The long-term care and senior living experience has the potential to feel magical, and a number of Disney principles and practices can maximize efficiency, quality, and joy among residents and staff alike. 

In a recent webinar titled “If Disney Ran Your Senior Living Experience,” David Hopkins, president of Kazoo Leadership, offered several insights from his personal experience in the Disney organization that our communities can embrace to improve the resident experience.

Modeling excellence

Walt Disney himself knew that there was something to be learned by observing others. He would go to amusement parks, and he noticed that there was trash spewed about. He also noticed that people held on to trash – such as a napkin, tissue, or empty cup – for about 18 steps. So, Hopkins said, “If you walk down Main Street or anywhere in a Disney park, there are trash cans every 18 steps. That’s a lot of trash cans, but Walt didn’t want trash on the ground.” 

He noted that this effort to keep the grounds clean, safe and free of debris is so deeply respected by everyone in the organization that when Michael Eisner was touring a park and saw an ice cream wrapper on the ground, he stopped to pick it up and dispose of it. 

“I was blown away,” said Hopkins, adding, “Here is the CEO of a multibillion-dollar corporation modeling the value that the organization’s founder established many years before.” 

This is a leadership principle worth embracing. Everyone from the CEO to the administrators to the medical director and DON should model the behavior and attitudes they want from every staff member. They should also be team players who don’t hesitate to pitch in and help when there is a staff shortage, problem or emergency. 

Attention to detail and forced perspective

In Disney parks, the buildings look much taller than they are, and this helps create the sense that you are in a magical place. Our communities can use this concept to some degree by having a clean, aesthetically pleasing lobby where visitors are greeted by a warm and pleasant concierge (or front desk professional) with a great smile and maybe a cold bottle of water or cup of hot coffee. 

This, per Hopkins, requires a collaborative environment where everyone from the CEO to the housekeeping and maintenance staff share a commitment to attending to every detail. This means things like personal notes and efforts such as having gluten-free, sugar-free, and/or fat-free foods for those with special diets so they can enjoy meals like everyone else.

Never underestimate the possible impact of little things. For instance, Hopkins recalled how his kids got passes to jump the line at Disney’s Space Mountain, how excited they were about it, and how they talked about it long afterward. 

“This effort didn’t cost anything, but it had a huge impact,” he said. Our communities can apply this concept by looking for opportunities to make a big difference with small actions or efforts. 

A safe and love-filled environment

Doing the right thing for the safety of the client can cost money, no doubt. However, Hopkins talked about the value of safety. He said, “The first thing at Disney is always safety. This is our number one priority.” 

He told a story of a cashier who was walking in the park with a cash drawer containing a few thousand dollars. She saw a small boy climbing on a bridge while his parents were preoccupied with a map. The cashier dropped the cash drawer and ran over to help the boy down and reunite him with his grateful parents. When she went back to retrieve the cash drawer, she found several guests guarding it. However, Hopkins said, “Had the drawer been emptied, she wouldn’t have been penalized because she prioritized safety as she should.” Ultimately, the cashier received a recognition card that she could redeem for food in the park.  

Hopkins stressed that safety needs to extend to all parts of your building, even those areas that residents don’t visit. Staff need to make sure that offices and other spaces are free of fire hazards, slip-and-fall risks, and other safety concerns. 

Seven steps to great guest services

There is an old saying: “People may not remember what you said, but they’ll remember how your words made them feel.” So it’s not surprising that Disney has guest services guidelines that, Hopkins said, “are drilled into every cast member as they come on board.” 

These are: 

  1. Make eye contact and smile.
  2. Greet and welcome each and every guest.
  3. Seek out guest contact.
  4. Provide immediate service recovery.
  5. Display appropriate body language at all times.
  6. Preserve the “magical” guest experience.
  7. Thank each and every guest.

Of course, even when your team follows these guidelines religiously, problems and challenges will arise. Hopkins said, “When something goes wrong or isn’t done right, fix it right then and there.” He said that he has witnessed numerous situations where someone fixed a small problem that could have snowballed into a huge issue if it hadn’t been addressed as soon as it arose.  

In the end, Hopkins said, “We need to share a magical experience for our residents and be proud of what we do.” He stressed that Walt Disney didn’t set out to be the best theme park; he just wanted to do things differently and better. 

This is a great philosophy to have in long-term care as well. If we keep moving forward, we will open new doors and take paths that lead to innovation and positive change. 

Charles de Vilmorin is the CEO and co-founder of Linked Senior, creators of the Life Story product.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.

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