Walt Disney Company: Motivating and Rewarding Employees


Motivating and rewarding employees is one of the strategic components of human resources management in the modern business world, which is developing at a fast pace. It has been acknowledged that human resources are the company’s major asset. At present, human resources professionals have developed numerous strategies to motivate and reward employees (Griffin, 2013). Such companies as Google or DreamWorks, have become exemplary when it comes to human resources management.

At the same time, one of the leaders in the sphere of entertainment, Walt Disney Company, which used to be regarded as a creative place to work, is now facing numerous problems. One of these problems is ineffective human resources management, which is connected with the company’s expansion and lack of strategic planning in the field of HR management. Admittedly, it is possible to come up with an effective solution based on experiences of other successful companies using a creative approach (for example, such companies as Google). The present report dwells upon major issues related to human resources management and includes a number of strategies that can be utilized to solve existing problems.


Brief history

The company dates back to late 1920 when Walt Disney created his famous cartoon character, which was later known as Mickey Mouse. The Disney brothers took a risk and created a cartoon with synchronized sound, which made them famous and which shaped their further approach. Rukstad and Collis (2009) note that apart from innovation, the Disney brothers also focused on a specific management strategy as they had a flat organization, in which employees communicated and expressed their ideas freely with no bureaucratic delays, and no one had titles in the company. This contributed to the creation of a healthy and creative working environment where people strived to try new things.

Thus, apart from cartoons, the company worked on animation films, live-action films, television programs, and the creation of the park. The company was expanding significantly. Apart from operating in the USA, the company opened Disney World parks in other countries. However, the Disney brothers tried to preserve initial values of teamwork and creativity, though it was quite difficult as the expansion was associated with the development of hierarchical patterns (Rukstad & Collis, 2009). Thus, employees were still told they were a part of a big creative family though numerous branches and divisions (as well as titles) created an image of corporate business. Of course, the company resorted to a variety of motivation and rewarding strategies, such as certain perks, bonuses, and other strategies used in other organizations.

The problems became apparent in the 1980s when the company’s financial performance was rapidly deteriorating. A number of factors contributed to this deterioration. One of the most significant factors was stifled creativity as employees did not come up with new ideas but tried to imagine “what would Walt have done?” (as cited in Rukstad & Collis, 2009, p. 4). Therefore, it is possible to note that the creativity of employees reduced. One of the reasons is the ineffectiveness of human resources management and motivation strategies.

Human resources management in the company

It is necessary to note that the Walt Disney Company makes use of extrinsic rewards, such as paying bonuses and different benefits or raising salaries (Hill, Jones & Schilling, 2014). Admittedly, such rewarding and motivation strategies have been effective for decades as people work for money in the first place (Griffin, 2013). Raising salaries is a potent tool to make an employee motivated and make him/her understand that his/her work is appreciated. However, this motivation strategy cannot be used alone as it is not enough as lots of companies may provide large salaries though due to the unhealthy environment, the level of revenue is high. Besides, extrinsic tools are associated with additional expenditures, which can be a heavy burden for an organization, especially during financial crises or slow economic development of a country.

Apart from extrinsic rewards, the Walt Disney Company offers numerous perks to its employees. For instance, it enables employees to obtain extensive training. Disney University (which is not an accredited educational institution) has become a popular training option for thousands of people as future employees (as well as college students who could choose any other company) could get courses and work at Walt Disney company (Boudreau & Ramstad, 2013).

Admittedly, this is a great motivation strategy as through this training future (as well as existing), employees can learn more about the company’s values and obtain important skills for becoming a successful member of a team. At this university, people can get involved and feel a part of the Disney family. However, it is also necessary to note that lots of companies launch such internships and training courses. So, it can be fruitful to add new features which could attract more talents.

The company also offers other perks that are associated with recreation activities. Thus, employees can preview attractions. Clearly, the company provides discounts and a variety of admissions for its employees (Disney careers, 2014). Employees can invite their friends and family members (though the number of visits is limited). There are also recreational areas for employees.

Nonetheless, it is necessary to note that motivation and rewarding strategies are not effective, especially when compared to such companies as Google or DreamWorks. Apart from this, the company operating in different countries has to take into account numerous characteristic features of the region. Karadjova-Stoev and Mujtaba (2009) state that the company made numerous mistakes operating in France as the perks provided were unlikely to be valued by French employees. As has been mentioned above, the company started as a flat organization, which was seen as a big family, but it has transformed into a multinational corporation. It is noteworthy that the company is facing numerous financial constraints, and the company is trying to cut costs (Hill, Jones & Schilling, 2014). Thus, the company is unable to invest a lot into rewarding and motivating strategies. Nonetheless, it is crucial to introduce new programs and strategies.

Alternatives and Potential Strategies and Programs Needed

It is possible to consider successful experience of other companies as well as experience of the Walt Disney Company. One of the first measures to undertake is to motivate creativity of employees. It is important to make working places unique and adjusted to each employee’s needs, which develops loyalty in employees. Employees of Google and DreamWorks ‘create’ their own working and this favorably affects their productivity (Hill, Jones & Schilling, 2014). It can be easy to implement such a strategy as it goes along with the Disney brothers’ ideas as they believed that adults “are only kids grown up” and they need to have fun even when they are working (Rukstad & Collis, 2009, p. 3). Hence, this should be a principle to follow.

