Develop Specific Team Training to Produce Engaged and Guest-Focused Leaders

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

The simple explanation for Disney’s success can be attributed to the levels of support and clarity of purpose found in Disney’s employee training.

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

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 QUICK SUMMARY – Disney Uby Doug Lipp

When it comes to world-class employees, few organizations rival Disney. Famous for their friendliness, knowledge, passion, and superior customer service, Disney’s employees have been fueling the iconic brand’s wild success for more than 50 years.

How has Disney succeeded in maintaining such a powerful workforce for so many years? Why are so many corporations and executives drawn to study how Disney continues to exemplify service and leadership standards?

The Disney University, founded by Van France, trains the supporting cast that helps create the world-famous Disney Magic. Now, for the first time, the secrets of this exemplary institution are revealed. In Disney U, Doug Lipp examines how Van perpetuated Walt Disney’s timeless company values and leadership lessons, creating a training and development dynasty. It contains never-before-told stories from numerous Disney legends. These pioneers share behind-the-scenes success stories of how they helped bring Walt Disney’s dream to life.

To this day, the Disney University continues to turn out some of the most engaged, loyal, and customer-centered employees the business world has ever seen. Using the lessons outlined in Disney U will set your organization on a path of sustained success.


After Disneyland 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.

France 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.

Even the lowest-tech, bare-boned and budget-challenged training program will get the job done as long as hearts and minds are captured. Training programs reflect organizational values and health.

Despite the resources at their disposal, too many training departments struggle to provide an educational experience that survives beyond the walls of those very classrooms or the pages of their training manuals. And too many training departments fail to get employees’ support of concepts, strategies, guidelines, rules, regulations, ideas and procedures presented during training. To overcome these problems, the heads of organizations and training departments might first address these questions:

  • “Why aren’t the standard operating procedures of our company followed?”
  • “Why is it so hard to sustain the momentum we had during training?”
  • “Does the training team have a seat at the corporate table?”

The content of training programs, the individuals who teach, the employees who attend, and the way employees are supported outside the classroom reveal much about organizational culture. Many organizations would benefit by simply looking at what their training activities (or lack of training activities) are telling them.

1) Is innovation encouraged? To what extent is creative, out-of-the-box thinking fostered, both in the training environment and on the job?

2) Is organizational support found at every level? Are leaders, from C-level executives to front-line supervisors, aligned with the training team? Is their support overt and enthusiastic? Do Operations and Training staff collaborate to ensure effectiveness of content and delivery methods?

3) Is employee education valued and non-negotiable? Or, is training the first thing cut when budgets are tight?

4) Is entertainment incorporated into training and education initiatives? Is training engaging and practical? Are experiential training techniques that have enough “shock value” (simulations, role-plays, exercises) employed to get maximum involvement from all trainees … even the introverts? Entertainment, effectively used, has a place in virtually any training environment; it helps transform theory into action and boring into memorable.

Yes, the Disney University benefits from having iconic mascots such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. More important, the Disney University enjoys the Four Essentials outlined above. How many of these Essentials does your training team enjoy?

– Doug Lipp, Disney U


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, even the parking lot greeters?
  • 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?

Training leaders to be Guest-focused has to be an inside-out proposition (starting from your core values) with top-down implementation starting from your senior leadership team. Set aside time in your next team meeting to review your values and craft a next step for including Guest welcoming training as you:

  • Hire new staff;
  • Meet regularly with staff and leadership teams;
  • Recruit new volunteers in each ministry;
  • Welcome members into your church

We have drawn exclusively from the Disney organization to demonstrate how to create a memorable Guest Experience because they are an unquestioned leader in creating an unforgettable first impression. We understand why some organizations may be reluctant to use these concepts, but take a moment to think beyond the Disney organization to focus on the potential impact of the principles suggested above.

Creating a memorable Guest Experience is an important first step in your next first-time Guest returning again, and prayerfully realizing the transformational power of Jesus Christ as a fully-involved member of your church.

