Alligators. “Please do not say that we have seen them before.” This was part of a sign noticed at Disney World by Cast Member Sharon Sullivan.  Thus the headline in PEOPLE Magazine read, “Disney World Student Fired after Tweeting a Break Room Sign Addressing On-Site Alligators.”  Disney’s family safe reputation suffered a blow when 2-year old, Lane Grave, was killed by an alligator at a Disney park resort. Since then, Disney guests and staff have been on high alert.

Sullivan, who works at the Magic Kingdom, was concerned when she saw the sign, which read, “if a guest asks if we have gators in the water around Tom Sawyer’s island (or any other bodies of water), the correct and appropriate response is ‘Not that we know of, but if we see one, we call Pest Management to have it removed.’” It closed out the message with, “please do not say that we have seen them before.”  Sullivan was very concerned.

Getting unsatisfactory responses from management, Sullivan posted a photo of the sign on Twitter; soon after, the sign was removed and on Thursday she was fired. The young student told the Orlando Sentinel, “At this point it became my morals and my integrity: what I believe in. I thought if I lose my job because of that, it’s worth it to me.”  But the next day, Magic Kingdom Vice President Dan Cockerell personally called Sullivan to offer her job back.  Disney also contacted media explaining that they didn’t know who had posted the sign and disavowed any knowledge of the instructions.

This Story Holds Three Valuable Lessons for Leaders:

Lesson 1: Stay Tuned To Social Media

Social media moves more quickly than traditional media. It’s literally instantaneous. If you’re not aware of what’s being said about your organization, the message can be out of control before you can react.  Disney was obviously on top of this.

Lesson 2: Act Quickly

The content of the Tweet traveled through Disney’s bureaucracy and reached a level to take action in less than 24 hours.  Vice President Cockerell didn’t waste time pondering what to do.  He acted.  He addressed the media issue: what is Disney’s real position? And his personnel issue: rehiring Sullivan.

Lesson 3: Do The Right Thing

Sullivan’s action was not grounds to be fired.  Disney hired the woman back, correcting their error. They addressed the posting issue, stating it was a mistake and against their values.  Could more ownership have been taken as only a Disney staff member could have posted the sign?  Possible.  And what happened with Sullivan’s manager who fired her?  Some questions go unanswered.  But Disney leadership took the matter seriously and did the right thing.

Every company faces disruptions – big and small.  You must determine before the disruption how you will handle it: stay tuned in, act quickly and do the right thing.

Experience to Lead will be launching a new offering this Fall specifically about how leaders can best prepare for and lead through problems like this. Keep an eye out for Brace for ImpactSign up for our Newsletter to be the first to hear!