A Secret from Disney | By Rob Lott

When a family begins the pilgrimage to Walt Disney World, their expectations are exceptionally high.  They can’t help themselves.

They’ve been inundated with marketing from Walt Disney World, the Disney movies they’ve seen, and the stories they’ve heard from the Disney-loving family down the street, and it’s all building toward their own euphoric anticipation of the moment when they finally get their own stroll down Mainstreet U.S.A., toward Cinderella and Prince Charming’s Castle. 
 
I have the distinct pleasure of getting to call myself a Disney Cast Member. Even better, I belong to the Entertainment Cast of Walt Disney World. For almost twenty years, I have called the stages of Walt Disney World home. 
 
Okay, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. It’s something we’re not supposed to talk about. It’s definitely something you’re never supposed to see. The thing is, it happens every day, and sometimes right in front of our Guests. Don’t tell anyone, though. Let’s try and keep this between us. Ready? Here it is. Lean in close.
 
We rehearse. 
 
We rehearse a lot. When learning a new role or a new show, we break each moment down to its irreducible minimum, and we drill it to perfection. The goal is to become so comfortable and confident with each dance step, each harmony line, and each comedic punchline, so that we know of no other way except to deliver it perfectly. And on the rare occasion that we mess up, we must be so polished that even the mistake should look excellent. That’s the goal, at least. 
 
The thing is, everything drifts. Not on purpose, but simply due to human nature. The high kicks, over time, begin not to be so high. The original harmonies drift out of tune, and sometimes the notes settle in to a new harmony altogether. These adjustments happen. From the wear and tear of daily use, it just happens. 
 
What to do? Well, we combat this with a team of experienced and expert artists who not only teach and maintain the shows and parades, they also inspire Cast Members to exceed the expectations of our Guests and Creative Team. 
 
These expert artists sit quietly in the audience, a secret shopper of sorts, tucked away, although not hiding. They applaud and they laugh when something is funny, but they also take notes on what could be better. They hold the cast accountable to the standard of expected excellence. 
 
These are teachers dedicated to their Cast. They use every method they can find to help a young performer get it right. They point out what’s working, and then they apply that strategy to the moments that are not. 
 
That’s the secret. We rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. And when rehearsal is finished, we continue to work on it, sharpen it, and make it excellent.
 
People often ask me, “How does everything at Walt Disney World work so smoothly and come off so perfect?” Well, first I tell them, we don’t always get it right. But when we don’t get it right, we try to make it right. As for all the things we do well, my answer is, we do it every single day, usually multiple times a day. When you do something every day, with the intent to do it better today than you did yesterday, your work should exude excellence rather quickly over time. 
 
So, I ask you, what does your organization do every day that should be excellent? You have your procedures and routines, and the same things are happening over and over every day. What systems do you have in place that will hold everyone on your team accountable to the excellence you’ve agreed upon?

-Rob Lott