Apart from adjusting working areas, it is essential to make the company less hierarchal. Employees should feel a part of a family. The first step to do it is to revive collaboration and cooperation among employees. Employees often gathered to brainstorm new ideas in the company. However, these gathering became rare. There are some meetings and conferences, but they are not effective. Employees should have an opportunity to meet and collaborate in groups.

For example, in Google, they have small teams working on specific projects (Hill, Jones & Schilling, 2014). These groups also collaborate to implement their mutual projects. This strategy can also work in Disney as one of the company’s major assets is its employees’ creativity. It is difficult to remain creative when every idea needs to be pushed several layers up before it can come true. Disney employees should also have certain freedom to create. It can be a good idea to encourage employees to work on projects they like or feel passionate about. Meetings where employees brainstorm ideas have to be weekly and held in corresponding areas (in a park, in the Disney World Park, in the downtown, and so on).

Disney University is a very effective motivation tool and employees (or future employees) can develop numerous skills and obtain the necessary knowledge. However, it is possible to extend the boundaries. Hence, employees’ relatives should also have an opportunity to take a course. It can be a rewarding strategy to give the right to employees and their relatives to take certain courses in drawing, management, film production, IT, and so on. Colleges participate in the program, but it is possible to address high schools and encourage their students to take certain courses.

The Walt Disney Company has onsite childcare centers which enable families with kids focus on their work (Disney careers, 2014). It can be effective to launch days when employees can visit their children in these centers to watch them play. This can have numerous positive effects: employees get distracted for a while, they meet their children and they have an opportunity to watch their (and other) children playing with toys or each other. This can help employees come up with creative ideas for the studios or Disney parks.

Strategies mentioned above need little investment and can become first steps. However, there are effective strategies which need certain funding, but this will be wise investment. This is especially true for launching reward and motivation strategies in international parks. Firstly, it is crucial to implement detailed research of major characteristics of labor laws and cultural peculiarities of people working for the company (Karadjova-Stoev & Mujtaba, 2009). Secondly, it is important to develop appropriate strategies and methods to motivate and reward employees in accordance with their expectations. It is also important to provide extensive training in international parks and it can be effective to launch trips Disney facilities in other countries to reward employees.

Recommendations to Management

The strategies mentioned above are easy to bring to life, though the company needs certain organizational change. There were several attempts to remove unnecessary hierarchal layers. For example, Bob Iger managed to “flatten” the company when he dissolved strategic planning office (Hill, Jones & Schilling, 2014, p. 402). Nevertheless, this is not enough and more changes are needed. It is important to dissolve some other offices and make sure that employees can communicate freely with each other and top management. Transparency is important but effective communication is even more effective. Each week top managers should run meetings where employees share their ideas and brainstorm.

It is necessary to create working teams which focus on certain projects. These teams can involve employees from different departments. Technology enables people communicate with people from other continents easily. Therefore, it can be possible to get employees from different countries work on projects and share ideas. It can be effective to make employees working at studios and recreation parks share their ideas and come up with new projects. All this will contribute to development of creativity as well as loyalty in employees.

It is important to note that vertical promotion should be limited as well as the number of top management should be reduced. There can be coordinators of projects, but it is inappropriate to appoint heads of departments as it leads to strict hierarchy which reduces creativity and flexibility. Admittedly, promotion is a potent tool which motivates employees, but promotion can be horizontal. The employee, who is to be rewarded for coming up with an effective idea, can be appointed to be a coordinator of the team working on the project. Monetary rewards should be used as well. As has been mentioned above, such an employee can get a trip to a Disney park in another country.

The company’s management should also address some of top high schools to develop certain training programs for students. It is also possible to consider a course (or some training courses) for students’ gap year. Employees’ relatives can have a privilege to take these courses. Employees can run certain courses and students can be involved in creation of some products. It can also be a form of rewarding for employees working for Disney overseas to send their children or relatives to take up these courses. The company should make sure that all employees with children can benefit from child care centers.

More so, employees should have specific hours (for example, one hour a week) to spend at these centers observing, and even participating in children’s games. Finally, the company should invest into development of HR strategic planning. This should involve researching regional peculiarities in different countries where the company is operating. The company should understand that motivation and rewarding differs from region to region and these differences should be taken into account.


To sum up, it is possible to note that the Walt Disney Company has a number of effective motivating and rewarding strategies, but they are becoming somewhat outdated. For instance, the company made some attempts to reduce bureaucracy, but it is important to continue working on this. ‘Flattening’ the company will contribute to development of loyalty and creativity among the company’s employees. It is crucial to go back to the initial format of the organization which was seen as a big family of creative and inspiring adults who remain kids in their hearts. The company can also use successful experience of such companies as Google and DreamWorks which bring the brothers Disney’s aspirations to life by giving their employees freedom to create

Reference List

Boudreau, J.W., & Ramstad, PM. (2013). Beyond HR: The new science of human capital. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press. Web.

Disney Careers. (2014). Web.

Griffin, R.W. (2013). Fundamentals of management. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning. Web.

Hill, C., Jones, G., & Schilling, M. (2014). Strategic management: Theory: An integrated approach. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning. Web.

Karadjova-Stoev, G., & Mujtaba, B.G. (2009). Strategic human resources management and global expansion lessons from the Euro Disney challenges in France. International Business & Economics Research Journal, 8(1), 69-78. Web.

Rukstad, M.G., & Collis, D. (2009). The Walt Disney Company: The entertainment king. Harvard Business School, 1-27. Web.