Book Review : Disney U by Doug Lipp - FocusU

Book Review : Disney U by Doug Lipp

Imagine this: After years of planning & promises – you finally manage to take your family to the nearest Disney World, which is in HongKong. The children are besides themselves in excitement. They just can’t wait to get there and meet – who else, the delectable Snow White with her seven dwarfs! Out there at Disney World though, the cast who is playing Snow White is having a not so good day – she is feeling grumpy & tired. Spying a moment when nobody is around, she decides to light up a cigarette and take a quick puff. As luck would have it – that is just the exact same moment when you with your children land up there. The first sight the excited children have of Snow White is of her puffing a cigarette!!! Egad!! …. Can you imagine what would happen? Something shattered silently …. And that was the “dream” and “vision” that children had of Snow White for so many years!

Luckily for all of us, the above paragraph is pure fantasy. Indeed, over the past five decades, Disney has earned a reputation for turning out world-class employees who are famous for their engagement, passion and excellent customer service. Every single time – in every single interaction.

In his brilliant book “Disney U”, Doug Lipp unravels the secrets behind Disney’s enduring success and has specifically devoted a chapter as to why Snow White never has a bad day!

The key lessons decoded for building better engaged and passionate teams are:


1. It takes both Art & Science
The actor playing Snow White must develop the technical expertise –to know every expression, every movement of Snow White portrayed in the classic movie. In short, becoming Snow White and knowing her job is the Science aspect. But the interesting and undoubtedly, most challenging aspect is to do the job with a smile at all times and at every guest-facing occasion. In other words, she must cultivate the interpersonal expertise to handle conversations with guests, be friendly and stay true to her character. That takes Art and is easily said than done.

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Needless to say, in an organisation every employee deals with customers (or Guests, in the Disney parlance) –these could be external vendors, suppliers, clients or internally these could be your own team member, inter-department staff, colleagues ,etc. While almost everyone is well-versed with the technical aspects of their job (which is why they have earned their cap), what often gets overlooked (or worse, even ignored) are the ‘softer’ behavioral aspects. This is ofcourse not to say that a smile can wish away technical flaws or a poor product. Does your organization tolerate a technically competent but rude manager? If yes, then what is the impact on the morale of your other team members? And on the work environment culture?

2. Employees First
“A maxim of the movie industry is that it takes a happy crew to produce a happy show” –Van France, Founder- Disney University. The Disneyland tagline says “the Happiest Place on Earth” and Disney realised early on that it’s the employee-customer interface that creates the happiness. If the Walt Disney Company does not make its primary job to care for and train its employees regularly, the results would reflect in the customer service and how!

At one of our recent Innovation workshops for a leading infrastructure house, the CEO was to set the context for the program but instead spent three hours on a Sunday afternoon to discuss the vision of the organisation and the role that those budding young frontline managers would play therein. Imagine the positive vibes and inspiration sown for that group—a powerful demonstration that these employees matter to the company’s future!

Contrast that with the all-too familiar situation in many an organisation, when training is the first thing that is cut because budgets are tight -classic scenario where employees are not valued enough.

3. It’s Everyone’s Job (Starting at the Top!)
Walt Disney was once extremely upset with the Jungle Cruise ride because the skipper didn’t act his part with the required enthusiasm. He said “I want the skipper to act as if every trip is his first trip. I want him to act surprised when the hippos suddenly rise out of the water. The skipper needs to be as surprised as the guests.” Walt led from the front in demonstrating his passion for keeping the park clean, safe and friendly.

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Employee engagement requires unwavering top management focus –its cheerleaders have to be among the top executives of the organization. So have you identified the CCO –Chief Cheerleader Officer in your organization? And who is the Skipper for your Jungle Cruise ride?

4. Strong Corporate Values
Described as Van’s Circumstances by Doug Lipp, the key 4 values that form the bedrock of all Disney training programs : Innovate, Support, Educate and Entertain. While gifts and cash bonuses might help in the short term, it is vital that employees understand and live the corporate values in their daily routine. So how are the values of your organization brought alive? And how often are they communicated to your employees? And by whom?

One of the best compliments that we sometimes get from our workshop participants are about how we were continuously cheerful and kept smiling throughout the long day. A senior facilitator’s words come to my mind on these occasions –we may have a whirlpool of emotions raging within us, but must still maintain on the surface a calm pond’s reflection.

After all, Snow White can never have a Bad Day ?

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