Taken from SUMS Remix 20-3, published August 2015

This is part of a weekly series posting content from one of the most innovative content sources in the church world: SUMS Remix Book Summaries for church leaders. SUMS Remix takes a practical problem in the church and looks at it with three solutions; and each solution is taken from a different book. As a church leader you get to scan relevant books based on practical tools and solutions to real ministry problems, not just by the cover of the book. Each post will have the edition number which shows the year and what number it is in the overall sequence. (SUMS provides 26 issues per year, delivered every other week to your inbox). 

Subscribe to SUMS Remix <<

The Language of Success: Creating a Culture of Happiness

Throughout my career, I had found that most people want to be involved in something greater than just being paid for a job. My basic story is about the two men laying bricks. When asked what he is doing, one man says, ‘I’m laying bricks.’ The other man performing the same task says, ‘I’m building a cathedral.’ – Van France, Disney University founder

Beginning with the original orientation at Disneyland in 1955, Van’s goal always remained the same: instill a sense of pride among cast members about where they work and the jobs they perform. Van was determined to make Disneyland a place where customers and cast members experienced second-to-none service.

photo by

photo by

One of his strategies involved creating a whole new language that would reinforce the dignity of every job in the park.

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 spruce up the house. We dress up. We prepare something special to eat. We host them. We take care of their real needs.

Disneyland is a huge stage, so Van leveraged this by introducing show-business term. He reasoned that a new vocabulary, coupled with strong organizational values, could bring pride and energy to the job.

  • Employees became cast members, hosts, and hostesses
  • Customers became Guests
  • Good show was a job well-done
  • Uniforms were costumes
  • On-stage are actions visible to Guests
  • Backstage are the actions taken out of sight of the Guests.

However, merely changing nouns or verbs won’t ensure world-class customer service or create a motivated and engaged workforce – in any organization. Catchy words for Guests and team members have no value without leadership support.

The values instilled by Walt Disney and perpetuated by Van France at the Disney University are reflected in the daily actions of cast members at every organizational level.

What you do here and how you act is very important to our entire organization. We have a worldwide reputation for family entertainment. Here at Disneyland, we meet our world public on a person-to-person basis for the first time. Your every action (and mine also) is a direct reflection of our entire organization. – Walt Disney

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

Innovate – Support – Educate – Entertain

 Putting People First

  • What is the culture of your organization?
  • How is respect conveyed to team members?
  • Do they know they are valued?
  • How are Van’s Four Circumstances (Innovate, Support, Educate, Entertain) used to communicate your culture?

Words Reflect Culture

  • Does your organization use unique words to identify team members and Guests?
  • Does the culture of your organization support those words?
  • How are organizational values reflected in words and actions?

Inspired by and adapted from Disney U by Doug Lipp

Disney U

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

Book     Kindle

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.

Beyond Orientation: Executive Team Development – Moving from Silos to Synergy

Walt was very firm in stating that Disneyland – the dream – was the star. It was his way of controlling the people with their outsized egos who thought that they or their divisions, departments, or functions were responsible for our success – Van France

The entrepreneurial and highly innovative culture created by the Disney organization had an unintended consequence: divisional and communication silos.

People were so focused on their areas of responsibility that they didn’t consider their impact on other divisions and departments.  Executives lost sight of the big picture, and as a result, lost some opportunities for synergy.

To counter that, the Disney University team created an experience for the executives that borrowed from Van France’s timeless model for any training program:

  • Make it simple, not simplistic
  • Make it enjoyable
  • Design experiential activities that make it memorable

The result: Disney Dimensions, a training program for 25 senior leaders throughout Disney. It was designed to give them a full-immersion, 7-day experience of the California and Florida theme parks, as well as Disney Studios and Imagineering (the design geniuses behind the parks).

Essentially, the executives were exposed to every business unit in the company and had them solving each other’s problems.

