Keep Plussing the Show: No Room for Excuses

We have to keep plussing our show. If we ever lose our Guests, it will take us ten years to get them back.

Walt Disney

Sometime during the 1940s, Walt Disney coined the term “plussing.” Walt used the word as a verb – an action word. To “plus” something is to improve it. “Plussing” means giving your customers more than they paid for, more than they expect, more than you have to give them. Disney historian Les Perkins recalls an incident at Disneyland during the early years of the park. Walt had decided to hold a Christmas parade at the park – a $350,000 extravagance.

Upon hearing of the parade plans, the accountants approached Walt and said, ‘Why spend money on a Christmas parade? It won’t draw people to the park; they will already be here. It’s an expense we can do without. No one will complain if we dispense with the parade, because nobody’s expecting it.

courtesy matterhorn1959

courtesy matterhorn1959

Walt said, ‘That’s just the point. We should do the parade precisely because no one is expecting it. Our goal at Disneyland is to always give people more than they expect.’

Walt spent the last decade of his life plussing the Disneyland experience. He would continually tell cast members, “Every cast member is responsible for the impression we make,” and “take five minutes a day to make a magical memory for one of our Guests.” Disney would walk around the park with a roll of five dollar bills in his pocket to tip any cast member who worked extra-hard to plus the experience for the Guest.

During the decade after Walt Disney’s death in 1966, and as the excitement of Disneyland and Disney World began to wane with new entertainment options, Van France, founder of Disney University, was determined to reignite the can-do culture of Disney. With Walt Disney’s admonition to “keep plussing the show” in mind, France prepared a refresher course for park management entitled “Gentlemen, This is a Guest!”

Through these sessions, he identified a need to reignite the passion and can-do attitude among managers. Using nothing more than a 15-page memo and a series of short, open forum-style meetings with park management, Van helped a discouraged team reconnect with its roots by emphasizing Disney’s bottom line: a happy Guest. He reminded the managers of their roles by encouraging them to do the following:

  • Think teamwork – thinking “we” is much more powerful than thinking “they,” “them,” etc. Blaming is a bottomless pit.
  • Think audience and Guest – Guests are the audience, paying money to be entertained and find happiness. Guests aren’t “units” or “per capita”; they are human beings.
  • Think happiness for others – Guests come to Disney parks seeking happiness; it is their brief escape from daily frustrations. Walt Disney’s dream of separating the frustrating outside world from the Disney world ensures Guest Happiness. Maintaining an environment of fantasy is the cast member’s job.
  • Practice being friendly – smile and be friendly with each other. Say good morning to other cast members backstage will transfer to friendliness on-stage.
  • Think quality and pride – both are essential in Guest courtesy and showmanship, throughout our backstage activities as well as those on-stage.

Plussing the show is as much about attitude as it is about budget.

France was ardent in challenging excuses for not conducting training for all cast members. He believed that training didn’t have to be a big-budget extravaganza or be limited to activities in a training room. Some of the best training in the world occurs during on-the-job-training sessions conducted by mentors, not trainers. Mentoring, OJT, and role modeling were much more useful and significantly less expensive than classroom training. Jim Cora, retired chairman of Disney International, sums up the training rationale he successfully used during his 43-year career at Disney:

Marketing is the time and money you spend to get people in the door. Training is the investment you make to get Guests to come back and cast members to stay; it creates loyalty.

Plussing the show calls for a keen eye, the ability to focus on the root issues, and a refusal to accept mediocrity. No matter what business you are in, your success depends on your commitment to excellence and attention to detail. If you deliver more than people expect, you will turn Guests into fans. If you go out of your way to make people feel special, they will go out of their way to buy your product or service.

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

Innovate – Support – Educate – Entertain

Plussing the Show How is plussing the show handled in your organization? How are Van’s Four Circumstances used to differentiate your organization from the “competition” through improved Guest experiences and leadership effectiveness? How are you addressing each of the following five challenges?

  • Doing more with less
  • Keeping team members engaged and motivated
  • Reducing team member turnover
  • Improving Guest experiences
  • Differentiating from the competition

How creative is your organization in taking training out of the classroom? How can you reignite the flagging spirits of your team? Can you create a similarly effective low-budget program that helps plus your Guest Experience?   Disney U

Inspired by and adapted from Disney U by Doug Lipp

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Continue the Disney U experience on 4/22/14 with Beyond Orientation


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.



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