be believable, or you risk compromising employee trust. After all, the most successful companies create objectives that they can – and do – clearly act on. Another reason to embrace setting leadership goals, experts say: treat it as a change initiative, and it can reprioritize your business strategy. People have to be willing to invest in new approaches to a job, and updating your company's core goals is a good place to start.

Identify leadership candidates

Identifying the employees best suited for leadership can be tricky, and theories vary on how to best identify those candidates within your organization. Disney focuses its development programs largely on promoting from within, and more than 60 percent of its management comes from its existing staff, Jones says. The company also keeps an informal, hands-off approach to its succession program by setting goals and then standing back."Those that we believe are going to be the great leaders in this organization are going to be the ones who rise above in this environment," he says. At the same time, you should be conscious that the best employees don't always make the best managers, Murphy says. "The skill sets are about 180 degrees away from each other," he says.

Use real-world examples

A leadership development program is only as good as its practical applications. Disney doesn't just tell its employees about customer service values established in the 1960s; it gathers good customer service stories from around the company to share with its leadership classes and takes employees backstage at its parks to see its complex support environment. When on the road doing classes for outside organizations, instructors create a virtual experience using film and photographs. Businesses should also pick instructors for the program who have a track record of good leadership. Otherwise, employees won't embrace the message.

Related Content: Optimize Talent + Develop Capabilities

What's right for your business?

What kind of leadership program is right for your business? Experts say internal development is often something that gets axed as businesses look for ways to save money. But they say overlooking the value of cultivating your own in-house talent can be a fatal mistake. Leadership programs help ease the chain of succession, make employees feel more connected to the business, and can transfer good ideas from one section of your company to the whole organization. livingHR can help you with a leadership and development program that fits your business.

Tahlia Y. dos Santos (she/her)

We humanize work for everyone because we know it creates better outcomes for humanity and business.

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