How Walt Disney drives innovation through diversity

The Walt Disney Company has adopted an innovative approach to engaging a multigenerational workforce with a view to boosting innovation, fostering employee engagement and improving talent management

The Walt Disney Company has adopted a unique approach to engaging a multigenerational workforce with a view to boosting innovation, fostering employee engagement and improving talent management, according to the company’s local head of HR.

Walt Disney has a number of programs in place globally, such as internships and reverse mentoring, which assist in catering to the needs of a multigenerational workforce, said Toby List, head of HR, Australia & New Zealand for The Walt Disney Company.

Locally, he said the company offers programs, forums and opportunities that encourage a diversity of perspectives for employees across generations to come together, share and thrive.

One example is an incubator program, in which staff from different areas and levels across the organisation, tackle a business challenge nominated by its leadership.

“Following several meetings, they present their findings and recommendations, which are often marked by the originality of fresh eyes and thinking,” said List, who was speaking ahead of the HR Leaders Forum, which will be held in Sydney on 21-22 February,

Walt Disney also has an annual team-based innovation program, based on the lean start-up methodology, which culminates in a “Shark Tank-esque pitch”, he said.

Another initiative is called “strategic foresight”, which applies the principles and methodology of futurism to strategic planning.

“What all of these programs have in common is that they are open to all staff, regardless of level and role, and therefore tap into the full diversity (including generational) of our workforce and provide opportunities and development to all those involved,” he said.

“The ‘co’ is important to emphasise as the programs have objectives which are both developmental for our staff but also of ultimate and direct commercial value to the company”

Diversity and innovation go hand-in-hand in Walt Disney, according to List, who said the company is “wonderfully diverse” and in the local market alone it has TV channels, TV content, movies, live stage shows, consumer products and digital.

“This diversity is stimulating but can also create complexity,” he said.

“So as we assess talent, we value the ability to look at things through our consumers’ eyes, to see connections across the business, and to collaborate at an advanced level in order to deliver results.

“For these reasons, we value staff and leaders who have a diversity of experience, meaning that we actively seek to bring about lateral moves and promote from within where we have opportunities.”

The business also supports this through programs which enable staff to collaborate across departments on shared challenges and through other programs such as job shadowing and mentoring.

List said the appointment of Kylie Watson-Wheeler as MD in June 2016 is evidence of the value placed on lateral experience; as Kylie previously held roles across four different business areas before being appointed.

HR also plays an important role in the above strategies as “co-authors, sponsors and facilitators”, said List.

“The ‘co’ is important to emphasise as the programs have objectives which are both developmental for our staff but also of ultimate and direct commercial value to the company,” he said.

List will be speaking at the HR Leaders Forum, which will be held in Sydney on 21-22 February at the PARKROYAL, Darling Harbour. For more information visit the HR Leaders Forum website. Image source: iStock