Summary of Disney U by Doug Lipp

BookSummaryClub Blog Summary of Disney U by Doug Lipp

Being the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ seems like an incredulous title to uphold. Yet Disneyland has done just that for more than six decades! The atmosphere visitors experience today has remained just as magical as they did back when it first opened.  Kids and adults from all over the world visit one of their establishments with the hopes of seeing their favourite Disney characters and experiencing the Happiest Place on Earth for themselves. To maintain such a high standard is an amazing feat by the company but how exactly have they achieved it?

In part, the training of their employees plays an integral role in achieving the magic. The company started Disney University with a few programs in order to train their employees for their various roles. What it turned into was something even they could not have imagined. Despite fluctuating markets and leadership changes, Disney’s customer service has remained world-renown. So what makes Disney U so good?  

In this summary readers will discover:

  • Why employees need to understand their company’s values
  • The key points to consider for a successful business

Key lesson one: Why employees need to understand their company values

In an industry where customer service is central to the business, your employees are an important asset. They are the ones who are dealing with customers every day. It is for this reason that as a company, you should ensure that they are happy, motivated and receive the necessary training.

Keeping employees happy and motivated requires more than just monetary incentives and little perks here and there. This is a key point which many companies miss. You don’t want to make your employees value materialistic things and you certainly don’t want that to be the only thing they care about. You have to provide your employees with values as well. Sharing the company values with them allows employees to be genuinely interested and invested in the company’s progress. At Disney University, the company’s philosophy is promoted to all employees or cast members as they are referred to. As this is done, cast members become deeply connected to the company’s values and understand why they are there. 

Another important approach to keeping employees happy is to ensure that management communicates with them often. Being in close contact with employees ensures that management will immediately know if any problems should arise. Management should also know how the organization works. Understanding the roles that employees play and how they work will enable management to better understand what changes can be made.

An example of how important this is was demonstrated by the founder of Disney University himself, Van France. When France was walking around to check how cast members were faring during their training, he noticed that the orientation program for new employees was out of date. Due to Disney’s rapid expansion, the content of the program was no longer feasible. France quickly developed a new orientation program. If he had not walked around checking on employees, he would have never noticed the problem with the program. 

Key lesson two: The key points to consider for a successful business

Provide your employees with the training they need

Business requires a combination of both logic and creativity. It’s science and art, it’s not an either-or situation. A company’s scientific side focuses on infrastructure and physical products. At Disney, this entails their parks – its design, maintenance and rides. This is half of what makes Disneyland amazing. The other half comes from artistic inputs. It’s what sets it apart from every other amusement park. 

And this holds true for any business. Your artistic inputs are what makes your business unique and should not be ignored or done half-heartedly. In Disney’s situation, their employees are key to this artistic input. They are the ones who interact with customers and allow them to experience Disneyland’s magical atmosphere. Because of this, Disney invests in its employees. They ensure that they are trained to have the excellent interpersonal skills required to positively interact with customers. Visiting Disneyland is not taken lightly by most people and nothing would be worse than if your personal hero turns out to be in a bad mood. Can you imagine a grumpy Snow White? This is why Disney provides its cast members with the extensive training they need. 

Cast members have to know how to interact with customers of all ages – it’s not only children who visit Disneyland. The fact that they are surrounded by people all the time also means that cast members cannot break from their character. They require technical skill to transform themselves into their character and allow everyone to experience a complete fairy tale from the moment they enter the park until they leave. 

The balance of old and new

In order for a company to be successful and stand the test of time, they have to be able to adapt. There are many companies which were once at the top of their market but ended up bankrupt because they refused to change. Their refusal to change stems from the fact that they fail to realize that what made them successful in the past may not necessarily be the best approach for them in current situations. In saying that, a company can also fail if it changes too quickly. In this scenario, companies adopt new untested strategies and abandon the old ones completely which is a recipe for disaster.

Disney has perfected the balance of staying the same and changing. They do this by keeping one foot in the past and one in the future. They keep up with technology and animation but deeply value their history. Walt Disney had a vision for his company and when he died, the company knew they had to keep that vision alive. They ensure that there was a program put in place whereby new cast members could learn the history of Disney and how it all began. These were named Disney Traditions. They preserved the past in this way and new cast members could easily see what made Disney great and the spirit which they needed to keep alive through their work. 

These tradition programs were further optimized by Disney executives when they noticed a problem. New employees went through the tradition program and thereafter the questions which they asked all revolved around their work schedules, costumes and salary. They did not truly appreciate the tradition program. So executives switched it around. New employees received all their information first and were then taken through the traditions programs. In doing so, the new employees were able to see themselves as part of the tradition and truly appreciate the message of the program. 

So you see, you have to make changes to ensure a successful future for your company, but it is still possible to hold on to the past by remembering the values and vision established by the company. 

The language of success

The importance of the language you use in your business interactions is of utmost importance. Simply using the tired and old jargon which has been used time and time again does not allow you to engage with people. The language of success is the language you use that will set you apart from others. It is the language that makes your customers and employees feel more valued. 

Disney’s language of success perfectly exhibits this. Employees are cast members, customers are guests and the people in Disney parks are not crowds, they are the audience. You can see how these terms fit Disney perfectly. It changes the way daily tasks are seen and allows both customers and employees alike, to immerse themselves in the Happiest place on earth. 

These terms were adapted to different languages to suit the different branches of Disney. In order for Disney to be a global success, they have to be considerate of the various cultures that exist in their company. A good example is that the Disney parks in different countries have different rules which consider the country’s culture. Tokyo Disneyland has the same rules as the U.S regarding alcohol. They do not allow alcohol in their parks. This was well received by the Japanese people. However, the same rule was not well received in France as people complained that Disney was insensitive to the French people and their culture. So the park in Paris now allows wine.

Things will go wrong. It’s how you deal with it that counts

When you run a company, it’s nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. There will be highs and lows and your resilience will definitely be tested. You can’t hide from these experiences when you are running a company, so it is best to learn how to cope with them. 

Even at Disney, this happens. When Roy Disney dies in 1971, employees were left devastated since they had worked so closely with him. The struggled to cope in the aftermath and performing with a smile was a difficult task for them. How did they deal with it?

Well, managers held emergency meetings in Cinderella’s castle in order to gather everyone and discuss what was going on. They collected feedback and brainstormed ideas that could help to get everyone back on track. Moments like these make a company stronger. Everyone works together to find solutions and move forward.

Running a successful company means you have to forget about yourself and instead focus on what you have to give to your employees. Walt Disney’s motto of ‘Work hard, play hard’ meant that he understood what his employees did for the company. They worked hard, so it was his duty to ensure that there were fun events for them to enjoy as well. 

The key takeaway from Disney U is:

Disney has been around for 65 years and is as popular now as it was when it opened its doors in 1955. The company has ensured that everything, from its language usage to its extensive employee training is taken into account. They understand that it is everybody’s job to make the company a success. Disney U is central to this. It enables them to teach generation after generation the company’s values and the importance of what they do. In doing so, they keep the vision that Walt Disney had alive and continuously thriving throughout the years.

How can I implement the lesson learned in Disney U:

Learn from Disney’s experience and success. You too can employ the methods they use to ensure that your business is a success. If you also work in a customer-driven industry, ensure that your employees are well trained to interact with customers. They are the face of the company in these situations and should be equipped to positively interact with customers. Develop a language of success for your company that will make it stand out from others. And don’t forget, management interact and communicate with employees regularly to keep track of work and any problems that may arise. No one is too big to not help out!

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