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Lessons From Disney

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

For more than 50 years, Disney has been known for the exceptional connection between its employees and guests. Creating and maintaining this bond is the subject of Disney U: How Disney University Develops the World’s Most Engaged, Loyal and Customer-Centric Employees by Doug Lipp, a longtime Disney leader and internationally acclaimed expert on customer service and change management. Here, Lipp discusses aspects of Disney “magic” with Managing People at Work’s Beth Braccio Hering.

MPAW: Disney employees are known for their loyalty to the organization. What is the main reason behind this devotion?

Lipp: Disney leadership knows that creating “The Happiest Place on Earth” must first start with employees, the cast members. If cast members are treated with respect and in a friendly manner, they in turn will treat guests the same way. Living up to, then exceeding, the lofty expectations of guests is hard work. Management knows this and supports cast members through training and recreation programs. Van France, the Disney University founder, sums up this environment of mutual respect and support: “What happens ‘backstage’ will end up ‘on-stage.’ If we aren’t friendly with each other, smiling and saying ‘good morning’ and things like that, then we’ll have a similar attitude toward our guests.” This might sound unbelievably simple, yet it works.

MPAW: If outsiders observed training at Disney University, what would stand out most? 

Lipp: Three things: First, in the classroom, they would see trainees engaged with trainers and each other in either lively discussions or experiential activities. Second, if observing a new-hire orientation program, they would see many levels of employees participating, from maintenance personnel to executives. Everyone participates in training, not just those who have direct contact with guests. Third, the biggest impact would come once the observer saw the cast member applying the learning on the job. The training team works hand-in-hand with leadership in theme park operations to ensure mutual support. These three things ensure what is trained comes alive on the front lines and is sustained.

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