Disney Dimensions captured the essence of a Van-France inspired educational event. It informed. It engaged. It was fun. It accomplished its business goals. The leadership program also enjoyed each of the Four Circumstances Van identified as crucial to the success of the Disney University:

  • Innovate – the multiday, multivenue design exposed the participants to every area of the company. Until then, most executives hadn’t ventured beyond their own area of expertise.
  • Support – Disney Dimensions received the overt, enthusiastic support of top management, who had a hand in choosing the participants and didn’t hesitate to sing its praises.
  • Educate – combining executive-level attendees from each operating division in the unique and interactive environment created a forum in which participants educated one another.
  • Entertain – every training event is an opportunity to be creative and interesting rather than the opposite: dull and academic.

The living laboratory experiential activities that led to advanced levels of cross-functional collaboration and creative problem solving are worthwhile goals for any organization.

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

Innovate – Support – Educate – Entertain

 How is executive development handled in your organization?

  • What is being done to fully engage executives in organizational collaboration? Who does it and how frequently?
  • How could this strategy improve?
  • How are real-time ministry issues used in training and development programs?
  • Are there examples of ministry hits and misses that can be transformed into case studies for senior leadership team development?
  • Does the senior leadership team in our organization openly assess ministry successes and failures?
  • How can leaders in your organization lend their support to training initiatives?
  • In your organization, what needs to be done to promote and perpetuate senior leadership team development?

Inspired by and adapted from Disney U by Doug Lipp

Disney U

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

Book     Kindle

Conclude the Disney U experience on 4/24/14 with The Language of Success

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.


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

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

 Book     Kindle

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.


The Honeymoon Will End: What Happens When the Grand Opening is Over and the Daily Grind Begins

As anyone who has been married knows, there is a difference between the moonlight and roses of courtship and the bills and responsibilities of marriage.

Van France, Founder of Disney University

Anyone who has ever been involved in a grand opening knows the feeling. The energy accompanying the pre-opening, followed by the eventual letdown afterward, can be an emotional roller coaster.

At Walt Disney World, a number of issues were adding to the post-opening blues:

  • Roy Disney, who took over as the company’s inspirational leader after Walt Disney’s death in 1966, passed away in December 1971, barely two months after the opening of Walt Disney World. His enthusiasm and focus motivated all the cast members to push through the challenges to complete Walt’s Florida dream. The company lost its vital inspirational leaders in a relatively short span of time.
  • Cast members were exhausted. There wasn’t an operational road map for opening Walt Disney World. Everything was new; cast members learned as they created. Systems and procedures were developed as the resort took shape.
  • Opportunities for career advancement slowed down. Turnover skyrocketed.
  • Much more than a single theme park, Disney World was a complex environment that involved many professions. Walt Disney World, with the hotels, golf courses, campgrounds, and resorts, was a 24/7/365 operation. The word downtime wasn’t in the vocabulary.
  • The singular goal of opening Walt Disney World, a tremendous source of motivation in and of itself, was gone. What else was there to look forward to? The inspiration and motivation provided by the clarity of a major goal would be hard to duplicate.

Sustaining the intense levels of pre-opening enthusiasm, effort, and momentum is not a reasonable goal for any organization. However, preventing a post accomplishment toxic environment or a mass exodus of team members driven out by crashing morale is a goal that is both attainable and worth pursuing.

The size and scope of Walt Disney World were unprecedented. It faced an equally immense employee relations crisis.

What would Disney do?

Disney executive Dick Nunis began a series of meetings of the divisional vice presidents – but it wasn’t any ordinary meeting, and it was definitely not an ordinary location. In a small, sparse room – more like an unfinished attic than a meeting room – the meetings began.

That room, in the tower of Cinderella Castle, the symbol of the Happiest Place on Earth, would be the location for a miraculous turnaround.

Cinderella Castle 2

The meetings led to a revised employee development strategy of centralized activities controlled by the Disney University and decentralized activities under the control of the divisions.

At the center of the plan was Disney University. It is the keeper of the key, the company’s conscience regarding the Disney brand; it is responsible for setting the ‘big picture’ to ensure a consistent delivery of the product. The new-hire orientation ensures everyone coming on board knows the culture of the company. The decentralized portion of the training strategy is the responsibility of each operating division.

