Subscribe to our newsletter SIGN UP

Website Notifications

Get notifications in real-time for staying up to date with content that matters to you.

On-stage/off-stage and over-managing - Is it for your firm?

I recently travelled to Canada to run the Canadian Accounting Technology Conference (CATS), a Canadian version of Smithink 2020’s popular Australian ATSA event, and stopped on the way to attend the Disney Institute’s Leadership Excellence course in Anaheim, California.

Insights Mark Holton 04 February 2015
— 3 minute read

The course was a one-day event held at Disney’s Californian Hotel in Disneyland and included a field visit to the back-stage area of the park to meet experienced managers and witness the 'off-stage' area of the operation. The course itself was immaculately organised and presented by experienced Disney managers who have lived the Disney philosophy of 'on stage/off stage' for many years.


This system of customer service has always fascinated me. When a 'guest' (not a client or customer) interacts with a 'cast member' (not staff or team members) on-stage the client experience is a primary motivator. Off-stage, the cast members arrive for work, dress, eat, take breaks and interact with others outside the view of the guest. When they enter the park (on-stage) through discreet barriers they are immaculately trained, attired and ready to make the guest experience the very best.

It actually reminded me of a good accounting firm. The clients arrive in a professional reception area, meet the reception team, get offered tea or coffee and their favourite biscuit and then move on to the boardroom. This is the on-stage experience. The off-stage experience is the work area where the team prepare the information, eat and interact etc out of client view to present a professional service to the client when on-stage. We generally enter from doors (maybe not concealed) and then its action time.

During the training day, the Disney team spoke about the concept of over-managing and one presenter asked the 100-plus attendees what they thought over-managing was: to a person the response was 'micro-management'. And to our surprise, the presenter quoted the following: “Disney’s consistent business results are driven by over-managing certain things that most organisations under-manage or ignore and that is a key source to what differentiates us. We have learned to be intentional where others are unintentional.”

He further went on to say that:
• We tend to think about things differently from others and to a greater degree;
• We pay extraordinary attention to details surrounding general business processes;
• We strategically place emphasis that is both greater than and different from what is typical in corporate best practices; and
• We have prevailing evidence that suggest what we do works.

It is this attention to detail, matched with thorough ongoing training, that sets Disney apart. It is their point of differentiation. To emphasise this system of over-managing we witnessed a video of the Blinking Elephant. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando they have an animal puppet show with a huge elephant that blinks in sequence. This is controlled by a puppeteer inside the elephant who cannot see if the eye lids are blinking correctly. The puppeteer has been thoroughly trained; however, all cast members present have been trained, to notice if the blinking sequence is not normal and what to do and who to report it to. It is this attention to detail that sets good businesses aside from the competition. The blinking elephant becomes a metaphor for the actions of extraordinary leaders over-managing every aspect of the business.

So how does this relate to an accounting firm? Our industry relies on attention to detail. When this is overlooked, errors occur and the client experience is affected. Ongoing training and development in all areas of service delivery, from compliance and accounts production to business advisory development and implementation, is critical for a successful practice with happy and loyal clients who refer good quality business.

With much of the business advisory work I do, the successful firms invest time and resources in process improvement, attention to detail, training and development in both hard technical skills as well as soft client management skills and planning. They do this in a number of ways, from developing a business advisory implementation plan to setting realistic KPIs and monitoring and celebrating success. They do not rest on past performance and are always looking to keep abreast of new delivery trends and improving systems to ensure their services are professionally presented and the client experience is first class – in essence, over-managing.

So where is your firm now? Have you taken the first step forward to preparing your implementation plan? Are you looking for guidance, systems and processes, templates and ideas from experts and experienced practitioners? Is on-stage/off-stage and over-managing for your firm?

Don’t wait for other firms to pass you by. The time for action in now!

On-stage/off-stage and over-managing - Is it for your firm?
image intro
accountantsdaily logo
Mark Holton

Mark Holton

Mark Holton is a Business Advisory specialist with more than 30 years’ experience as an Accountant and Tax Agent, and is a highly respected consultant in taxation and business management in Australia and overseas with specialized knowledge in value-added services implementation and administration. He is passionate about mentoring firms who are committed to taking a long-term and sustainable approach to developing their business advisory services