Gather Facts and Feelings – Walk the Park for a Fresh Perspective

He didn’t have a particular schedule, but his agenda was always the same: connect with and interact with as many guests and cast members as possible.

 Walt would regularly walk through the Park, looking for problems or things to improve. He was good at it and always welcomed suggestions. I copied his routine. I continually walked through the Park, looking for different things, people problems. Facts are easy to identify; I was looking for feelings that were bothering Cast Members.

Van France, founder of Disney University

Walt Disney knew the value of learning as much as possible about the front lines by spending time on the front lines.

courtesy of

courtesy of

His strategy of walking the park dates back to the construction of Disneyland. He regularly visited the construction site to assess the proportion or size of buildings. A common site was Walt squatting down and then looking up at a building from a lower angle. His determination to view the storefronts and buildings from the vantage point of children ensured that the needs of this large population of guests – an often overlooked but very influential group – were addressed.

courtesy of Disney Imagineering

courtesy of Disney Imagineering

Walt Disney never stopped looking at Disneyland from the perspective of the guest, even years after the park opened.

Van France, like Walt, favored walking the park to gather information. Often armed with his camera, Van tirelessly sought the opinions and thoughts of cast members and guests.

Bill Ross, a former manager of Disney University, says, “More than anyone I’ve ever known, Van put his ear to the ground to get ideas. He had a wide circle of friends and a strong network. If Van were with us today, he would love using social media.”

Walking the park helped Van clarify the problems and then visualize a process by which to bridge the gaps.

After the park had been open for seven years, Van realized the 1955 model of orientation and cast member training that had been so successful during Disneyland’s early years was no longer sufficient. He faced a paradox: preserving the past while preparing for the future.

Van knew that he needed to identify and preserve the components of orientation and training that had led to such heady success during Disneyland’s first seven years:

  • Friendly environment
  • Creative presentations
  • Useful content

He had to balance these fundamentals while preparing cast members – including managers – for a much more complex future, driven by the following factors:

  • Consistency – everyone must attend the new-hire orientation program
  • Systems – specific on-the-job training must follow the orientation program
  • Continuing education – supervisors and managers needed leadership and communication-skills training

The time was right for Van to build a bridge to the future of training for Disneyland. The time was right for the Disney University.


Applying Van France’s Four Circumstances to ChurchWorld Guest Experience Teams

Innovate – Support – Educate – Entertain

Gather Facts and Feelings

In your organization, can you identify the equivalent of Van’s Four Circumstances that support walking the park and keeping in touch with the front lines? How do you apply those circumstances to gather facts and feelings from team members and Guests?

Walk the Park

  • What is the equivalent of walking the park in your organization? Who does it, and how frequently?
  • How could this strategy be improved? More people involved? More frequently?
  • If leaders aren’t walking the park, what is the excuse?
  • Walt Disney could carve time out of his day to walk the park. Why can’t every leader do that?

Mind the Gap

  • Is there a reality gap between the ideals espoused in your organization and training programs and the realities of the job?
  • How is the effectiveness of your training assessed? With what frequency?

One Foot in the Past, One Foot in the Future

  • How is the history of your organization kept alive? How could this be improved?
  • How does your organization balance history and legacy with current and future needs? Who supports this?

Inspired by and adapted from Disney U by Doug Lipp

Disney U

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Continue the Disney U experience Thursday 4/3/14 with Be Willing to Change or Be Willing to Perish: The Birth of the Disney University

Disney U is one of the most significant resources related to the Disney organization, leadership, team development, and Guest Experiences available. In honor of the one year anniversary of the release of Disney U, this is a look back at a series from the book that originally ran last year. 


Want to know more about learning from the front line?


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