Lilly's source for inspiration: the Magic Kingdom

To learn how to better engage employees during a time of upheaval for the pharmaceutical industry, Lilly Diabetes turned to an unlikely source - Disney.

To learn how to better engage employees during a time of upheaval for the pharmaceutical industry, Lilly Diabetes turned to an unlikely source – Disney.

Edrice Simmons, product brand director of global marketing at Lilly Diabetes, spoke about employee engagement Wednesday at the PRSA Connect 13 Conference in New York. She recalled how as Lilly faced increasingly negative perceptions about the pharma industry, a group of senior executives visited the Magic Kingdom to gain insights about how Disney kept customers happy.

What they found was that Disney employees were “obsessed” with creating positive experiences for customers, Simmons said. One staffer even spent his entire day making popcorn so that the park would carry that smell. Simmons and the other execs determined that Disney's leadership was driving that passion among employees, which then translated into good customer experiences.

Back at Lilly, Simmons and her team identified four ways to engage employees and change the culture of the company. First, it went from focusing on teams to focusing on the individual. Lilly changed the physical office space, opening it up to make it a more integrated work environment. It also gave employees new and improved technology, such as smartphones and iPads. Finally, Simmons said she stressed to leaders the importance of creating better relationships with employees through more personal interactions.

“It's about the human connection you have with every employee,” Simmons said.

Not every leader is on board with this approach, Simmons admitted. However, Lilly has since tied pay and benefits to how well managers engage their employees, so the principles are catching on. As Lilly and other companies have found, employee satisfaction can have a significant impact on business performance.     

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