Top Companies Embrace Change

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ORLANDO—Companies that are in top form embrace change and set their sights high, even during tough economic times, says Scott Milligan, SPHR, a consultant for the Disney Institute.

Milligan, whose career includes experiences in operations, distribution, budgeting, human resources and training and development, addressed a crowd of more than 700 here April 28 during the closing keynote presentation at the 2010 SHRM Staffing Management Conference and Exposition.

Desperate companies change only because they have to, while mediocre companies are content to cruise along. “They keep doing what they’re doing. They keep making widgets,” Milligan said, noting that founder Walt Disney believed that “if you’re coasting you’re going downhill.”

Companies in top form, the ones that are leaders in their industries, keep moving forward, even during the most challenging times, Milligan said. He cited Disney’s plans to expand its Magic Kingdom theme park and to launch two cruise ships.

“When this crisis ends, we want to be prepared. We want to be stronger when we come out of this,” he said, adding that Disney has long experience in coping with such crises.  “Since Disneyland opened in 1955, there have been 13 recessions.”

Setting the Tone

In his talk to staffing professionals Milligan quoted Robert A. “Bob” Iger, president and CEO: “I’d like for Walt Disney Company to be universally recognized as the most admired company in the world.”

“The most admired,” Milligan repeated. “He said that in the middle of this recession. That’s sending us a message that this too will end. That’s one heck of a goal. It sets the tone” and communicates the company’s vision.

It sets the direction, too, Milligan said. “Bob told us ‘here’s where I want to go.’ So I program that into my GPS,” Milligan stated. It’s the leader’s role to “be a GPS guide to decision-making. … And if you make a mistake driving [the GPS] doesn’t threaten. It doesn’t say ‘you shouldn’t have made that wrong turn.’ It says we need to be recalculating.”

According to Milligan, a vision that is communicated effectively:

  • Creates a shared and meaningful purpose.
  • Inspires passion and interest. 
  • Guides decision-making and strategy.
  • Conveys values.


HR leaders should “foster diversity of perspective,” he continued. “Everyone has valuable information to share, so make sure they understand what the big picture is. You see the person who sweeps up [at the theme park] more than you see me. That person is the visible one. Individuals need to know how their work contributes to the organization’s goals.”

Leaders must be visible, Milligan said. He showed photos of Walt Disney World Resort President Meg Crofton driving a safari truck and working in one of the theme park kitchens. “The message she is sending to our cast members is that every job is important” and that
leaders are there to listen to employees and customers.

Being visible is critical. Employees don’t trust a CEO who sends messages only when there is trouble, he said. “There used to be management by walking around. It used to be, come in, shake hands, move on” without really listening or understanding. But when Crofton and other Disney leaders spend the day working side by side with “cast members,” they communicate their concern and gain valuable insights.

He added that Crofton had been senior vice president of human resources. “Our senior HR exec was the person who was tapped to be the leader of our largest theme park. How cool is that? Do you think this company gets the importance of HR? Instead of having a seat at the table, it’s her table.”

Stephenie Overman is an Arlington, Va.-based freelance writer and editor of Staffing Management magazine.