Setting the Stage for Success

The Disney University is a name that carries clout and evokes images of excellence.

How does Disney develop the world’s most engaged, loyal, and Guest-centric employees, year after year?

photo by

photo by

The simple explanation for the Disney University’s success can be attributed to the levels of support and clarity of purpose found in the Four Circumstances, the organizational values Van France identified as vital to the success of the Disney University.

Training cannot be limited to ‘Here’s what you need to do, now go do it.’ That’s not good enough. Training needs to instill a spirit, a feeling, an emotional connection. Training means creating an environment of thinking and feeling.

– Van France, founder of Disney University

 > Van’s Circumstance #1: Innovation

Backstory: Van France’s background included experience as a trainer in manufacturing and the military. He disliked the idea of a “training department,” but felt that the idea of a university was exciting. Historically, a university was ahead of the times, leading people into exciting adventures.

Van’s focus on being innovative created an ever-evolving learning culture.

> Van’s Circumstance #2: Organizational Support

Backstory: Dick Nunis, Director of Operations at Disneyland when Disney University was founded, had an education degree from USC. Nunis saw the advantages of branching out from a simple orientation program, and backed the concept of Disney University from the start.

Van knew that unless someone from the highest ranks of management backs an idea, it won’t happen. Leadership must be intimately involved and has to set the tone.

> Van’s Circumstance #3: Education

Backstory: Walt Disney established his own unique school for training the Disney animators when traditional art schools couldn’t provide the quality he was looking for. In 1932, Disney began required evening classes, eventually adding ½ day classes as well.

This is the foundation of Disney University: Walt’s long-standing value of providing employees with a tailored, relevant training and educational experience.  Van France built on that foundation, creating a unique school with a different type of artist. These “Disneylanders” would major in the fine art of creating happiness and receive a special curriculum in human relations and Disney philosophy.

> Van’s Circumstance #4: Entertain

Backstory: France had many friends in the Art Department at Disney. As a result, the handbooks and training aids were always creative and interesting, rather than the opposite – dull and academic.

On this point, Van France and Walt Disney were in strong agreement: it was possible – no, required – that Disney University both entertain and educate. Entertainment used as a training strategy is a powerful tool that increases engagement and ensures the retention of new concepts.

Secrets of the Disney University

The message from Van France and the many who worked with him is unwavering. Success is predicated on the following:

  • Having a seat at the leadership table
  • Being a valued part of the organizational culture
  • Moving well beyond providing merely short-lived programs
  • Being incessantly creative and willing to try new approaches to keep the message relevant, fresh, and engaging

The Four Circumstances also greatly influenced Van’s leadership lessons, which are applicable to all organizations and are as relevant today as they were back then.

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

Innovate – Support – Educate – Entertain

 What Are Your Circumstances?

Identify: How do you set the stage for success to ensure sustained enthusiasm for team development? What values in your organization are nonnegotiable? Identify them.

  • Why are those values in place?
  • What benefits do the values provide your organization and team members?
  • Which values are the strongest? Which are the weakest?

Apply: How are the values of your organization brought to life?

  • How are they communicated to team members? How often? By whom?
  • Does everyone know the values?
  • What happens when these values aren’t upheld? Are there consequences? Exceptions?
  • How can the values be more effectively conveyed throughout your organization?


Inspired by and adapted from Disney U by Doug Lipp

Get the book TODAY to learn invaluable lessons for your Guest Experience Teams

Disney U

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Continue the Disney U experience on Tuesday 3/25/14 with Capture Hearts and Minds

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.


Always Remember Your Guest Gets to Make the Call

When it comes to measuring the success of your Guest’s experience, you don’t get to make the call – your Guest does.

No matter how hard you prepare, no matter how well you execute, and no matter how extraordinary the experience, in the end, it’s your Guest who decides if the experience was a success.

What do you do, then?

The best, the only thing you can do, is set the stage for success.

And that is accomplished through people – your Guest Experience Teams.

Are you looking for help in developing friendly, knowledgeable, passionate Guest Teams that deliver a WOW Guest Experience every time?

Maybe it’s time for you to go back to the university – but not just any university…

One year ago today, one of the most significant books related to the Disney organization and Guest Experiences was released. Entitled Disney U, it’s a very powerful and personal story by Doug Lipp, former team leader of the acclaimed Disney University. Lipp mentored under a number of Disney University visionaries, most notably Disney U founder Van France.

In honor of the one year anniversary of the release of Disney U, I will be revisiting a series from the book that originally ran last year.

Disneyland will never be completed. We’ve certainly lived up to that promise. But what about the people who operate it? Are we growing with the show or just getting older? The trouble with people is that we get hardening of the mental arteries, cirrhosis of the enthusiasm, and arthritis of the imagination, along with chronic and sometimes acute allergies to supervision, subordinates, and the whole darned system. 

Is it possible that what we have gained through experience we have lost through habit, and that what we have gained through organization, we have lost in enthusiasm?

Van France, Introduction to his “Proposed Program of the University of Disneyland, 1962-1963

Your Guest Experience Teams are the foundation of the measure of success of your Guest’s experience.

Disney U will give you that foundation.

Next: Begin the Disney U experience with Setting the Stage for Success


Disney U

Walt Disney – the Father of Guestology

Walt Disney was the originator of the practices that came to be called Guestology. The Disney organization remains the world’s foremost practitioner of the Art & Science of serving their Guests.

Because of that, I’m starting Summer Term II of the 2013 GsD program with Applied Guestology 201, a quick review of some of the leading organizations who deliver exemplary Guest Experiences with application to ChurchWorld. We begin with Walt Disney and move from there to several well-known organizations, wrapping this course up by returning back to the Magic Kingdom.

