What It Takes to Work Here: Disney
Cast members must never forget that life is a show.
In Traditions training, which usually happens in a Disney classroom, employees learn that everything a theme-park visitor sees is considered "onstage" and everything that's behind the scenes is called "backstage." Employees are "Cast Members." Some are given specific instructions to help keep up the show at Disney. Those in mascot costume, for example, are told to never take off any part of their costume in public. "I imagine that if you took off the head of your Goofy costume in public, you would be fired," a former Disney employee tells Minyanville. (Read about the challenge of staying in costume, especially in the heat of summer, here.)
Cast members are also taught the importance of physical appearance and dress code. For example, men's mustaches must be neat. Cast members aren't allowed to have unusual hair styles or colors. The specific requirements:
The Disney Look does not permit extremes in dyeing, bleaching, or coloring. If the hair color is changed, it must be natural looking, well-maintained, and appropriate to your skin tone. Subtle highlighting or frosting is permitted as long as it creates a uniform look over the whole head and meets all of the previously listed guidelines. Bleaching of hair tips or other artificial coloring that creates sharply contrasting roots is not acceptable.
Traditions training naturally includes a telling of the story of Walt Disney's life. There's also some required reading on the company's responsibility to the community, as well as some background on securities, property, and environmental laws. But Disney has added new training methods to help keep job-specific orientation lively. For example, the skipper on your jungle cruise probably learned to pilot their boat through simulation technology. The theme park has also created a company-wide site similar to Facebook called Backlot, says Dar Stewart, director of Disney University Products and Services. "Cast members use this to share ideas and tips with other cast members."
One has to wonder whether employees stick to only company-approved language and themeland phrasing on Backlot. After all, using correct phrasing is key to the Traditions curriculum. For example, when guests come to the park, they're not going on "a ride," but starting "an adventure," like a Safari or a haunted mansion, says Julie Rei Goldstein, who worked at Disney for two years in various roles. (She's now a voice actress and IT professional.) "Cast members are never allowed to say they are Mickey but rather they are "friends with Mickey," she explains.
According to Disney's orientation material, everyone must study the "Four Keys" to interacting with guests, in order of importance: safety, courtesy, show, and efficiency. To better understand what Disney means by service, the trainers have turned the word into an acronym:
Eye contact/body language
Respect and welcome
Value the magic
Initiate guest contact
Create service solutions
End with a Thank You
The importance of understanding other cultures is also emphasized during training. In this area, Disney has its own history to hold up as a model. New employees are taught about the different Disney parks and their relation to cultures around the world. For example, in France, where the public attitude toward alcohol is far more liberal, drinks are served on the park site. In Hong Kong, Disney's developers brought in Feng Shui experts to make sure the flow of chi (life energy) wouldn't be blocked by a misplaced water slide.
Everyone must read about corporate ethics. Think cast members can be bribed? Think again. No employee can accept more than one gift valued at more than $75, without the approval of the company.
The Traditions orientation is a key component of training that gets employees thinking the Disney way, says Simon T. Bailey, a former sales director at the Disney Institute and author of Release Your Brilliance. "Traditions introduce employees to a way of thinking instead of just a new way of doing. Literally it is a mindset shift," he tells Minyanville.
Indeed, the training itself has been so popular and so admired by the business world, that Disney has turned into a product, the Disney Approach to People Management.
Even magic can be monetized.
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