A View from Blue Grotto

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Magic of the Mouse

“You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.” Walt Disney

I just returned from a family vacation to Disneyland in Los Angeles. At dinner the last night of our trip, my family - three generations of us - sat and talked about what makes Disney, well, Disney. What is it in the pixie dust that makes the entire Disney experience magical?

This is the third blog in a row that I’ve discussed culture, but after having witnessed the most impressive, inculcated and authentic culture in the corporate world today, I must comment on it yet again. The Disney culture is possibly one of the most studied corporate cultures in the world. Google the words Disney corporate culture and you get 1.1M results.

I asked my Dad, on several occasions, during our trip, “How do you think they get their people to buy into the whole Disney thing?” meaning: how does a culture become so ubiquitous that you are almost guaranteed that your Cast Members will smile on cue, will act as if your family is the only family they have to cater to today, will be in costume, signing autographs on main street at the exact appropriated time, will make sure the ladies restroom stalls have toilet paper from 8 a.m. – midnight…and make it all look so effortless, so natural, so… magical.

There is a Disney University. And the Cast Member training is extensive. But somehow, each day they convince every single Cast Member from the person in the Mickey Mouse costume, to the gal walking the grounds picking up trash, of the magic that is Disney and more importantly of their own personal responsibility in helping visitors experience that magic. Can you imagine if your own staff or workforce were able to carry your company’s mission, branding, and commitment to service and success to your customers so completely as the Disney Cast Members do? Clearly Walt Disney’s gamble on creating the most ironclad culture in the world has paid off. The unofficial numbers say that more than 14.5 million folks passed through the gates into Disneyland in 2005, close to 39 thousand visitors each day.

Lots of people have Disneyland experiences, and I’d love to hear about them. Email me with your favorite Disneyland memory, or a comment on how they’ve kept the magic up for 50 years now.

The note Minnie Mouse wrote to my very tearful niece as she explained that this was the last day of our visit summed up our family’s trip “Remember, no distance or place or lapse of time can lessen our friendship. We are pals, Minnie Mouse.” That’s about as authentic as you get. Disney University or not. That one Minnie Mouse continues to help make Walt Disney's dream a reality 50 years later.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Monday, November 20, 2006

More than a mission statement

“The biggest defense against pilferage is a strong culture.” Orin Smith former CFO of Starbucks.

I was moved to write again this week about corporate culture upon hearing the news that former Enron Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling, who was convicted of fraud and conspiracy in the biggest corporate scandal in U.S. history, is to begin his sentence at the low-security federal prison in Waseca, Minnesota. And, partner in crime, David Delainey, may also be sent to the Waseca prison.

When the collapsing Enron inundated cocktail hour conversation back in 2001, people would ask incredulously, “How could the top people not have known?” When folks inside the company, some long-time employees, asked the same question, with the same sense of incredulity, investigators appropriately became suspicious.

A company’s culture is organic. And it’s viral. It spreads quickly. It is defined by leadership and emulated by direct reports. In the 9/29/03 issue of Harvard Business School Working Knowledge Newsletter http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/3689.html, Michael Sisk asks: how does a commitment to "do the right thing" as it's applied to customers, employees, and other stakeholders affect an organization's daily decision making?

In this brief article, Sisk gives examples of the challenges every company - big or small, corporate or independent consultant - tackles regularly - maintaining your values under constant economic pressures. Executives he quotes credit communication as an important piece of the shared values puzzle. Continually articulating a company’s values and vision is a constant reminder to employees of all levels.

I would also argue that finding ways to illustrate your organization’s values – not just stating them, posting them up in the lunchroom, but rather finding ways to incorporate them into key messages…in newsletters, weekly reports, messages from leadership…gives employees concrete benchmarks and a richer understanding of what you mean when you say: “UPS believes that corporate commitment to core values and ethical decision-making are the foundation upon which all aspects of the company must be built – the foundation which ensures the company’s long term viability. This commitment creates a climate for success in which our customers, employees, shareowners and communities can trust in UPS’s legacy of leading with integrity.” {Summary of UPS mission statement, yes, summary}. It sounds nice. And very official. But what does it mean? To the customer shipping millions of dollars of merchandise every year, to the shareowner, and most importantly to the person in the brown truck carrying your most prized possession to, hopefully, your door?

Email me with examples of how your organization stretches beyond the mission statement. I am eager to hear of examples of living your values.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Messaging affects branding

Can a nonprofit have a brand? Just like that of Starbucks or McDonalds?

Absolutely, according to authors John A. Quelch and Nathalie Laidler-Kylander. Both were interviewed in a March 14, 2005 Harvard Business School Working Knowledge Newsletter Q&A{http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/4686.html} to promote their book, The New Global Brands: Managing Non-Government Organizations in the 21st Century.

It took me a minute to think of as well-known a brand as Starbucks in the nonprofit world, but I nodded in acknowledgement when the authors mentioned the American Red Cross (an internationally-known brand) and Habitat for Humanity.

The authors remind us that funding for nonprofits is becoming more competitive and that corporate partnerships are seen as a viable option for new development dollars. Branding becomes especially important when seeking corporate funding. Quelch and Laidler-Kylander refer to the co-branding opportunities of corporate sponsorship.

Companies are looking for the right fit in sponsorship packages. Sponsorship of an organization’s mission gives the corporate community a specific role to play in your efforts. Conversely, a sponsorship initiative allows leading community businesses to demonstrate their participation and investment in achieving your organization’s vision.

Many Blue Grotto clients are in the process of developing sponsorship relationships to support their development efforts. And in working with clients on these new opportunities we find that an organization’s brand is a reflection of, an extension of, even the result of the organization’s culture and philosophies.

One important facet of a nonprofit’s branding and outreach is key messaging.

Key messaging helps an organization to:
· Define what you know about yourselves
· Understand how others perceive the organization
· Articulate your best practices

Key messaging can be used to communicate and reinforce your organization’s culture and core values - to staff and clients, current and future board members, partners and donors, legislating bodies and the community in which you operate. Duplicating a consistent message is an important, but often elusive, element of a nonprofit communications and development strategy.

Consider how any one person’s description of your organization can affect another’s view of your nonprofit - the domino effect. Then imagine how that same person’s message, when consistent with the key messages of your organization’s values can be propagated over and over. Imagine further, the impact if everyone connected to your organization - your board, staff, and volunteers, your own donors, the media, even competing nonprofits – were duplicating your key messages. Thus the critical branding process – full circle.

Email me with examples of how your own messaging and communications reflect your organization’s culture and philosophies.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.