Walt Disney – the Father of Guestology



In order to understand the magic of Disney’s Guestology, you need to know a little about Walt Disney, and why he cared so much about customer service. When he threw his energies into the creation of Disneyland in the early 1950s, he was totally concentrated on the guest experience. The very idea for Disneyland was born in Saturday trips to amusement parks that Walt Disney made with his two daughters. In those days, amusement parks were disreputable, dirty, and often in poor condition. While watching and waiting on his daughters to finish their rides, he began to watch the other customers and how they reacted to the parks.

A single question drove Disney: How could this experience be improved for the entire family?

Walt’s answer was to create a new kind of amusement park, a “theme” park with an intense focus on the guest experience. With his successful background in animation and movies, and with a studio of brilliant, creative minds to work with, Disney created a “living show.”

With a little bit of the same magic, your organization can do the same.

Be Our Guest” has been the invitation to Disney visitors long before the song from Beauty and the Beast became a box office hit. It underscores an important element in the Disney vocabulary, that customers are not referred to as such, but rather as Guests. In the Disney nomenclature, the word “Guest” is capitalized and treated as a formal noun.

What’s the difference between treating someone like a customer, and treating someone like a Guest?

The obvious analogy is that we do things differently when we bring Guests into our home. We clean up the house. We dress up. We prepare something special to eat. We host them. We take care of their real needs.

Disney expects Guests

This principle has to be the starting point, the foundation on which all else is built. Everything – and I mean everything – is done with the Guest in mind. At Walt Disney World, exceeding Guest expectations is the standard call to duty for all cast members, both those “onstage” and “backstage”.

Quality Service is Disney’s behind-the-scenes name for its customer service processes, and is simply defined as follows:

Quality Service means exceeding your Guests’ expectations by paying attention to every detail of the delivery of your products and services.

That’s it. The magic of Disney’s customer service is paying attention to details. But as you might expect, the simplicity of those few words is lived out daily by tens of thousands of Cast Members performing and interacting with hundreds of thousands of Guests, all delivered with a magical smile.

The WOW! Factor of Exceeding Guest Expectations

  • Superlative face-to-face service
  • Paying close attention to every aspect of the Guest Experience
  • Analyzing that experience from the Guest’s perspective
  • Understanding the needs and wants of the Guest
  • Committing every element of the organization – from the design of the infrastructure to the interaction between Guest and Cast – to the creation of an exceptional experience

Be Our Guest, The Disney Institute

Exceeding Guests’ expectations is Disney’s service strategy, and paying attention to every detail is the tactic by which it is accomplished.

That’s how Disney does customer service. A common purpose generates quality standards. The standards are defined and delivered using three basic systems that every organization shares: its people, its physical assets, and its processes. All three are integrated and aligned to produce the Disney brand of magic.

At Walt Disney World, they expect Guests – and plan to exceed their Guests’ expectations every time. What about you?

Are you expecting Guests?

Application to ChurchWorld

When it comes to ChurchWorld, more often than not we have visitors.

It may be a little thing to you, just a word, but I think it’s actually a powerful first impression that needs to change.

Do you have Visitor parking? Visitor packets? A Visitor’s Center? Do you welcome your visitors during the worship experience? And on and on…

The first step in creating a WOW! Guest experience is to remove the word visitor from your vocabulary, never to be used again.

It’s a little thing to be sure. But it’s a mindset change that will really impact how you create the rest of the experience at your church.

You are expecting Guests this weekend.

Guests come to your place, looking for a warm greeting, a smiling face, and an experience designed to make them feel like, well, Guests. Nothing phony, manipulative, or in-your-face; just welcome them as guests with the most sincere, energizing, and loving experiences you can.

Start with this simple change that conveys a powerful image, one that will be reflected through your church – and you have taken a HUGE step in understanding what Guestology is all about.

Recommended Reading:

(For a complete reading list, see The Essential Guest Experience Library)

Guestology – the art and science of knowing and understanding your guests – is a term originated by Bruce Laval of the Walt Disney Company. The use of GsD is a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment that organizations that really want to understand and deliver a WOW Guest Experience need to study the best practices and principles in use today, and then adapt them to the context of their own environment.

the GsD (Doctor of Guestology) journey: 2013 Summer Term II


Read Wide, Lead Deep

Just returned from my weekly trip to the library; also in the stack are a few new acquisitions to my library.


It’s a varied list that’s for sure, but I believe that wide reading develops deep leading.

Look for a few short ideas from these books in the next few days.

If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.

–Haruki Murakami

Spring Semester in the GsD Program: It’s All Disney All the Time!

In my continuing pursuit of a GsD (Doctor of Guestology), I’m really excited about the next month:

Reading Perquisite

Disney UA long-anticipated book just arrived yesterday –


Look for details on the thirteen powerful lessons Lipp delivers in Disney U coming soon.

Learning Lab

Backstage Magic bookshelfIn late April, I will be headed to Disney World for a 2-day learning lab. The first day, I will be spending the whole day in the Magic Kingdom with my wife. We’ll be focusing on the newest attractions and restaurants that have recently opened up in Fantasyland.

The second day, I will be spending about 7 hours behind-the-scenes on the “Backstage Magic” tour. It’s a tour of all 4 parks plus a few extras.

During the ‘semester” look for regular updates on how ChurchWorld leaders can translate the magic of Disney into WOW! Guest Experiences for your church.

the GsD (Doctor of Guestology) journey: Spring 2013