Newmeasures, LLC

What Can Disney Characters Teach us about Employee Engagement?

We’ve all grown up with Disney and many of us have a favorite character. But here’s something you’ve probably never thought about before….is your favorite character engaged?

This topic came up in a recent workshop with leaders who were discussing the difference between engagement and performance. It can be easy to equate the two and think, “Well, if I’ve got people who aren’t engaged, they probably aren’t performing well….”

It’s true that engaged employees are often stronger performers. They’re committed to their work and are willing to go the extra mile. However, it’s also possible that you can have a top performer who isn’t engaged. At Newmeasures we talk about engagement along two dimensions:

Performance: How much and how well is the employee contributing to the organization and executing their responsibilities?

Feeling Valued: Does the employee feel recognized and appreciated for their efforts?

These two dimensions can be thought of in terms of 4 quadrants that describe the employee experience. The leaders in the workshop started creatively connecting the concepts of feeling valued and performance to their favorite Disney characters. Here’s how the conversation unfolded:

Bottom-Left Quadrant: Toxic Employees 

We can all imagine a coworker or employee who doesn’t contribute much in terms of their work, and, if these people don’t feel valued, they often show up to work with a poor attitude.

In the workshop, we started talking about what this type of employee “looks like” in terms of their behavior and one leader immediately chimed in with the answer “Eeyore!” This was a great response as employees who aren’t contributing and don’t feel valued can have a mopey, doom-and-gloom attitude that may rub off on others.  Or, like Scar from the Lion King, these employees can be visibly disruptive and have a toxic effect on those they interact with.

With Eeyore under our belt, the challenge became to see if we could identify Disney characters for each quadrant in the engagement model.

Bottom-Right Quadrant: Comfortable Employees

In the bottom-right quadrant are employees who feel valued but don’t contribute much. These employees  are often comfortable in their role (perhaps they’ve been with the organization for a while, maybe they feel they are paid fairly or even have a great parking spot!), but they aren’t doing a whole lot when it comes to contributing solid work. Often, these “comfortable” employees can be fun to be around because they bring a positive attitude but they may also frustrate others due to their lack of contribution. This quadrant reminded us of characters such as Goofy (fun, but makes lots of mistakes) or Buzz Lightyear (Toy Story; perceives himself to be an excellent performer, but doesn’t really get much accomplished).

Top-Left Quadrant: Frustrated Employees

We call employees in the top-left quadrant “frustrated” because they are strong performers but don’t feel valued. These employees can be relied on to do excellent work, but because they don’t feel valued they often feel their contribution is unappreciated, not understood, or taken for granted. This group of employees is often at risk for turnover – they are good at what they do and can more find a new job. Elsa (Frozen) and Sebastian (The Little Mermaid) were two examples that represented those that worked hard and had a lot of value to offer but whose talents and contributions were overlooked and undervalued. True to the description, Elsa even represents the risk of turnover when she runs away to a place where she felt she could fully leverage her talents (even if that did mean she turned everything into ice!).

Top-Right Quadrant: Engaged Employees

And finally, the top-right quadrant describes the ideal state, where employees are performing at their best and feel valued for their contributions. These “engaged” employees go above and beyond to meet goals, live the values of the organization and deliver remarkable results. For this quadrant we immediately thought of the beloved Mickey Mouse, who is continuously bringing joy, solving problems, and working well with the team.




As you consider the engagement levels within your team, the engagement model can be a useful way to think about where your employees currently fall and the best strategies for coaching them to excellent performance and creating an environment where they feel valued. Hot dog! (as Mickey would say).

What’s the engagement level of your favorite Disney character?





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