Thor Degelmann, Human Resource Development Manager, Walt Disney Company

And the result – by 1975, two years after the meetings began, the turnover rate at Walt Disney World had dropped from 83 percent to 28 percent, a 66 percent reduction in turnover.

The honeymoon was over, but the marriage would thrive.

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

Innovate – Support – Educate – Entertain

Crisis Management and Culture Change

  • In your organization, what is the equivalent of a honeymoon coming to an end?
  • Are senior team leaders fully engaged in the resolution process?
  • How could this turnaround strategy be improved?
  • What symbols represent the culture of your organization?
  • How could these symbols be used to help reinforce organizational culture and resolve crises?
  • How do you communicate important messages?
  • Are openness, honesty, and collaboration encouraged?

Disney U

Inspired by and adapted from Disney U by Doug Lipp

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

Book     Kindle

Continue the Disney U experience on Thursday 4/17/14 with Keep Plussing the Show

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.

Simplify the Complex; or What to Do When A Guest Drops a Mickey Bar

Providing the happiest Place on Earth means that cast members must manage a delicate balance of priorities; without clarity, the task becomes overwhelming. Van France and Dick Nunis recognized the challenge. In response, they simplified this inherently complex environment by providing every cast member with crystal-clear marching orders during his or her Disney University orientation.

Dick Nunis came up with a program which, at the time, was a totally new concept for operations. The four elements of theme park operations were listed in order of their importance.

Van France

Simple service standards can be powerful tools in any organization.

ice cream

What happens when a child drops a Mickey ice cream bar?

  • Is it tough luck for the unhappy child?
  • What about the sticky mess on the busy sidewalk?
  • How would you handle a tired, irate parent?
  • What’s the impact on the bottom line?

There’s not an easy answer for the situation above – or for the tens of thousands of other daily occurrences that happen in a Disney theme park.

How do you train cast members to handle whatever may come up in a normal – or not so normal – day in the park?

The recipe for creating the magical environment at Disneyland involved boiling down park operations into four priorities that represent the values driving every decision:

  • Safety – The most important priority for Guests and cast members. Cast members must often protect Guests from themselves! Guests distracted by the beautiful architecture may walk into lampposts and walls. Every operations and design decision must first address safety.
  • Courtesy – The second most important priority after safety is courtesy. Cast members know the value of the smiles on their faces and in their voices and the importance of engaging Guests. A lack of cast member courtesy will poison the safest and most interesting environment.
  • Show – Once safety and courtesy are assured, attention turns to show. Well-maintained attractions and facilities populated by well-groomed cast members ensure good show, a condition Walt Disney passionately promoted.
  • Efficiency – This last priority refers to the number of Guests enjoying the attractions, restaurants, and retail shops. This is the “hard numbers” portion of a business. By placing numbers last, the SCSE model makes a clear, somewhat paradoxical statement: accomplishing the first three priorities ensures that this fourth one is sustainable in the form of happy and loyal cast members and Guests.

The image of shrinking the massive and complex operations at Disneyland – a pot of soup – into a smaller, more manageable package – a bouillon cube – via the SCSE priority model is powerful.

Disney’s Four Keys serve as a compass for creating happiness and serving others. More than five decades after they were created by Dick Nunis, these Four Keys continue to serve as the foundation for everything Disney does. Any organization would be envious to have several key standards stand that test of time. It is at the heart of what has made Disney the powerful name it is today.

About that Mickey ice cream bar…

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

Innovate – Support – Educate – Entertain

> Simplify the Complex

How are complex operations and processes communicated in your organization? Are priorities succinct and memorable? How are Van’s Four Circumstances used to convey complex and vital procedures and priorities?

> It’s All about the Basics

  • How do you help team members understand standard operating procedures and priorities?
  • Are team members actively involved as change agents, or do they wait for direction?
  • Are policies followed? If not, why not?

