Magic Backstage

The other day I went to the venerable SunTrust building across from Disney Springs. I needed to deposit a check. Surprise! SunTrust bank is no more, and the drive through stations were being removed. Talk about end of an era! SunTrust was an early sponsor not only of the park, but had a bank next to City Hall on Main Street. Those doors in the Magic Kingdom closed a long time ago to make way for what is now the Chamber of Commerce building.

If you’re not aware, that very plain multi-story office building was really the first major admin building Disney had going for itself. It was built a few years after Walt Disney World was opened, and the executive administration largely held itself there until they moved to the cavernous Team Disney building. On the main level was a SunTrust banking center, which made it convenient for Cast Members to access a bank near their work. Providing conveniences for its employees was a big issue in the early years at Walt Disney World. There was very little in terms of stores, banks or even gas stations. In fact, one of the very early things provided to employees was just that–a gas station they could go to in order to fill up and have enough gas to get home at night.

What was called the SunTrust Center for many years still supposedly houses Disney offices inside–I think some HR functions are located there–convenient, as it sits next to the Casting Center. What I did find in the parking lot was this!

Magic Backstage Van. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Magic Backstage Van. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

This is the Magic Backstage Van. It’s titled as such because it is parked only in backstage areas, away from the guest. It looks magical enough for guests, but it’s really intended for Cast Members. Since its debut in 2015, a Magic Backstage team has surprised Cast Members throughout the Walt Disney World Resort with magical moments, playful activities and even prizes to win backstage tours and other Disney experiences. It’s intended to surprise and delight Cast Members in the same way Disney expects Cast Members to surprise and delight its guests.

Who hosts it? This particular effort is led by a group called Cast Activities Recreation & Experience. They fall under the traditional HR umbrella, and they help support a number of activities, such as cast sporting events and a private recreation center used exclusively by employees. Having such events/facilities goes a long way to really making Cast Members feel special. As important as this group is, however, it does not replace the critical need for the same kinds of activities to take place at the team level. Those are often as important, if not more important, than those larger organizational initiatives.

Disney really focuses on creating Magical Moments and Take 5s with its guests. In an earlier post, I illustrated how this has touched my family personally. The “Magic Backstage” is a focus on the cast members, though you can see it looks and feels like a Disney-branded experience. This particular activity touches all of the 70,000 plus Cast Members of the resort. Important as well, is that individual teams do things to surprise and delight their own employees. The combined effort does much to build morale and make the workplace a great environment to be in.

A couple of key messages from this:

  • Orchestrate opportunities to surprise and delight your employees.
  • Know that demonstrating such, teaches your employees to model the same behaviors for your customers.
  • Hosting these events away from the customers make them feel like they are exclusive opportunities for employees.
  • Brand the experience–not just by having a great logo or look and feel, but in really being intentional in doing it, and doing it consistently.
  • Little acts like this go far in engaging employees and in creating a more customer-centric culture.

What does it look like where you work? What opportunities are there for you to create Magic Backstage?

Leave a Comment