Bringing the Five Practices to Life at Universal Orlando Resort

The Five Practices

Universal Orlando Resort™ has always been committed to developing its leadership talent with targeted curriculum to enhance leadership competence. But with the exponential growth we experienced after the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ in 2010, it was clear that the organization would benefit from a common leadership framework—specific language and identified behaviors that would prepare our leaders to better support their team members’ productivity and engagement.

The need for a common language of leadership was particularly evident in the Marketing & Sales Division whose team had recently undergone both a structural reorganization and the introduction of an entirely new system for work processes. That’s when the Division’s Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Alice Norsworthy, introduced the path forward to the Division’s exciting vision for the future using The Leadership Challenge® Workshop.

With the help of Certified Master Stephen Hoel of Diversity Leadership Consultants, the Marketing & Sales Senior Leadership Team was the first group to dive deep into The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model. The group came together for The Leadership Challenge Workshop over two days of intensive learning, self-examination, and group collaboration. In addition, participants had an opportunity to review and discuss their individual LPI®: Leadership Practices Inventory® results, providing them with a roadmap to improve their effectiveness as leaders and bring key learnings back to the workplace and their teams.

Of all of The Five Practices, Inspire a Shared Vision made a real impact on Alice who worked on crafting her vision into the wee hours of the morning and shared it with the group on Day Two of the workshop. She has since shared, and continues to share, her vision throughout the Marketing & Sales organization. In fact, Alice and her senior leaders believed so strongly in the content—seeing first-hand how valuable the learning experience was—that they extended participation in the workshop over the next six months to include all other members of marketing and sales leadership. And the impact has clearly been positive: results of the latest Team Member Satisfaction Survey showed significant positive movement (ranging from +1 to +8 point increases) in measures that tie specifically to the behaviors associated with The Five Practices.

Ongoing Support Continues to Deliver Best Practices
With the unqualified success of the initial launch, within the following year Universal Orlando began rolling out The Leadership Challenge Workshop to leaders (managers and above) across all divisions. Now offered monthly, on site, we are proud to say that over 350 of our leaders are on-the-job working collaboratively with their teams and each other to build a strong culture, highly-productive teams, and a high-performing organization. And senior leaders within the Marketing & Sales Division continue to demonstrate their commitment to The Leadership Challenge by personally opening each workshop, sharing highlights and “ahas” from their own experiences and the specific actions they are taking every day to continue their leadership journey.

For example, Senior Vice President of Sales Management Frank Belzer highlights his learning in the Practice of Encourage the Heart. He always believed this was one of his strengths—showing appreciation, creating a spirit of community. But his LPI results suggested otherwise. As a result, one of the commitments he made was to send personal thank you notes. To this day, he has a recurring task on his calendar and follows through each week to provide recognition to those on both his immediate team and others who support them in delivering on their goals. Frank also created an Annual Leadership Award, which he presents to those on his leadership team who model the behaviors of The Five Practices. This added recognition at the leadership level is unique across Universal Orlando and truly has an impact on the motivation of his senior leaders. In addition, over the last year Frank has used The Five Practices as the foundation for reviewing his team’s current state and ongoing goals for team member engagement, as well as a framework to discuss cooperation across departments.

Additional best practices that truly make a difference in reinforcing The Five Practices at Universal Orlando include:
  • During the workshop graduation ceremony, participants verbally commit to their fellow classmates and their leaders who are in attendance what their action steps will be over the next 30 days. In addition to their Certificate of Completion, they also are given a “valuable” blue glass bead to return to one of the facilitators after they have completed their 30-day commitments. 
  • For all workshop alumni, inspirational and practical tools are emailed monthly to maintain momentum and everyone is encouraged to visit The Leaders’ Lounge frequently—an Intranet site where best practices are shared on how The Five Practices have been successfully applied throughout Universal Orlando. 
In our experience, clearly some of the success factors in this rollout reinforce the power of starting the movement toward a unified leadership framework with not only a compelling business reason (the Marketing & Sales Division’s reorganization and process changes) but having sponsorship of and active participation by executive-level leaders. Additionally, having the Division’s leadership participate in the workshop in such an intense and highly-interactive way created the common experience and common language that was the catalyst we needed to launch a wider rollout across Universal Orlando. And finally, to have specific reinforcement and ongoing conversation and application throughout the organization truly contributes to stronger leaders at every level, which leads to stronger team member satisfaction and superior guest satisfaction at Universal Orlando Resort.


Kirsten Abbott-West is currently the Director of Talent Development, Leadership, and Back-of-House for Universal Orlando Resort™ where she is responsible for driving overall strategy and execution of leadership development across the organization. With experience in the hospitality/entertainment industry of over 30 years, she is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge and presenter at the 2017 Leadership Challenge Forum.

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