Many years ago, I was lucky enough to have worked at Disney World as a “cast member.” When I later became a consultant/trainer, I carried that very special work experience with me. As a result, I do believe that I look at patients, dental teams and dentists through Disney eyes. 

It has always been my desire to spread the Disney magic in dentistry because there’s no reason why we can’t make every dental experience magical as well. That is why it was an awesome thrill to create an opportunity for 130 Pride Alumni to participate in Disney Institute's people management training (customized for dentistry) this past summer. 

Part of our training included a behind-the-scenes field trip at the Magic Kingdom to observe Disney leadership in action.  The resulting experience exceeded all our expectations, leaving us raving fans committed to spreading the Disney vision.  It is my hope that every dental team member strives to accomplish that level of satisfaction every day with every patient and with each other. If that was the case, we’d see higher levels of case acceptance, reduced no-shows and cancellations and deep loyalty and commitment from all. 

Our training opened with a quote from Walt Disney that I saw repeated in every training facility at the Kingdom: “You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality.”  Now, if that’s not the bottom line truth, then I’m Minnie Mouse! 

It isn’t Space Mountain or the latest Disney movie that makes the magic, just like it isn’t the implant, crown preparation or periodontal maintenance visit that makes the magic. It’s you, your team and your culture that engages people … or not. One of the things we learned during our training is that out of the 60,000 employees that work in Orlando, a huge majority make between $6.00 and $8.00 as an hourly wage. 

Now, how many times have dentists complained to me saying, “you can’t expect me to get magic out of my staff at these wages,” or, “the hiring pool is limited!”  Disney does it. I received a note from one of our female clients, Dr. Lisa Ference of Clifton, New Jersey, who participated in the Disney management training with us. 

She wrote: “The message regarding the importance of our practice culture, the significance of communication, clear expectations and accountability and the value of having a clear vision reinforced all the training we have been receiving … I was amazed that, whether a business of six or 60,000, the same basic principles will lead a team to success!” 

I challenge you to take a visit to any Disney property and find a staff member that isn’t personifying the culture, because those staff members are few and far between. But I bet I could find a few hostage team members in your practice. 

One of the interesting things that we got to see on our Disney odyssey was that it made no difference whether you are an executive for the company or a bus boy in one of the park concessions - you are expected to deliver the same basic “guest” customer service. To prove it, we looked for anyone in the Kingdom with a blue badge, which indicates they are an executive in the corporate structure. Every executive we spotted with a blue badge also had an apparatus to pick up garbage in the park! Every single custodian we saw was also empowered to serve their guests with information and relationship building. 

Do you demonstrate your leadership by, literally and figuratively, picking up the garbage? Do you empower your least-experienced, least-trained staff member to consider guests first, before a job description task? The example in our training highlighted the bakers from the Main Street Bake Shop. We observed them out on the street taking pictures with children and chatting with guests. Our facilitator pointed out: “Shouldn’t they be baking?” and then countered with: “That’s not the Disney way; yes they bake, but their first goal is to surprise and delight.” 

Now tell the truth: have you ever heard a hygienist chatting amiably with one of your patients and deep within your heart, you said, “Why is she chatting when she should be doing the prophy or supporting clinical alternatives? Why is she having fun on my dime?” Now, ma’am, what would Walt Disney say?

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Another aspect of the Disney training that made me feel a lot better about our own many mistakes and failures is that when you study customer service, whether it is Disney, Nordstrom or Ritz Carlton service, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the size and depth of these organizations and feel humbled by what looks like flawless performance.  One of the most endearing quotes I heard at Disney was: “We strive for pixie dust and sometimes we get pixie mud.” 

That made the Disney initiatives that much more human and genuine because you can’t expect 60,000 cast members to always be on their game. Disney would have a flawed system if they didn’t have provisions to address the unlikely event of a water landing. Herman Melville said, “only the mediocre are at their best all the time.”

This reinforced a deep, profound lesson for me personally: expecting brilliance from your team is not possible, is not fair and doesn’t really promote the brilliance that you so desire. Every customer service step you take forward can and will result in some failure … and according to Disney, it’s ok!

So now that you are all as excited about the Disney way as I am, what is the first step that needs to be taken for you to bring magic to your office? The step zero (before you can even begin this process) has to do with creating your own unique “corporate culture.” 

Per Disney standards, a corporate culture is “the system of values and beliefs an organization holds that drives actions and behaviors and influences relationships.” There are four components in creating a successful culture.  You create that culture by:

  • Design (versus one that just happens)
  • Definition (rather than one that is open to individual interpretations)
  • Being clear to all (versus one that is vague)
  • Being goal-oriented (versus lacking purpose)

I challenge you to ask your team and patients what their interpretation of your culture is.  If you get different responses, blank stares or inconsistent messages, then that is where you must start. 

“The Disney culture, and maintaining it, is still my number one priority,” said Michael Eisner. 

Once you have the culture all you need to do (sounds so simple) is continuously reinforce the culture, select the right fit talent, train for consistent quality and communicate to inform and inspire and always create an environment of care. Lee Cockerell, Executive VP of Operations for Disney, sums it up best: “There are hundreds of roles at the Walt Disney World Resort, but there is only one purpose for all of us and that is to make sure that every guest that comes to Walt Disney World has the most fabulous time of his or her life.”

All of this can sound empty if in expecting what we expect; not every aspect of the organization supports and personifies these important concepts. Much to our surprise, we learned that there is even a Disney way to make a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich that has been proven to satisfy guests more than the standard way. Would you like the secret? We discovered that Disney trains their line cooks to put peanut butter on both sides of the bread so that the jelly in the middle never seeps out on one side.  Now for me, if a mega-corporation like Disney goes to the depth of specifying how a peanut butter sandwich should be made, it would be really easy for any dentist and her team to go to that same depth of detail. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed by even taking the first step, let me help. When we were behind the scenes in the catacombs of the Kingdom, we were introduced to a new pilot training program that we were cautioned was not open to public training yet because they had not gotten enough results to endorse it. Of course, being me, I took all the material on this program with me because it stated so eloquently the pure, basic fundamentals of what it takes to create a culture based on service and leadership.

Every one of those bullets applies to every single staff member in your practice. Does your dental assistant (whether she is in sterilization, passing you instruments or conducting a patient debrief) project a positive image? Is she always courteous and respectful? Does she stay in character, and what is that character? Is she a one-dimensional clinician or a three-dimensional dental team member whose primary purpose is to serve? Does she always go above and beyond?

Once again, does your appointment coordinator demonstrate her commitment to the hygienists? Does she understand how to manage the scheduling system and cross-train it so that other cast members can support it? As a self-directed team member, does she lead and mentor and is she responsible for the performance of her fellow cast members?

Are any of these concepts new or a surprise? Probably not, but what is surprising is to see a multi-billion dollar organization walk its talk, which inspires me to walk my talk so that I can influence you to walk your talk. 

Is running a dental practice serious? Sometimes … but I believe there is a little Mickey Mouse in all of us, just aching to come out! Here’s to Disney magic.

Amy Morgan, Pride Institute CEO and Spear Resident Faculty

(Click here to read more dentistry articles by Amy Morgan)


Commenter's Profile Image Jill K.
November 11th, 2018
Long!..,but worth reading! Thank you for the pearls Amy!