> Great Trainers Transfer Knowledge

  • How does your training staff leverage experience from one area to another?
  • What do you do to encourage interactions with Guests and attendees?

> From Pot of Soup to Bouillon Cube

  • What is your organization’s equivalent of SCSE?
  • Can your team member manual be simplified?
  • What are your priorities? Can you summarize your standard operating procedures and priorities, regardless of complexity, with memorable phrases or acronyms?

Inspired by and adapted from Disney U by Doug Lipp

Disney U

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

Book     Kindle

Continue the Disney U experience on 4/15 with The Honeymoon Will End

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.


Be Willing to Change or Be Willing to Perish: The Birth of Disney University

One jarring element can undermine a host of favorable impressions.

That’s why street cleaners at Disney World are given extra training at Disney University to ensure that they respond in a positive and helpful fashion to questions from departing Guests.

It might seem strange to train street cleaners in customer service, but Disney learned years ago that these cast members receive the greatest number of unstructured questions from park Guests.



To make sure that a Guest’s last – and lasting – impression after a wonderful day in the park isn’t ruined by a don’t-ask-me-it’s-not-my-job attitude, Disney provides three extra days of interpersonal skills training for the cleanup crew. Disney believes in a proactive approach to head off potentially damaging situations.

That wasn’t always the case.

Walking in Disneyland and interacting with the large number of cast members in 1962 exposed Van France to the inadequacies of the existing organization and training process. He found:

  • Outdated training materials
  • Trainers who were out of touch with the realities of park operations
  • Temporary summer jobs that had become careers
  • Hard work and long hours on weekends, nights, and holidays
  • Exhausted cast members that were becoming burned-out

Van also saw the need to expand beyond the simple orientation program of 1955 into a more complete sequence that included a consistently applied on-the-job training component.

The Disney University was created 7 years after the 1955 grand opening of Disneyland in response to the demands of a rapidly maturing organization.

Our theme of “happiness” was great for the first years, and we still use the basic elements of that program. But now we needed something new, something that would impose responsibility and self-discipline on all of our key people.

Van France

Walking the park also reinforced in Van’s mind the requisite elements for ensuring “substance” in the Disney University.

  • Training staff had to have credibility
  • Trainers with frontline experience were a must
  • Program content had to reflect the reality of the workplace and still convey corporate values, standards, and expectations

The Disney University should be a pioneering force, the world’s first and foremost corporate institution for training in the art, skills, and knowledge required in outdoor show business.

Van France

With this in mind, Van proposed that the Disney University develop employees into “Disneyland specialists,” with emphasis on four areas:

Leaders: We need to develop leaders who have an overall understanding of the complex combination of skills and professions that have made the Disneyland show the world’s greatest entertainment attraction.

People specialists: We need men and women who are professionally qualified to deal with people and their many demands.

Trade Specialists: WE need to develop those skilled in the various unique technical phases of the operations, but they must also have an overall knowledge of the total operation.

History and traditions: Most importantly, we sorely need training in the Disneyland organization and the history and traditions of Walt and his company.

With all the changes to the Disney organizations over the years since the opening of Disneyland, Van knew that it was more important than ever for the University to create programs that would carry on the traditions, philosophies, and dreams that Walt Disney had left for the organization.

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

Innovate – Support – Educate – Entertain

Be Willing to Change or Be Willing to Perish

In your organization, can you identify the equivalent of Van’s Four Circumstances that support “Be willing to change or be willing to perish,” balancing tradition with innovation? Can those things be applied to ensure that training and team development programs are credible?

  • How does training in your organization remain relevant and credible?
  • How could training processes, programs, and staff improve “substance”?
  • To what extent are the history and traditions of your organization perpetuated and built upon?
  • What traditions should be maintained in your organization?
  • What traditions are impeding progress and innovation?
  • Who in your organization has the influence and desire to implement change?

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

Book     Kindle


Continue the Disney U experience Thursday 4/10/14 with Simplify the Complex


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.