Talking Point: The Disney Institute Blog

A Leadership Lesson: The Role of Positive Peer Pressure in Workplace Culture

February 19, 2015 by Bruce Jones, Senior Programming Director, Disney Institute

In an recent Forbes article, “Upgrade Your Customer Service Through Positive Peer Pressure,” Disney is mentioned as an example of an employer that hires and inspires people in a way that aligns with our overall goals, effecting future generations of new hires through positive peer pressure, allowing the impact to snowball. 

We agree with the author, particularly in exploring the concept of positive peer pressure. One leadership story we have shared a number of times with clients and attendees in our professional development training courses involves a fellow Cast Member who had a chance encounter with a senior Disney executive leader in the restroom of one of our resort convention centers: When asked why he was cleaning up trash around the sink (when clearly there were custodial Cast Members nearby) the executive replied, "I can’t afford not to."

The message was clear: this leader was holding himself accountable to an important Disney value (what we call "values-infused" leadership)And, just as importantly, he had now given permission for our friend to hold himself, and others, equally accountable. In other words, he had provided permission to apply peer pressure. Why is this important? Permission to apply peer pressure has a ripple effect. Trying to keep an entire resort or a theme park clean every day for tens of thousands of Guests can seem overwhelming, but not if we have over 60,000 of our peers helping out.

One day, I found myself thanking someone for picking up a handful of napkins on the ground at the Magic Kingdom Park and discovered that she was a Guest. When asked why, she replied, "The Park is always so clean, I hate to see anything mess it up." Now, contrast that with a story I later heard from an external client of ours who admitted, "In our culture, if we see a piece of trash on the ground we kick it out of the way." Imagine the impact the ripple effect could have on employees and customers in this environment!

Evidence of this ripple effect can also be seen with Disney custodians entertaining our Guests by creating pictures of Disney characters on the pavement with their pans, brooms, and some water. In this case, custodians know that they have permission to create these special moments with our Guests and that their peers will help keep up with cleaning if needed. It’s clear to everyone on our team that interacting with Guests and creating these types of memorable experiences is the priority.

As we teach participants in our Disney’s Approach to Employee Engagement professional development course, when hiring new employees, you must be very intentional about testing for cultural match and also in testing for cultural mismatch. It’s imperative to test for cultural values in addition to skills. Ask candidates questions about how they build positive relationships and draw out why it is important to them (or not). Then, during the onboarding process, you must deliberately share clear expectations, and then reinforce these values in training and day-to-day interactions with the team – not just verbally, but in actions as demonstrated by the story above.

A healthy workplace culture is made up of people with healthy peer-to-peer relationships. Cultures like this may occur organically or as a random occurrence, but we prefer a more thoughtful approach. A certain amount of pressure can be a motivator, and positive peer pressure can take an organization’s culture from "buy-in" (I will help) to shared ownership and commitment (I want to help). 

How can you ensure that positive peer pressure plays a role in your organization’s culture?

We would love to hear from you!
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Disney Institute uses business insights and time-tested examples from Disney parks and resorts worldwide to provide relevant illustrations and engaging stories that help you deliver the type of long-term results your organization is capable of delivering. Ultimately, Disney Institute can help you operationalize and sustain business results through leadership, culture, service and more. Explore our solutions for a team or an organizational initiative by visiting Our Approach page. To learn more about options available for an individual, please explore our Scheduled Courses.


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Posted in Employee Engagement | Tagged Culture, Workplace Culture, Organizational Culture, Company Culture, Employee Engagement, Engagement, Selection, Training, Onboarding, Leadership, Ripple Effect, Service, Customer Service, Bruce Jones

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