Develop Workplace Culture the Disney Way

Posted by Melissa Meunier on Mon, Nov 24, 2014 @ 01:00 PM
best practice, coaching, coaching and mentoring, culture, employee engagement

Kate Everson, associate editor of CLO Magazine recently interviewed Doug Lipp, former Disney university leader and author of “Disney U’ on How Disney Develops Culture. They discuss Disney’s training methodology and how employees are trained to do their jobs while exuding the company’s culture.

There is Walt Disney’s famous quote, “You can dream, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality.” It acknowledges that Disney cast members are the company’s most valuable assets. To bring that vision to life, Walt hired Van France, the man behind the teaching programs at Disney, and the founder of Disney University. Van, like Walt, wanted employees (cast members) that cared about their job and he new that the right onboarding program along with continuous training would bring the best results. By treating their employees as the most important guest (customer), they would feel valued and exude that heartfelt sincerity with the guests in the parks. 

Van was famous for being brutally honest and a good sales person in order to sell the program to the employees. To do this the Disney University programs adopted steps, often referred to as the Four Circumstances:

  •       Innovation – be an organization that could take calculated risk
  •       Support – leadership that supports the culture  
  •       Educate – the value of education throughout the organization’s DNA
  •       Entertain – engage people and as Walt Disney stated, “Laughter is no enemy to learning.”

These circumstances were vital to the success of the programs Van created. As an example, Lipp points out that the Disney park locations didn’t have the same audience.  They found that information needed to be delivered differently; meaning the trainer doesn’t always have to lead the session. If you have a group of engineers in the room, why not call in the VP of engineering to lead the session. Employees will more likely be engaged and open to learn when the training is led by someone who is walking the talk in their shoes.

For learning leaders that are looking to develop a like-minded program, Lipp suggests creating a training program that is the vehicle of the organizational culture.  He says that training, no matter where it happens, should “Exude the company DNA in order to be sustainable.” To further his point he shares that while many think having Mickey Mouse as the training leader would energize and excite any new employee, what happens when the new employee goes to the factory floor or the office? If there is no leadership driving the culture, then the program has no legs to run on.

Lipp strongly believes culture starts at the top and organizations must have an engaged leadership team. “If the culture is weak, no matter what you post on the walls or the t-shirts you give away, it won’t matter,” says Lipp. The fundamentals need to be alive and thriving for the culture to work. In a time where companies are struggling to engage employees, perhaps evaluating the state of your organization's culture is the place to start.

Topics: Employee Engagement

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